Riding a bicycle to school used to be a rite of passage. It marked a freedom from relying on a parent to get you where you needed to go.

Those days are long gone for some. Many of today’s kids never had the opportunity to ride their bikes to school, whether they live in the big city like Los Angeles, or a small town like Big Bear.

Rob Carpenter wants to bring it back. Under the Big Bear Cycling Association umbrella, Carpenter developed the Big Bear Bike To School Scholarship Program for the three elementary schools in the Bear Valley Unified School District. Carpenter, along with Big Bear Cycling Association member Paul Senft and local professional cyclists Casey Williams and Connor McCutcheon explained the program to fourth graders at Baldwin Lane Elementary April 11. They gave the same presentation to students at Big Bear Elementary School April 12 and are working on a program for North Shore Elementary School.

The program provides bicycles to three fourth-graders to use bike to school. The bicycles remain the property of the scholarship program and will be replaced as the students grow. The goal is for the scholarship winners to use the bicycles to bike to school until high school graduation.

Applications were given to the students to complete with the assistance of their parents. A letter of recommendation from the student’s teacher and the student’s GPA are also part of the application process. 

Each scholarship winner must complete a bicycle safety and maintenance course, and provide an essay, map and description of their proposed route to school.

Scholarship winners will be expected to commute to school by bicycle whenever weather permits, mentor other students to develop bicycle-to-school skills, introduce the program to younger children at their schools and make appearances at public events and fundraising opportunities.

Scholarship winners receive bicycle equipped with lights and a helmet. Repairs and maintenance parts for the bikes will be offered by local bike shops. “We want you to have bikes so you can ride in May and June, but more importantly the entire summer,” Carpenter said. 

Carpenter said as more funding and support for the program increases, more scholarships will be awarded, and applications will be accepted from students in higher grade levels. He also envisions a time when bike racks will be available at school bus stops.

Scholarship winners won’t be the only kids to benefit from the program. Plans are to offer a session to teach kids how to maintain their bikes. “If your bike is not currently working, we’re going to fix it for you,” Senft said. “Everybody who has a bike, wins, too.”

Carpenter explained to the kids why he feels it’s important for them to ride bikes to school. “I don’t like childhood obesity,” Carpenter said. “I don’t like bus exhaust. I got to ride my bike to school. As a grown-up I still ride my bike every single day.”

Carpenter said he wants Big Bear kids to have the same experience he enjoys every day of his life.

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