As cool as getting your first driver’s license is, it’s also a little sad to bid farewell to that childhood bicycle. Sure, you can always take up cycling as a hobby, but once a person broadens their transportation horizons with their first car, the allure of that childhood bicycle can never really be replaced. Before taking the irreversible step into adulthood that comes with our first car, bicycles were so much more than two wheels and a frame. Not only did they represent endless travel opportunities, but they were friends when you were bored and quick getaways when you accidentally throw a baseball through a neighbor’s window.
Even though juvenile biking is suffering a decline, organizations like Bike Utah are ramping up to help local kids reconnect with the bicycles that might be buried in their garages. By adopting a more practical approach to biking and bike safety, Bike Utah has made all kinds of legislative headway into making our roads more bike-friendly. In addition to working on getting Utah to be a more cycle-centric state, Bike Utah has pioneered the Youth Bicycle Education and Safety Training (BEST) Program. The BEST Program is designed to teach the basics of bicycle safety to Utah’s young people, but it’s also geared around teaching them to be more conscious and aware of the different transportation options available. It’s not an easy job, but it’s one that Jace Burbidge, Bike Utah’s Youth Education Coordinator, has accepted with enthusiasm.
Burbidge wasn’t always such a passionate emissary of the cyclist community. “For the last 10 years of my life, I’ve been very bike-centric,” he says. “As a kid, I hated bikes. I couldn’t ride them and they just stressed me out.” When Burbidge was a teenager, he became a little stir-crazy when his family moved to Woods Cross. “That wasn’t the place for me to continue high school—I felt a deep need to be in the city, so I got a bike and kept commuting in,” Burbidge says. “My bike experience was sparked out of necessity instead of desire.” After he graduated from high school, Burbidge pursued a degree in elementary school teaching and worked with the Salt Lake Bicycle Collective for seven years. Five years ago, he helped create the guidelines for his current position with Bike Utah. “It was kind of a pipe dream, and it was shelved until they got it all figured out,” Burbidge says. In the interim, he’s been all over the place. “About two years ago, I moved to Oregon, where I was teaching behavioral specialties in kindergarten, but I got the email saying that the youth coordinator job got funded while I was working on a fishing boat—I did the interview on a satellite phone in the middle of the Bering Sea.”
Under Burbidge’s leadership, the BEST Program has been flourishing for the past six months. Operating out of a 30-foot U-Haul adorned with a bike-riding dinosaur fleeing a meteor shower, Burbidge and Bike Utah handle all the arrangements. This is extremely beneficial to our already cash-strapped local schools, who only need to provide an open space where students can practice. “Schools are so busy already, and we want to make the process as seamless as possible,” Burbidge says.
Once the program is up and running, it consists of five one-hour classes that cover everything from road safety to bike maintenance. Using a cornered-off section of a school parking lot as his classroom, Burbidge arranges all kinds of different activities to educate his students. “In setting up an intersection drill, for example, I’ll use some miniature stop signs to create a mock intersection,” he says. “Students would then have several opportunities to try out the lessons they have learned in a controlled, car-free environment.”
The classes are geared toward students from fourth to seventh grade, and many of the schools that Burbidge has worked with have already asked him to return for more sessions. While the basic curriculum focuses on bikes and bike safety, Burbidge’s expertise as an educator has allowed him to use his course content as a springboard for other issues and topics. “A lot of the program allows me to talk about environmental impact, socioeconomic problems and race,” Burbidge says. “We also try to legitimize other forms of transportation like biking and public transportation. Safety of the kids is first and foremost, but these things come up a lot.”
Currently, Burbidge is the only instructor with the BEST Program, which means that he can be visiting as many as three schools a day with his giant, dinosaur-bedecked U-Haul. Throughout his experience, he’s worked with several different schools across Utah. “The ultimate goal is to get schools engaged enough where they want us and are overbooked,” Burbidge says. “We get a lot of parental response in favor of the program, and schools are already asking for rebooking already.”
While the BEST Program has gotten off to a good start, it’s still a monumental effort, and any help that the community can offer would be much appreciated. “We are accepting volunteers,” Burbidge says. “The community promotion goes a long way. If a group of parents approach a school with this idea, it really helps—they’re also welcome to volunteer.”
Find more information at bikeutah.org.