by Regina Sinsky
This is part of our Bike About Town column, which appeared in The Chronicle on May 19, 2011.
What better way to get the kids out of the house to meet new friends, see the city and learn a new skill than bike camp? More and more people are bicycling in the city, and your children can join them. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Learn to Bike Classes for families are filling up faster than they can be scheduled, so here are three other options:
Wheel Kids Summer Camp
So you grew up in the suburbs, and your summers were filled with bicycling. If you wish your city kid could have the same experience, Wheel Kids (www.wheelkids.com) is for you.
“I tell people this is an adventure and exploration summer camp,” says Tim Hurley, president of Wheel Kids Bicycle Club. “We’re trying to replicate the small-town experience: Take the bike, leave the garage and explore independently from your parents.”
San Francisco’s busy streets and hilly topography – as well as your parental fear – may be keeping your kids from the streets. That’s how Jenny Silva felt, until she met Hurley.
“Tim is very mature and responsible,” says Silva, whose son Nick, 8, attended Wheel Kids camp last summer. “You want your kid to have fun, but you want a camp leader who is concerned about safety first. Tim is so thoughtful about safety and itinerary. After the first day, Nick knew hand signals.
“He was aware of his safety, so much so that I let him ride three-quarters of a mile to camp on his own.”
Nick rode across the Golden Gate Bridge. He rode to a baseball game. He rode to lunch at the Ferry Building. “These adventures make living in S.F. worthwhile,” Silva says. “I felt totally comfortable with him doing it.”
SFUR Summer Riding Camp
Dan Schneider wants to teach kids how to mountain bike in the city; he’s the executive director of San Francisco Urban Riders (www.sfurbanriders.org/wordpress).
“Few people in San Francisco know the miles of trail systems within the city,” Schneider says. “Most will get in a car to go mountain bike, but you can do that here in the city. The bike lanes stop at the park, but you can continue on your bike with contemporary recreation.”
SFUR’s Youth Mountain Bike camp is composed of three-hour courses spanning a three-week period. Week 1 teaches basic off-road skills like braking, cornering and balance. Week 2 includes a trail ride that focuses etiquette and appreciation of natural areas.
“We see hawks and butterflies and stop to talk about them,” Schneider says. “Learning to ride respectfully in nature teaches kids to be ambassadors.”
Schneider says he hopes the program’s safety lessons will reach beyond park trails to city streets.
“We’re not making downhill mountain bikers,” he says. “We’re trying to get kids the skills to ride anywhere.”
YBike Summer Bike Camps
SFUR partners with YBike (The Presidio YMCA) to offer two camps (sfg.ly/kWik21), one for mountain biking and the other for biking in general.
“Kids are riding five to six hours total during the eight-hour day,” says Ben Caldwell, director of bicycle programs for Presidio Community YMCA.
“My son comes home exhausted,” says Jenny Krause, whose son, Alexander Richardson, 13, has gone to the biking camp three years in a row.
With mountain biking, kids start in the Presidio and work their way toward a trip to Marin’s China Camp, learning the technical skills they need for the city’s trails. In this camp, all equipment is provided. Students who bring their own bike and/or helmet must have their equipment inspected by YBike staff before using it for Mountain Bike Camp.
Bike Camp focuses on street safety skills. All equipment is provided. Like Mountain Bike Camp, kids start in the Presidio and work their way toward a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Marin Headlands.
“Last summer we went out to Sunday Streets in Golden Gate Park,” Krause says, “and Alexander showed us where he rode during camp. He was really proud.”
Bike About Town is presented by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a 12,000-member nonprofit dedicated to creating safer streets and more livable communities by promoting the bicycle for everyday transportation. For more biking resources, go to www.sfbike.org.