Funny name, serious mission

by Wes Robinson, Director of Education - Austin Cycling Association The pole that holds the solar-powered box that uses radio waves to record when a student rides his or her bike to school stands near the front corner of Sommer Elementary and close to bike racks. Photo by Gilbert D. Martinez

The first and only Freiker student bike participation program in the state of Texas debuted Feb. 5, 2010 at Sommer Elementary School in far Northwest Austin.

ACA joined Bicycle Sport Shop, BikeTexas, and Trek Bicycles in kicking off the program at the school.  More than 300 children attended the kickoff, which also featured bike and helmet safety inspections, a bike rodeo, helmet fittings, and a bike parade attended by local offiicials.

The goal of the new Freiker program (short for "frequent biker") is to encourage students to choose active forms of transportation to school through incentives, thereby improving student health and safety and promoting lifelong healthy habits.  Such behavior also reduces the number of vehicles delivering children to school, which improves safety around the school for everyone and reduces carbon emissions.

The Freiker equipment uses radio frequency identification technology to wirelessly track participants' trips to school.  Near the bicycle racks outside of the school is a solar-powered sensor on a pole.  Typically, an RFID chip is attached to a child's helmet so that when the child passes under the device, the trip is recorded and can be monitored by parents through Freiker's password-protected website.

Students will be eligible for rewards based on how many times they ride or walk to school, including a chance to win a free bike through a raffle donated by Bicycle Sport Shop and Trek.  The school could also use the Freiker system for competition between classes, grades, or even with other schools participating in the program, all the while promoting an active lifestyle and reducing traffic congestion around schools.

Leslie Luciano, director of advocacy for Bicycle Sport Shop, was the driving force behind bringing all of the parties together to introduce Freiker (soon to be renamed Boltage) to Texas.  Bicycle Sport Shop, Trek, and BikeTexas provided funding for the infrastructure and logistical support for the event. 

A volunteer from Social Cycling ATX adjusts the helmet buckles to ensure a good fit. ACA donated more than 200 helmets. (Photo by Gilbert D. Martinez) At the event, ACA provided bicycle safey instructors and helmets to ensure that every child had a propertly fitted helmet.  ACA President Gilbert Martinez gave helmet-fitting and ABC Quick Check bike safety lessons to volunteer parents from the school as well as to the numerous volunteers from the popular group Social Cycling ATX, organized by Keith Byrd and Brooks Goldsmith.

Educational activities related to introducing Freiker at Sommer actually started the week before the kickoff, when two League Cycling Instructors -- ACA staff member Laura King and BikeTexas Director of Education Brenda Chuleewah - taught helmet and bike safety and rules of the road to all second-through fifth-graders.  King said that "the kids were wonderfully attentive and engaged" through the 45-minute presentations.  King also said that June Villarreal, the Texas Office of Prevention of Developmental Disabilities' education coordinator, gave a 35-minute presentation to kindergartens and first-graders in the afternoon.  In all, the three experts taught bicycle safety to about 1,000 children in a single school day.

On the day of the child safety clinic, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, Austin City Council Member Chris Riley, Round Police Chief Art Acevedo was one of the dignitaries who encouraged the students to ride their bikes to school. He led nearly 300 students in the bike parade. (Photo by Gilbert D. Martinez)Rock Independent School District Superintendent Jesus Chavez, Sommer Elementary Principal Mark Pratz, and Texas Department of Transportation Traffic Safety Program Manager Gonzalo Ponce (LCI # 2475) led the children on short bike parade.  Additional special guests included All About Health Chief Executive Officer Jen Ohlson, who filmed the event for a documentary, Trek Corporate Director of Advocacy and Public Policy Krista Rettig and Freiker Chief Executive Officer Tim Carlin.

"We are thrilled to be a part of promoting student health and safety," Pratz said.  "Partnering with Freiker seems like a perfect way to support those great values and engage students in fun and good lifelong healthy habits." 

After the parade of decorated bikes, children went through bike inspections where volunteers from Social Cycling ATX and mechanics from BSS inspected and repaired any mechanical issues.  When a child’s bike did not fit or was deemed unsafe, Bicycle Sport Shop had a fleet of kids bikes on hand for children to use during the rodeo. 

During the child safety clinic, Laura King and I oversaw parking lot drills designed to be both fun and educational.  Children learned how to properly start and stop, ride in a straight line and avoid objects, communicate with traffic via hand signals and eye contact, and balance and control their bicycles.  Finally, children were guided through a decision course where they were expected to demonstrate these skills in simulated traffic situations.

"The crisis we collectively face in this nation in regards to childhood obesity demands ground-breaking ways to solve these issues," Ohlson said.  "Freiker is one of those programs making huge steps in the right direction to make a real difference in an individual’s health and well being for a lifetime, all while perfectly aligning with the district’s overall goals and mission in regard to an enhanced PE and Health model for the 21st Century."

Without your support ACA would not be able to make investments in the future of bicycling through programs like Freiker. All of the proceeds generated by ACA's annual Armadillo Hill Country Classic are dedicated to bicycle education efforts in Central Texas, as are a significant portion of each member's annual dues.  So when you receive your next membership renewal or if you are not yet a member, please know that your membership and participation in the Armadillo make these bicycle education efforts possible. 

Article originally published in Southwest Cycling News, Volume XX, No. 2, March/April 2010, front page. Photos courtesy of Gilbert Martinez.