Officials join St Francis School pupils on track

A lot of fun, three sticking plasters and 500 helmet fittings were the key ingredients behind the latest school bike track to open in Whangarei.

St Francis Xavier Catholic School is the latest link in the Bikes in Schools chain, with the 500m track encircling the school field officially opening yesterday. The school also received 56 brand new bikes and a helmet for every student, with the entire project costing about $52,000.

The aim of Bikes in Schools is simple, said Bike Northland cycling co-ordinator Stuart Bell: Get as many kids as possible enjoying cycling in a safe environment.

"We've had a lot of fun setting it up and to date the extent of our damage is three (sticking plasters), which I think is pretty good," Mr Bell told yesterday's opening.

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The programme had now been fully implemented at seven Northland schools and included five elements - storage, bikes, the track, a helmet for every child and a basic cycle skills training.

"So when we set up a school we also do the NZTA's recommended training, in the safety of the school environment. For [this age group] it's non-traffic, whereas the older children will start learning road rules and things like that," Mr Bell said.

St Francis principal Craig McKernan said he was thrilled with the track and applauded the patience involved with fitting hundreds of helmets.

The ceremony was also attended by officials from Sport Northland, the New Zealand Transport Agency and Whangarei District Council, many of whom took to the track following proceedings, including a skirted and high-heeled Mayor Sheryl Mai. She was joined by WDC chief executive Rob Forlong, who said he had not been on a bike since before most of the primary school students - and possibly some of their parents - were born.

The Bikes in School programme was started in Hawke's Bay and is run in Northland by Bike Northland, with support from WDC and a range of businesses.

St Francis was the first school where the NZTA had also contributed funding, designed to prop up its Urban Cycleways Programme, with a final route to run near the school.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said in a statement the idea was to make cycling a safer and more attractive option for pupils, particularly those at schools surrounding the planned cycleway routes.

Raurimu Ave, Ruakaka, Otaika Valley, Onerahi, Ohaeawai and Hurupaki schools also have tracks supported by the programme, while Kaurihohore had just finished their track this week. Waipu and Te Kopuru schools will soon follow.