Laura Shutiak said the problem for youth isn’t bike ownership. The problem is having the bikes they do own stolen – even from their Calgary schools.
That’s why the grassroots Calgary bike group Youth en Route, headed by Shutiak, has prototyped and built a new kind of bike rack.
Youth en Route is dedicated to supporting active transportation to school and wherever young people travel.
Shutiak said the old metal racks, many installed 50 years ago, weren’t meant for locking. They’re set up to hold a tire in place to keep the bike upright. In order to properly secure a bike, Shutiak said young people would need to tote around an unwieldy and expensive U-lock.
“The fact that so many of (the racks) are still around, shows how durable they are. But they just aren’t functional,” Shutiak said.
When Youth en Route surveyed students, they found between 35 and 80 per cent (depending on school) of respondents listed fear of theft as a reason they wouldn’t ride to school. Poor quality locks and locking techniques are often to blame, Shutiak said.
Some of the open-ended theft responses from students were heartbreaking.
“We knew it was an issue and so then I just kind of started thinking about how we can make bikes secure,” she said.
It started with a gathering around an old bike rack at Bishop McNally. Shutiak and others from Youth en Route joined students and the shop teachers to brainstorm ideas. They wanted to transform the heavy metal contraption into something that made sense.
With the help of shop teachers Brian Scott and Joe Lawrence and local fabricator Keith Simmons, they were able to put together a drawing for a new rack. An Arusha Centre Take Action Grant and help from local businesses BenPro and Campbell Mack Supply sent production in motion.
They started by repurposing the bike rack at Henry Wise Wood High School.
The design adds large metal hoops so bikes can lean with two points of contact. Long, heavy chains were welded to the frame. Now bikes can be wrapped around the frame and tire and locked with a simple padlock. No more need for an expensive U-lock to secure the bike.
Shutiak said education is always a component – particularly around bike theft. They encourage the use of Bike Index to register students’ wheels. Now, they have a tool that makes it easier for students to lock up.
“We think this little rack route is a really good start for a lot of schools,” she said.
New racks for all schools
Shutiak said the goal is to replace all the old racks at Calgary schools.
They have the parts and the rack ready to go for the second prototype. It will go to Bishop McNally – built by their shop students.
For materials and labour, they’re looking at around $650 per rack to retrofit. A new one would cost more than $2,000 Shutiak said.
They rely on donations and grant to fund much of their work. But, Shutiak said they’re focused on getting more kids to school by bike – and beyond.
“Having a bike that can be transportation is just empowering and life-changing for kids,” she said.