'Bike bus' to a healthy living in Grafton
EVERY Friday morning students from Grafton Public ride to school together in a 'bike bus'. The initiative follows a set route and timetable to pick up 'passengers' along the way, and promotes a quick, fun way to keep fit and healthy.
"Since we started the number of kids riding bikes to school has exponentially improved," teacher Tim Keogh said.
Mr Keogh and fellow teacher Howard Avery have escorted the children through the streets of Grafton since starting the concept last year.
"It's part of a healthy message we try to send to get people out of cars and onto push bikes," Keogh said. "There's no better way to travel in Grafton.
"With childhood obesity on the rise, we're trying to get proactive. And most road users in the area are courteous and thoughtful, especially now that we have been doing it for a while."
Last year the weekly ride attracted as many as 50 children. That number has since dropped as the older kids become more competent and start to ride independently.
"As they get better they tend to ride in small bunches themselves. Now it's more or less a new, younger group. But we can see the progression of what we've done by our bike racks, which used to be empty but are now full on a daily basis."
Olympic gold medalist joins student Bike Bus
THIS morning riders will be joined by 1992 Olympic gold medalist Kathy Watt as part of a community initiative to promote cycling and a healthy lifestyle in the lead up to Saturday's annual 228km Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic.
Watt won the 112km Glen Innes to Inverell Elite Women's installment of the race in 2004 and 2005.
* UPDATE: Despite initial plans, Watt did not travel to Grafton to attend the event
The 52-year-old champion will join members of the public and other professional cyclists including former Grafton Public student Craig 'Chunky' Evers in the student convoy, which starts at 8am from the corner of Breimba St and Bacon St to the school.
The guest riders will talk to the students on topics such as road safety and the economic benefits sports tourism events bring to places like Grafton.
"Just like a usual Friday morning, we will leave one end of Dovedale and pick up kids along the way," Keogh said.
"Some of the competitors in the Grafton to Inverell will also join the kids and afterwards talk about road safety, why they became road cyclsits and the commitment required to achieve in life.
"The Grafton to Inverell one of those events we try to promote and the good thing about living in a country town is we can get involved in things."
Potential for cyclo-tourism in the Clarence Valley
Watt was lured to the Valley from Melbourne by Grafton Cycle Club member David Hislop, who himself represented Australia in cross country skiing at the 1984 and 1988 Winter Olympics and has participated in several Sydney to Hobart yacht races.
He used to instruct Watt in cross country skiing and was instrumental in her transition from being a childhood runner to an Olympic cyclist.
"Kathy had been a runner and we gave her a bike," Hislop explained. "She fell over on the way down, but beat us all up the hill, so we said 'you've got to get on the bike'."
Hislop moved to the Clarence Valley from Sydney 12 months ago as an engineer for the Roads and Maritime Services and is part of an influx of professionals attracted to the region due to a rise in infrastructure developments.
One of the first things he did when he moved to the area was join Grafton Cycle Club.
He envisages great potential for cyclo-tourism in the Clarence Valley.
"The market's there because of this race," he said. "Here's a race that has 350 competitors, but potentially many more than that. It's Australia's toughest race. There's thousands who would want to come to town to do that."
"Plus you've got outdoors people and activities such as mountain biking and kayaking here. It all goes hand in hand.
"There's some great cycling around here which just adds to why people would want to come to Grafton.
"You only need to grow it a little to start bringing people in, then there's more vibrancy and a positive attitude which makes it a better place to live.
""There's lots of opportunities and potential here. If you google 'Great Victorian Rail Trail Experience', you can see the tourism benefits are huge."
Hislop said other schools should be encouraged to follow Grafton Public School's lead and introduce a bike bus for students.
He said it was just one of many ways to encourage people to ride instead of drive to school, work or other activities in Grafton.
"We use the car too much," he said. "There's lots of little things we can do to encourage people to ride their bike instead of drive. Simple little steps. The more people who participate the better.
"Let's build it up a little bit and get that vibrancy back."
Former champion loves getting behind the great race
Fellow Grafton Cycle Club member Kevin Brindle won the Grafton To Inverell in 1973, was runner up in 1970 and competed in the event 13 times.
The cycling demographic has since changed since Brindle's heyday, but the club has held onto some of its roots including the proud Australian tradition of handicap racing.
"The numbers are still there, but there's a lot more social riders these days," he said. "It's an older group now. "
While the Grafton to Inverell has experienced several changes since Brindle's triumph, most significantly in 1979 when it was converted from a handicap race to a mass start format, the 78-year-old remains a passionate supporter of the race.
"Oh yeah, I get down there every year," he said.
"These days it's a different race altogether, but it's always been well organised."
So which local competitors should we keep an eye on when the peloton rolls out of Prince St down Fitzroy St, crosses the Grafton Bridge and turns west along the Gwydir Highway in pursuit of the horizon and beyond?
"Jye Reardon won C Grade last year, and is stepping up to B Grade this year, hopefully he can handle he can handle them," Brindle said.
"I've just been on a five-day tour with him - I'm still getting over it."