OPP Ride Smart cycling program visits Manitoulin communities

Youth are guided through their paces during the Ontario Provincial Police Ride Smart Cycling Program. photo by Tom Sasvari

MANITOULIN—The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Ride Smart Cycling Program is aimed at creating positive and healthy relationships between youth and police and to develop practical life-long skills through safe cycling.

“We use this program as a youth engagement program in the community,” said Adam Belanger of the OPP, who, along with Andrew Hibma of New Hope Community Bikes based out of Hamilton, Ontario visited both the Manitoulin OPP detachment in Little Current, and the United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin Anishnaabe Police Services (UCCM), presenteing the program last Wednesday in the M’Chigeeng First Nation and Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands communities.

“Bicycling safety is the core of the program,” said Constable Belanger. “But it can also be used for engaging and encouraging positivity in the kids who participate in the program. We teach bike safety like how to maneuvre a bicycle, safety equipment, helmets, equipment.”

“But when a child learns all of this it also gives them perseverance, self confidence,” said Constable Belanger. “And this can lead to perseverance and confidence when they are doing homework, and their self-confidence. And of course, there is also the healthy part of it, riding bicycles is healthy for everyone.”

Constable Belanger explained, “we began working with New Hope to engage youth. The New Hope Community Bikes in Hamilton has been around for seven years and is based out of Hamilton. We adopted the program and partnered with them a year ago.”

In that year of partnership, the OPP Ride Smart Team van has travelled extensively, with a mileage reading of 40,000 kilometres “We visit communities all over the province,” said Constable Belanger. “After leaving Manitoulin, we will be visiting Armstrong, Sioux Lookout, Pickle Lake and Lac Seul First Nation which will be the first time the latter has received a visit from the OPP Ride Smart team.”

Officers Belanger and Hibma introduced themselves to the five children at the session held in M’Chigeeng (a session held earlier in the day in Little Current drew 13 children). Among the other police personnel on hand included UCCM APS officers Paul Shawanda and Victor Pitawanakwat and UCCM APS Social Navigator Daughness Migwans, OPP Cadet Garrett Gauthier, and Manitoulin OPP Community Services Officer Tessa Kasch.

“One of the things we like to focus on in this program is predictability,” Constable Belanger told the youngsters. “Doing something that people expect you to do. For example, when you come up to a stop sign when you are riding your bicycle, follow speed limits, be predictable and stop at stop signs before  making the right turning single before you turn.”

The participants were informed about the importance of wearing a properly fitting helmet, the bike safety check including, for example, having sufficient air in the tires and making sure the brakes are working properly.

The officers led the students on different skills including straight line riding, controlled braking, shoulder checks, hand signals, shoulder checks with hand signal, the slow speed slalom, emergency braking, high speed cornering and roller and balance obstacles. They also enjoyed several games including follow the leader, slowest bicycle race and elimination among them.

Ms. Migwans told The Expositor, “our officers put on bike rodeos for youngsters, usually before the start of the summer, with many of the same lessons. But it is important to continue to provide these messages. When we got the message from Tessa about this education program and whether we wanted to participate we said, ‘absolutely,’ and we signed up right away.”