Launching youth programme First Gear, Specialized president Mike Sinyard said:
“Getting kids out riding bikes is probably the most important thing we can do.
“A child on a bike is independent and healthy, not just for the time being, but for life. But the best part is, they don’t even realise it. They’re just out there having fun.”
First Gear will be promoted through bike shops and through a new website, Firstgear.specialized.com. This website will highlight success stories and advocacy efforts; and will also encourage public participation, bring awareness to partner organisations, and communicate philanthropic goals.
The initiative is global but partner organisations will be locally based: in the UK, the main partner organisation is Sustrans.
Sustrans has a long history of running programmes getting children on bikes. The Bike It cycling-in-schools scheme – run by Sustrans – now has 54 full-time officers around the UK and was seed-funded by Bike Hub, the UK cycle levy.
Anne Immelman, Specialized UK’s marketing manager said:
"Supporting Sustrans’ Fresh Air Miles rides is the perfect opportunity for us to make a meaningful difference to the cycling community by focusing on issues that matter within a larger cycling context such as the awareness of the National Cycle Network. We’ve inspired thousands of people to take their bike out again this year and to choose a healthier lifestyle. in addition, this really sends a positive message to kids, and to their parents, about the benefits of cycling, and our efforts here have put more young people on bikes."
Among the other international programs, stories include the details of bikes being provided to an orphanage in Portugal, and Specialized’s support of the Songo charity, headed by pro mountain Biker Christoph Sauser, which provides a cycling curriculum to children in South Africa.
Specialized is known for its support of advocacy programmes: in 2010, the company dedicated $1.4 million to global cycling advocacy, a significant portion of which was directed to youth programmes.
First Gear is a label and a focus for these youth cycling programmes. A Dealer Grant Program will also continue to be run in the US, providing funding for local initiatives. A UK roll-out for this programme will be revealed soon.
“I’m excited about First Gear and the new website because we finally have a platform to share and enable this critical work. By using our reach and influence we will get others involved to improve the quality of kids’ physical, mental and emotional health by riding."
For 2011, Specialized has set a goal of getting 10,000 kids riding bikes via local cycling initiatives that provide the setting, the tools and support they need for what Sinyard calls "memorable rides."