OLD TOWN TRIANGLE — A Canadian company plans to open four outlets in schoolyards across the city this summer to teach kids as young as 3 how to ride a bike.
Pedalheads, a 30-year-old Canadian company that has worked with 200,000 kids, expanded into the United States in the Pacific Northwest in 2014 and plans to add locations in Chicago and Denver this year.
"They're fairly big bike towns," said Ben Oryall, Pedalheads' manager of regional expansion, "good-sized cities and known for promoting being outdoors in the summer — healthy and active."
According to Oryall, they're still "waiting on the paperwork," but plans are to begin weeklong classes June 26 at four Chicago Public Schools: LaSalle Language Academy, 1734 N. Orleans St.; Bell Elementary, 3730 N. Oakley Ave.; Norwood Park Elementary, 5900 N. Nina Ave.; and Sutherland Elementary, 10015 S. Leavitt Ave.
"Our big emphasis is really helping kids improve their cycling skills and confidence," Oryall said, "which then in turn makes them much stronger bike riders, which I think will translate into their being confidently and safely able to ride the streets."
The Pedalheads program is intended for kids ages 3½-10, who are then divided into classes based on skill levels. Those learning to ride will have a 5-to-1 ratio of students to instructors, while more advanced students might see that go to 6-to-1.
With younger riders, Oryall said, the method is to first get kids comfortable on their bikes, just as a swimming class sets out to get kids comfortable in the water before teaching them to propel their way through it.
"We don't throw kids right on the bike necessarily right away," Oryall said. "We definitely leave the training wheels on to start the week.
"We're basically learning through playing, learning through doing," Oryall said.
They'll make sure the kids are comfortable on their bikes and have mastered pedaling, steering and stopping "before we take the training wheels off before they ride a two-wheeler," he said.
The classes run for five days over a week — a half-day class covering 2½ hours for $219, a full-day class of seven hours for $469 — but even beginners are expected to be up and riding by the end.
"That's the idea," Oryall said. Then they can return for more advanced lessons at higher skills levels.
It might make a certain amount of sense for parents of young children, uncertain about whether they're ready for a bike, but it's also aimed at parents simply too busy to handle it.
"Many parents are stressed, working or time-strapped, so this new camp in town is just what's needed," publicist Rachel Greene said.
Pedalheads has even appropriated that classic moment when a parent releases a child to go pedaling off on two wheels for what Oryall calls "Pedalheads Moments," using the phrase as a hashtag on social media for the same instant with instructors.
"They're running with them, they're kind of holding them up and then they let go and all of a sudden that kid is biking off all by themselves," he said.
"For the parent, there's also that Pedalheads Moment. They come at the end of the day and their kid looks tired, but is superhappy and they're really excited to show their parents or guardian what they learned, and the parent might not expect them to ride off all of a sudden, but then halfway across the field the instructor helps the child get started and lets them go and off goes little Jimmy or Sofia and the parents' faces just light up with excitement."
With the emphasis of putting kids at ease on their bikes to begin, Pedalheads even has a couple of other programs for kids as young as 2½: Trikes & Trainers, dealing with youngsters on tricycles or bikes with training wheels, and another for "balance bikers," on those increasingly popular beginners' coaster bikes without pedals.
Those lessons are $109 a week. Private lessons for older students at any level are also available at $239, with the company clarifying Thursday that too would be for a week of hourlong sessions.
Pedalheads will be exclusively a summer, during-the-daytime program to start, but Oryall said it could possibly expand to become an after-school program as the company gets settled in the market.
"For right now, it will only be offered during the summer months," he said. "Definitely, moving forward we would love to add spring and fall programs as well."