This article was written by Federico Ferrara, Project Manager of Immigrant on bike -project.
In February 2018, the Finnish Cyclist’s Federation (Pyöräliitto) started the “Immigrants on bike” project. It is funded by Finland’s state lottery and gambling monopoly for the next three years. The project aims to teach immigrants to cycle, which also promotes a green lifestyle change. The new cyclists benefit from increased mental and physical strength.
In the first 20 months of the project, the Finnish Cyclists’ Federation organized courses for beginner riders, basic cyclists and maintenance. On top of that, it offered short bike tours. So far, the initiative counted 65 courses, trained 330 new cyclists and 40 new cycling instructors. Twelve Finnish cities participate in the project.
In the beginner courses, participants learn to balance on a bicycle, to pedal, to use the brakes as well as the basics of controlling a bicycle. One group consists of four to five coaches and ten participants. Around 90% of the participants learned how to ride a bike successfully. Motivated by this great experience, they are eager to learn more. And the courses are equally enjoyable for coaches!
“It’s wonderful to see such big changes! At first, the participants arrive stressed, insecure and afraid of riding a bike. But three hours after, they are already biking with a big wide smile and look happy. It’s incredible to see their transformation as they become empowered!” stated one coach.
The Finnish Cyclists’ Federation relies on a clear teaching methodology, proper equipment (smaller size bicycles, folding pedals etc.), motivation and well-trained coaches in a calm but easily accessible environment. It is important to create a safe space where new cyclists can overcome their fears in their own time.
Additionally, cooperation with NGOs and integration actors are crucial to reach people in need. The NGOs work with groups of people that have already spent time together. Therefore, they can come to the lessons together, which lowers the number of absences and creates a great group dynamic. This accelerates the learning process as trust has already been established beforehand. It also helps to overcome language and cultural barriers very easily found in groups that are so diverse.
Biking can have a positive influence on independence, empowerment, equality, mobility as well as physical and mental health. It’s something Europeans take mostly for granted, but the same doesn’t go for immigrants not used to good city infrastructure.
This project taught me that knowing how to ride a bicycle can be of great importance for immigrants that didn’t learnt it in their childhood and can positively influence their integration process. Especially if the society that welcomes them also values cycling.