27 Aug, 2014

Cycling becomes SCHOOL SPORT

“We need to address the fitness, health and well-being of the children in my school.”

So says Hennie Strydom, the principal of TrinityHouse Preparatory School in Little Falls.

“Because if you get your blood system flowing, get your heart pumping, get more oxygen to the brain, you will do better in the class room,” he said.

Knowing that there are few sports that can achieve this quite like cycling can, Hennie decided to include South Africa’s fastest growing sport into the list of the school’s extra mural activities.

So, like many of TrinityHouse’s other extra mural activities which include piano lessons and equestrian events, he has approached Strategic Cycling as a specialist organisation to provide lessons, bikes and expertise.

Developed by Tony Harding, the former manager of some of the biggest professional cycling teams and individuals in both South Africa and abroad, and Neil MacDonald, a retired professional road and mountain bike cyclist who achieved national colours 14 times, Strategic Cycling’s Kids on Bikes Youth Cycling Program is run over 10 weeks with a lesson per week.

“This is really exciting. As far as I know, no other school in South Africa offers cycling as a school sport, but I think this will change,” explains Neil.

Since 2009, the Spur School Mountain Bike Series has grown from around 900 to around 10 000 competitors, so there is definitely huge potential for the further development of mountain biking as a school sport.

“When I was still at school,” added Neil, “I taught myself and got my Southern Transvaal colours for cycling, but I received no recognition at all. The teachers would only comment on my shaved legs and I was pushed into mainstream sports like cricket and rugby.”

Neil believes that if he had been taught the basic skills of cycling earlier in his life, he might have achieved even more than he has during his 15 year professional cycling career.

“Cycling will always be my passion, and that’s why I want to give something back to the kids,” he explained.

TrinityHouse’s cycling program started on 28 August with a small group of about 20 boys and girls and the first lessons, which happen on the school’s sports grounds on a Monday afternoon, would include basic bike handling skills like balance and turning.

These lessons form part of the program’s first, of four, levels of skills which will slowly be added as pupil’s experience and skill level increases.

“We’ll build it up from there, and we are thinking that if our pupils do well in the Spur School Series, where they would compete in TrinityHouse colours, we can teach those pupils more about trails and include a ranger’s level,” Neil explained.

One of the exciting developments that both Hennie and Neil are looking at is the creation of a mountain bike trail in the nearby Little Falls Resort where school pupils on TrinityHouse’s school cycling program can further practice their new skills. In the future, the venue could theoretically also be used for competitions too.

“As TrinityHouse Little Falls is a new school, with only 470 pupils, we are developing the sport from the bottom up,” explains Hennie, “cycling will grow as the school gets bigger.”

Like other extra mural activities at TrinityHouse, it could develop so far that pupils who have already gone through the program could come back to coach the new generation of pupils starting at level one.

“They could even earn some pocket money, so there is a whole progression program we’d like to see run its course. And hopefully, one day, a former TrinityHouse pupil could join the ranks of a professional team like MTN Qhubeka,” Neil excitedly explained.

Neil, whose road career achievements include wins in the 2000 Tour of South China Seas, in the under 23 in the 1999 Giro Del Capo, twice in the Amashova Classic and various other podium positions in both individual and team competitions, in South Africa and overseas.

In 2011, he changed his focus to mountain biking, and won the Momentum 94.7 Mountain Bike Challenge that year, the Joberg2C (2011 and 2013), the Dr Evil Classic, the Ride the Rock and various races of the Nissan Trailseeker series. And with podium positions in events like the Sani2C and for his hard-fought battles for the Cape Epic’s African Jersey competition, his change to this version of the sport also produced impressive results.

“I achieved a lot during my pro career. And, depending on the individual of course, you never know where this sport can take you. As a professional, the sport gave me a decent living and, with these kids, you never know,” he mused.

“I would love that,” added Hennie, “it would be great if I could put a picture of one of them getting his or her junior South African cycling colours in my foyer.”

Neil, however, is a “little nervous” as to how big this program could get.

“I know there is going to be lots of kids involved,” he explained, “cycling is a milestone in a kid’s life, and when they ride a bicycle, I know what it is like, their whole world comes alive!”

According to Hennie, children today spend more time in front of television screens than on the sports fields.

“We have to change this. As a teacher, I can’t sit back and say it’s none of my business. The bigger, broader purpose of education is to address these issues as well. So I need to get my busy little boys onto the sports field and this will result in an unbelievable change in those pupils who do this,” he concluded.

Strategic Cycling ( also supports Qhubeka’s Bikes for Kids program.

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |