Sixty kids marked the first day of real spring weather in Ottawa Saturday by testing out shiny new bicycles given to them by a generous — and anonymous — donor.
It's the second year in a row an anonymous woman has donated new bikes to youth who otherwise wouldn't have access to them, in partnership with the Ottawa Police Service.
On Saturday, 30 boys and 30 girls took their new rides for a spin inside the McNabb Community Arena for the Bikes for Kids event.
First, however, they received bike safety lessons from Safer Roads Ottawa, which launched in 2012 with the goal of reducing serious collisions in the city.
According to Const. Darren Joseph, a school resource officer posted in Barrhaven, the donor wanted to bridge the gap between youth and the police and build trust in the community.
Her goal was to show police giving back to the community, something Joseph said the public doesn't often get to see.
"It's about getting a bike but it's a lot more. They're seeing people in the community … and police officers in a good light," Joseph said as kids circled around.
"[They can] say, 'You know what? I met a police officer or a sergeant [or] somebody from public health and they were really nice people and they helped us.' I think we need more of that in the community."
Last year, the donor gave out 40 new bikes. Kids who are less fortunate or who performed well in school were chosen for this year's program.
Karter Dube, 10, was one of this year's lucky recipients.
"It's better than my old bike that I got because it's small," he said with a smile. "Now this is a new one."
Staci Sackenay said her 10-year-old daughter was thrilled to get a new bike just in time for spring because she'd outgrown her old one.
"We couldn't afford a new bike this year for her. We told her that, too. So I'm happy this happened," Sackenay said as she watched her daughter get a safety lesson.
'We feel that it is safe'
Bikes for Kids has also benefited newly-settled immigrants and larger families, including parents who couldn't afford to buy bikes for all five of their children.
Rob Wilkinson, coordinator of Safer Roads Ottawa, said the number of collisions involving cyclists has remained relatively the same over the last five years and that youth should feel safe out on the road.
"From a collision perspective we feel that it is safe. We want to make it safer — and certainly, from a city perspective, we're doing all sorts of stuff in terms of segregated bike lanes, protected intersections and so on," he said.
"But certainly it is a safe means to go about the city."
Joseph said Bikes for Kids could become an annual event, which could mean a lot to countless other kids in the city.
"A bike to a kid is like a car to a grown up. It's a huge deal, especially when you don't have one and you see kids riding around in the park and you don't have on," Joseph said.
"I think it's really important that we take care of everybody in the community."