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Julianne Idlet: Founder and Executive Director of CYCLE Kids

CYCLE Kids started as a local afterschool program in Boston and now operates in elementary schools across the country to give kids the physical and emotional benefits of riding bikes. Their physical education program brings bike riding into schools to ensure every kid becomes confident, focused, and healthy in and out of the classroom. Since its founding, CYCLE Kids has put tens of thousands of kids on the path to health and success.

How did CYCLE Kids get its start?

I was in a corporate career and rode with and helped coach the Harvard University cycling team on the side to stay in shape, which ended up not only being great exercise, but inspiration for me. I started reading about kids who had Type 2 diabetes and heart disease and was shocked— those always seemed like adult diseases to me. I thought about how kids don’t ride bikes anymore and lacked that sense of independence which helps them develop confidence and self-esteem. I decided to start an afterschool program to give kids an opportunity to ride bikes, and improve their emotional and physical health. It ended up growing into a national school based elementary school PE program. When I started CYCLE Kids, we were one of the few curriculum-based PE programs available, and could show a real, tangible impact on kids. The success of the program has gained national attention and we’re looking to develop additional partnerships with cycling teams, sports organizations, and corporations to help us grow even more.

Can you tell us about your programming?

We started as an afterschool program at an inner-city school in Boston but now work directly with the schools as a PE credit for kids in 3rd and 4th grades. Schools receive bikes, helmets, and a curriculum to teach bike safety, nutrition, holistic health, and bike riding lessons. The kids develop a lot of emotional skills and confidence by working past the fear of learning to ride a bike in front of their peers. Biking gives kids a sense of control and empowers them to excel. If we give them this one memory of succeeding in front of all their friends, they will remember that forever and feel like they can succeed in other areas of their lives. Boston University recently did an independent research study on our program and the results were astounding. The teachers who work in our schools say the kids are more confident, focused, and ready to tackle new subjects after riding. They even begin biking to school. A girl in one of our programs had a great day of riding at CYCLE Kids and went off to take a math test. All her friends were so nervous, but she said, “If I can ride a bike, I can do anything!” That kind of confidence is exactly what we hope to spark in these kids.

What kinds of communities do you work in?

We target low-income communities where there is a high-need. In these areas, kids often have very little control over their lives. We want to help give them confidence and a sense of independence. We also do a lot of work with Native American communities, especially in the Navajo Nation. In one of our first afterschool programs, there was a young boy who was not part of the cool crowd. He was overweight, sick, awkward, didn’t have a lot of friends, and was bullied. I was really worried about him, but by the time the program ended we found out from his mom that the boy was doing great in school and working so hard after joining CYCLE Kids and learning how to ride a bike. He was living in a home for battered women with his mother at the time and the CYCLE Kids program really changed his life. The kids who once bullied him ended up teaching him to ride a bike and became his friends.

What has been your favorite part of starting CYCLE Kids?

The people I’ve met through the process of launching this are amazing. Our board members and donors are incredible people who are busy in their own lives but want to help out however they can. The teachers we work with are delighted to be able to connect with their students in a new, productive way, and the kids totally love it. Watching the program have such a positive impact on people on so many levels is really great. CYCLE Kids has been able to give everyone the opportunity to make a difference in such a fun and positive way. I’m so happy I was able to start it.


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