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Finland Gives Immigrants New Freedom Through Cycling

By Monica Buck

Half the people in Helsinki, the Nordic country’s capital, travel by bicycle at least once a week. 10 percent ride all year round. Cycling is part of the Finnish culture, and the Finnish Cyclists’ Federation knows this better than anyone. That’s why the organization started a series of free bicycle lessons to help newcomers integrate into their new surroundings.

“Many people who come to Finland, mostly women, don’t have this bicycle skill and it’s a very important part of Finnish society,” said Federico Ferrara of the Finnish Cyclists’ Federation. “It’s also very important for them, because when you first come, if you are in a refugee centre, many times they are in the middle of nowhere and the bike can be the only way of commuting.”

In a typical lesson, the clients meet at a quiet place to be taught the basic skills. Once they master the initial moves, the teachers ride with them on an open road. After a 3-hour session, 90 percent of students are able to cycle without any problems.

“Many of our clients have some kind of taboo with these biking skills, maybe they fell down when they were kids and they’ve had this trauma in their head for 20 years, or maybe it’s not socially or culturally accepted for them to bike.”

That is all left behind, and in the past 18 months, 320 beginners were successfully taught how to ride.