Dads ‘n’ Lads

Digging through Rotorua’s mountain bike archives, I found this little gem. I thought it was a particularly interesting initiative as it was focused on getting more men riding, whereas it is usually women who are the focus of such programs. I was especially excited about the follow-up outcomes that emerged out of this program.


Indeed, this program was developed following the highly successful Women’s Activator Series and its ongoing positive outcomes (a collaboration between Sport Bay of Plenty (BOP) and Rotorua District Council and Primary Health Services) in conjunction with the results of a 2006 survey, that found “that men enjoyed male-only environments and opportunities to get active with family members. Men preferred an element of competition and challenge to the physical activity as having a structured and encouraging environment was as important a motivator as the fitness benefits” (Fowler & Mansell, 2008).

The Program

The Program was 1-1.5 hour every Thursday evening for 10 weeks. It had support from local individuals and groups who provided shuttle transportation, expert guides, a personal trainer for the weekly pre-ride stretch sessions and the like. Basic bike skills were learned and practiced at the local BMX track for the first fortnight to build confidence and skills while individual fitness levels were determined. The rest of the Program was conducted in the forest, where a new skill was introduced each week – designed to scaffold skills and confidence.

Bicycles Create Change - First timers in the Whakarewarewa Forest
First timers in the Whakarnewarewa Forest. Source: Fowler & Mansell, 2008.

The Program identified three main aims (Fowler & Mansell, 2008): first: to increase the frequency and commitment participants have to physical activity over and beyond the 10-week series period; second: to increase the skills and 
confidence of beginner mountain bike riders; finally: to increase the usage of the 
Whakarewarewa forest by participants for mountain biking and other forms of recreation with family and friends.


An ad was run on December 18th 2007 in the local Daily Post newspaper (see image below) reading: “Calling all men. No matter your age, shape, size or speed (in fact, the slower the better) – this training series is for YOU & it’s FREE! For the past 3 years, we have had the Women’s Activator Series, but now it is time for something for the blokes…. Dad ‘n’ Lads is a 10 week fun run and mountain bike training series aimed at men who are currently not very active, but would like to improve their fitness, have some laughs at the same time and discover some great walking/running/cycling to share with family and friends once the series is over. For 10 weeks you will enjoy a weekly training session, which will have options for the beginners and progress to more challenging routes as your fitness increases. How much you challenge yourself is up to you!” 42 men responded to the ad (including 3 father and son partnerships) – of which 20 completed the program.

Bicycles Create Change - Dads 'n' Lads
Source: Daily Post, December 18th 2007

The 3 main aims of the program were met. Overall there were 5 main noteworthy outcomes of this program.

  1. Activity levels increased remarkably by week 10 with 60% increasing their activity to 2-3 days per week while the other 40% had increased their activity level to a minimum of 30 mins per day.
  2. Increased assertiveness using the Whakarewarewa Forest for recreation. Confidence and familiarity with the forest meant that participants felt confident to take family and friends into the forest for recreational activities.
  3. Setting and achieving goals such as fitness, strength or weight-loss, increased general activity levels (on the bike and in the forest) father/son bonding and forming new friendships were some of the top goals achieved.
  4. Educating others was a key feature of the program that every participant identified with, having involved or taken out for a ride, at least, one family member (wife, child or grandchild). The top 3 skills that were instrumental in taking out others that were learnt from the program, was: setting up the bike correctly, basic riding techniques and being able to change a flat tyre.
  5. Valued outcomes for the participants included: structured, yet informal/social setting, having bikes available to rent for the activity and the mutual support of the other men.
Follow-up positive changes

This Program had clear aims and solid support throughout, which meant that there was a consistent and reliable basis for the participants to develop their confidence, skills and networks. I think it is exciting that many participants put these skills into action and took others out into the forest, for family outings for example, increasing fitness; increasing appreciation and use of the amazing forest on their doorstep; and enhancing quality time with others – which shows the potential that such community programs have for ongoing indirect positive impacts benefiting a greater number of people in the community.

Also, it is great to hear that the participants formed their own group ride after the program finished – to maintain the camaraderie, skills and habits they had learnt. Their monthly group ride also includes their family members, which is a wonderful way of extending the enjoyment, fitness, ability and community that this program began.

Bicycles Create Change - Dads 'n' Lads group
Dads ‘n’ Lads Participants Source: Fowler & Mansell, 2008.


Fowler, A., & Mansell, L. (2008). Dads ‘N’ lads – getting men on the move with rotorua’s beginner mountain bike series.Australasian Parks and Leisure, 11(2), 34-37.

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