Teenagers are sophisticated, opinionated and digitally savvy. So when it comes to encouraging teens to get active, you have to think a little outside the square to get them on board.

The Happiness Cycle is anything but square. The initiative by Coca-Cola and Bicycle Network saw over 5000 new bicycles delivered to teens across the country.

Not only were high school students given their own bicycles, they were also trained to build it themselves and given tools to track their rides. The point of the Happiness Cycle was simple: inspire teens to get moving for an hour a day.

Challenging But Rewarding

According to Bicycle Network program manager Gemma McCrohan, rolling out bikes across a country as large as Australia has been a huge success, and a massive challenge.

“Since we launched in January, I’ve learned about the complexities of a program on this scale, the sheer number of people involved,” said Gemma. “We didn’t have this knowledge 12 months ago!”

The logistics were nothing compared to the learning curve working with teens and understanding what motivates them.

“I don’t know if you’ve met a 15 year old recently, but getting on their wave length is the real challenge,” laughed Gemma. “What I’ve learned most is that we need to understand them, their interests and what actually drives them. Why do they want these bikes? What will inspire them to ride?”

Partner on the project at Coca-Cola, Amy Byrne, concurred. “We’ve really come a long way,” she said. “After 27 events across the country, we understand the nuances of cycling, the barriers of cycling, the benefits of cycling and how to communicate that in a relevant way.”

Taking it Offline

An area that surprised organisers was their audience’s engagement with digital. The team designed a dedicated app as part of the project, but unexpectedly, it turned out that teenagers were more interested in communicating with one another in person.

“We really thought the app was going to be an ongoing thing to drive momentum, to encourage teens and keep them riding,” said Amy. “But actually, what we found, is that the digital platform doesn’t do that. The main motivator for their continued riding is that their peers are riding with them.”

The Happiness Cycle team placed emphasis on events within communities. “We learnt that they really enjoy activities with their social group,” explained Gemma. “It’s an environment where they feel comfortable and safe with their friends. We’ve learnt that for riding to become a social norm, the school environment is key.”

According to Gemma, the first year of the Happiness Cycle has been a winner. “The feedback is that we’re doing great things,” she said. “We’ve done really well for the first time this initiative has ever been attempted.”