Schools open in a month so there’s time to get your kids – and you – confident on your bikes, and to plan the best (and safest – this blog writer’s biggest concern!) routes. The Guardian reports
It is easy to forget how much fun cycling is for kids. It is sociable, and one of the most popular out-of-school activities, yet only 1% of primary and 2% of secondary school children cycle to school.
With a month before going back to school, now is the perfect time to get your kids (and you) confident on their bikes for next term. So how do you set them off on the right foot?
1. Find your route
Your cycle route isn’t usually the way you would drive. Quiet roads or even off-road options are safer and more enjoyable. The National Cycle Network covers most areas in the UK and you can look up your nearest cycle lanes and traffic-free routes on Sustrans’ website or smart phone app.
Try the route out together, and if you are concerned about any part of it contact your borough’s school travel adviser or cycling officer about planned route improvements. Get together with other parents and your school, as several voices are better than one.
2. Choose the right bike
Having trained briefly as a cycling instructor I often notice children wobbling about on bikes that aren’t right for them. Ben Bowskill, Sustrans’ Bike-It officer, says the best option is usually the simplest as kids are attracted to bikes that may be unsuitable for the road, such as heavy mountain bikes. Make sure the bike is the right size for your child and that it is comfortable – brakes, for examople, can be adjusted for small hands.
Avoid buying a flat-pack bike online and assembling it incorrectly. Instead visit your local bike shop to test out a few bikes and get free advice. Your child will spend a lot of time on it, so it is worth investing time to find the right one.
3. Take cycle training
Bikeability – national cycle training – gives you and your child peace of mind that they will be safe on the road. Most primary schools offer Bikeability but places are limited so be ready to say “yes” when the opportunity arises.
Level 1, in years three and four, teaches bike control in the playground; Level 2, for years five and six, visits quiet roads, managing junctions and teaches manoeuvres. If you want training outside of school, CTC has a list of cycle instructors.
4. Practise your skills
Go out as a family. As a parent you want to be confident your kids are safe, and you can lead by example. Bowskill suggests you ride behind the child so they feel protected and you can travel at their speed. If there are two adults, one can ride in front and one behind.
5. Make it fun
Start with short, manageable trips. Often kids don’t get the chance to practice during term time so now, during the holiday, is the perfect opportunity to build cycling into everyday life.
Tim Gill, one of the UK’s leading thinkers on childhood, says: “I think it’s children’s independent trips – to friends, to the shops, to parks – that are of most importance to their long-term health and wellbeing.” A good foundation will give them confidence to cycle into adulthood.
6. Gather cycle buddies
Ask around your neighbourhood – if other local children and parents want to cycle to school, why not ride together as a group? Damien Walker, a parent in Ealing, west London, cycled to school with his sons and other families for years.
He says: “If there are several cyclists together people treat you much more sensibly. For us the local school run was brilliant. Some days we would cycle them to school and they would come home on their own, sometimes we would go because it was fun to do.”
7. Get the school involved
Washingborough school in Lincoln went from two bikes in dilapidated sheds in 2009 to about 100 bikes every day in new sheds (one of the barriers to cycling to school is lack of safe places to keep a bicycle), all thanks to enthusiastic teachers; and the school even organised a three-week Big Pedal event.
Now staff, parents and pupils cycle, while maintenance workshops recycle abandoned bikes to sell on to the community. And all this without route improvements. Jason O’Rourke, the headteacher, says the success is largely due to Jonothan Moody, the teacher who got everyone involved. “Schools have nothing to lose,” says O’Rourke. “There is no cost at all; it is fantastic for bonding the community and we know we are doing the right thing.”
- Bikeability: Cyclists are all geared up for free training (peterboroughtoday.co.uk)
- Cycling Across Scandinavia: Rudolf Steiner Found, Thanks to James Turell (treehugger.com)
- More Bike News: David Suzuki on Bike Lanes, The Guardian On Toronto’s War on Bikes (treehugger.com)
- bike apps (surfabike.wordpress.com)