Remember the long summer days when as children we used to play out on the streets with our bikes? We’d ride to school, to our friends, to the park; everywhere was reachable on our bikes. And they weren’t the multi-geared, disc-braked, gel-seated, sealed-bearinged, carbon tour de forces available to today’s children. Simple three-speedsters with caliper brakes and cotter pin cranks offered all the fun that was needed. But do many of us remember whether it was actually dangerous or whether our parents worried about us? Probably not, because accidents were rare and our parents had done the same when they were young when there were even less cars and learning to ride a bike was just what everyone did.
OK, so we’d done the ‘Cycling Proficiency’ test in the school playground where we’d wobbled around a few cones and learned to look over our shoulder whilst putting our arms out straight. But this didn’t actually prepare us for the dangers that the roads of today present. No, we got to ride as confidently as we do today because we were lucky enough to learn when there were far fewer cars on the road and their speeds were considerably slower; remember when 30 mph meant 30 mph?
So how do we teach our children today that cycling can still be as fun as it ever was and that they can still enjoy the freedom it offers without frightening them half to death about the dangers? Whilst teaching the rules of the road is important, the real key to cycling enjoyment is confidence; lacking in the necessary confidence is more often down to fear – be it real or imagined. Just ask someone to walk on a three inch white line marked on the ground and they’ll invariably do it without any problems, but put the same thin line a couple of feet above the ground and, however stable it is, most will recoil with fear – ‘it’s dangerous’ they’ll say. ‘But surely no more dangerous than the thin white line on the floor?’ Of course the risks are slightly higher because falling even a couple of feet can cause an injury – but the danger is only slight.
The same reality exists with bicycles. The much maligned car drivers are pretty much trained not to hit things that they can see because they don’t want to damage their cars – buses and trucks are driven by professional drivers who generally try to avoid hazards on the road that might have an adverse effect their livelihoods. So the task for the cyclist when riding in the ‘shared’ space of the road is to make sure that they can be seen by being on the right part of the road at the right time and by ensuring that they only maneuver when it is expected and allowed.
As soon as a child (and I don’t mean little children under the age of 11 years who really shouldn’t on the road) realizes that he is safe and that nobody wants to hit them, then their confidence will grow – the same is true for adults, of course. Yes, cars will occasionally come closer to us than we might like but that is usually because they have made a judgement that the gap is wide enough for the two of us; knocking someone off a bicycle with a motor vehicle can result in a very heavy fine or even a prison sentence to it’s not really something they want to do.
So my advice for teaching children to learn to ride on the road is to teach them to be confident and positive and to enjoy the journey. Teach them the joys of cycling down winding country lanes and how riding in the dark and the rain is as much fun as riding on a sunny day – it’s only water! Teach them that bicycles represent freedom to go wherever and whenever you want – no waiting for buses or lifts. Just get on your bike and you’ll be there in no time.
Biog. Simon is not only an ardent cyclist who competes in long distance endurance events (he blames his age for his lack of speed over the shorter distances), but he also is a keen writer. This combination enabled him to launch www.pedal-pedal.co.uk in 2012 – a UK cycling accessory site with a difference; one that contains only original written and photographic content (written by and photographed by Simon), a telephone number where people can ask questions, and a genuine enthusiasm for providing genuine customer service.