Get on your bike this summer

Being able to ride a bike is a vital life skill which allows you to travel at low cost, with zero polluting emissions and at a considerable benefit to your health, but it is not a skill that is being prioritised at the moment in the nation’s schools. Around a half of all school pupils in England are currently offered ‘bikeability’ level 1 and 2 cycling training at primary school age. We would like to see that rise to 100 per cent of pupils, with level 3 then being offered during their secondary school years.

We don’t understand why swimming is considered to be a priority, but cycling is often ignored and is way down the list. It is a life-skill that can make a huge difference a child’s future health, wealth and quality of life. Yes, there is a huge pressure on time and the curriculum is already very full, but we argue that cycling skills fits easily into the physical education requirement.

If more people were able to safely ride a bike to school and work, then the government could potentially save millions in pounds of lost revenue due to a whole range of inactivity-related health conditions.

If more people were able to safely ride a bike to school and work, then the government could potentially save millions in pounds of lost revenue due to a whole range of inactivity-related health conditions.

Transport-related problems in English urban areas are estimated to cost the economy about £38-47bn each years, with congestion, physical inactivity, injuries and pollution all imposing annual costs of around £10bn. Promoting cycling is a joined-up solution to all of them.

Of course parents could help children to learn to ride a bike and many of them do. However, anecdotally, we are learning that many parents themselves now lack the confidence and skills to cycle, and are therefore unable to pass them on to their children. Furthermore, the culture of health and safey may make parents fearful that their children may get hurt in the process of practising and learning. Many people don’t have access to private gardens or driveways where children can safely learn and even parks often have restrictions for cyclists now which they never had in the past.

Some community projects now offer the use of free bikes to help would-be cyclists of all ages to learn and gain confidence, with bike recycling centres also teaching people the skills needed to repair bikes, as well as putting bikes out into their local communities. However, these projects can only help a small number of people so for many, buying a bike is a big investment. ‘Try-before-you-buy’ projects can be hugely valuable in helping people decide whether to take up cycling, especially for people with health conditions or disabilities who may doubt whether they manage to take up cycling, but who also know it could be hugely beneficial if the answer is “yes”.

‘Try-before-you-buy’ projects can be hugely valuable in helping people decide whether to take up cycling, especially for people with health conditions or disabilities who may doubt whether they manage to take up cycling, but who also know it could be hugely beneficial if the answer is “yes”.

The best way to become confident with riding a bike is to learn to balance and ‘scoot’ along by pushing with your legs. For young children, there are balance bikes available. For adults, it is possible to remove the pedals and turn an adult-sized bike into a balance bike too. This is tried and tested and avoids most accidents and tumbles. As they start to feel they can glide between putting their feet down alternately, they become more confident until the pedals can be reintroduced.
For summer 2018, we hope that more children and adults will take to their bikes for the first time and join the millions who already benefit from life on two wheels.

Roger Geffen MBE
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