Opinion: Why every child needs Bikeability
Learning to cycle is a rite of passage. It unlocks freedom and independence as we ascend into adolescence and then adulthood.
Most of us learn to cycle at some point in our childhood. You may have been taught by your parents or you may still be the proud owner of your Cycle Proficiency pin badge. If you were in school after 2007, you will be one of almost 4 million children Bikeability has taught to cycle.
I learnt to ride with my parents, down a small country lane near our house. I will never forget that feeling of being in control for the first time on my own – magical!
Today, Bikeability gives children the skills they need to ride confidently on our modern roads. We pride ourselves on our high-quality cycle training and empower millions children cycle to school, the park or the shops.
15 years of quality cycle training
For 15 years Bikeability has been at the forefront of cycling training in England. We enable children and their families to live more active and healthier lives, whilst protecting the health of the planet and tackling climate change.
More than 3,000 qualified, expert Bikeability instructors help us deliver cycle training to hundreds of thousands of children each year. We even have the odd Loose Woman and Paralympian superstar taking part in Bikeability.
Since 2007, Bikeability has been doing more than just teach children how to cycle on our roads. With our range of additional modules, we’ve been helping children across England master their balance bikes, learn how to fix their cycle and learn how to ride with their families.
Bikeability does more than just teach children to cycle. It keeps their bodies fit, helps maintain mental wellbeing, and empowers them to make more sustainable transport choices
Emily Cherry, chief executive of The Bikeability Trust
All children should take part in Bikeability because it teaches them an essential life skill and gives them the confidence they need to cycle safely on today’s roads. Bikeability does more than just teach children to cycle. It keeps their bodies fit, helps maintain mental wellbeing, and empowers them to make more sustainable transport choices.
Our instructors receive regular training to ensure they’re providing the highest quality training. I recently undertook the cycle instructor training course myself which renewed my admiration for our instructors. They work so hard to make cycle training fun and engaging – it’s not an easy job but they make it look so effortless and inspire children on a daily basis.
Without our incredible instructors, we couldn’t help raise the next generation of cyclists, I am so proud of the work they do.
Reaching every child
Every child should have the opportunity to learn how to cycle. That’s why we’re investing in removing barriers to cycling, so every child can access Bikeability. I have seen the positive impact cycle training has had on my own children and the confidence and independence it’s given them. I want to be able to give that experience to every child, regardless of their background or the challenges they face.
Research shows that cycling at a young age has a long-term beneficial impact on the health of children, right through to adulthood. Studies have shown that cycling provides positive experiences, enjoyment, self-esteem, reduced stress and improved mood.
Through the Innovation and Widening Participation Funds we’ve invested £1.6 million in 62 projects in England. This money helps us reach children who do not usually access cycle training because we’re putting the money straight into communities, who know what their children need to thrive.
Our Innovation Fund supported 18 projects which focused on helping children with special educational needs and disabilities access cycle training. The money helped to buy adapted cycles and trikes for children to try out – unlocking a whole new world of cycling joy for the first time for some of our trainees.
The Active Lives children’s survey found that boys are more likely to be active than girls, children from affluent areas are more likely to be active than children from poorer backgrounds, and children from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to be less active than children from white backgrounds
To overcome these challenges, the Widening Participation Fund is supporting projects that remove these barriers and help children learn to ride and keep cycling into adulthood.
Across England more than 1000 bikes have been purchased for children from deprived areas to learn to ride on. Alongside the bikes, projects will deliver Bikeability sessions in the community to enable children and their parents to learn to cycle together. Children from Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority backgrounds will benefit from community-based projects to help them access cycle training. Other projects will empower girls to cycle more by improving self-esteem and providing aspirational female cycling role models.
I’ve been to visit some of these projects, and it is fantastic to see children empowered by our instructors. Sometimes all it takes is some extra time, care and attention and a child who has never cycled before is whizzing around in no time!
Learning as a family
Of course, we want every child to experience Bikeability but we know children of adults who cycle are much more likely to become regular cyclists, which is why we encourage families to train together.
Our new family module allows for any family (that’s a minimum of one adult and one under 18) to learn how to cycle together. Or if you already have the basic skills, our Bikeability instructors will run you through your regular routes, to give you the confidence you need to start cycling together.
Like many families, we took to cycling during the lockdowns. We had always enjoyed leisure cycling on holidays, especially using mountain bike trails. But on the daily school run I found it a struggle to put aside the worry about cycling on busy roads. I was always having to rush off to catch the train to London, and cycling wasn’t an easy option for us as a family. We did it when we could but it wasn’t the routine choice.
So we found confidence with the road conditions on their journeys to school by completing Bikeability Family, together. We spent a Saturday morning running through parts of Bikeability Level 1, Level 2 and then practicing the parts of the school run that my children were concerned about. For my daughter, then aged nine, it was a tricky right hand turn across the main road. For my son, who had transitioned to secondary school, it was a busy traffic light junction near the school entrance.
Practicing these things with the instructor, really boosted my confidence as a parent to see how independently the children tackled the things they worry about, and with a few simple tips, got better at doing so. For the children it gave them the opportunity to ask questions about road signs and road markings so they better understood the road conditions and what things meant. Having one to one tuition as a family was transformative for our confidence and capacity to cycle more often.
Bikeability really does cater for all. It’s our mission to get the nation cycling confidently and safely, so we can protect our own health and that of the planet. On top of all that (and the most important thing in my opinion) we make learning to cycle fun! Everyone remembers the first time they cycled, and by 2025 we hope to be giving that experience to every child in England.