Kidical Mass rides show the demand for child-friendly, cycle-friendly towns and cities

Group of cyclists including children cycling on the road, close up of a little boy on his bike wearing a helmet and high vis jacket
Monthly mass rides by children and their parents show the demand for child-friendly, cycle-friendly towns and cities. Hilary Smart is one of the organisers

Climate change is something I remember learning about in school. This, we were told, would be our generation’s problem to solve. At the time, this felt very unfair. I was 10, hadn’t caused this problem and had no clue where to start. Where were all the adults in the room? 

Thirty years later, it’s now my generation doing the teaching – and the messaging hasn’t changed. Many children are acutely aware that the future of the earth hangs by an ever-thinning thread. They know it’s ‘their problem’ to address. Yet they are given no power to cause meaningful change. 

In September 2023, families across the world took part in Kidical Mass action rides and bike buses. More than 30 rides took place here in the UK, involving over 3,000 riders – double the number from the previous event in May. These rides enable children and families to send a clear message to decision makers: we want to be able to cycle safely around our cities. 

Freedom to ride

Transport makes up about a quarter of UK emissions. Cycling is a very low emission form of transport and is also very child friendly. Given the right infrastructure a child on a bike can have the freedom of their city as soon as they are mature enough to handle it. How many of our towns and cities have the right infrastructure? 

Here in Reading, we don’t, although things are improving. We moved here when I was pregnant with our eldest child. My husband grew up in Cambridge and a bike had been his primary form of transport since he was a teenager. There was no way he was going to let that change. So he kept cycling, taking time to scope out the least forbidding routes between the places he needed to go, and making sure he positioned himself defensively on the road. 

In time we had another child and got another bike: my Tern GSD, an electric longtail cargo bike, on which I can take both children around the town. My husband now uses a triplet as his ‘family car’. The boys love being on the bikes. I (and most of Reading) can tell when they’re particularly happy as the oldest starts blasting ‘Into the Unknown’ from Disney’s Frozen 2 at the top of his voice. 

Cute as they are now, I am conscious that in not too many years the boys are going to be wanting their freedom. 

A large junction with no specific cycling provision is annoying and sometimes intimidating for an adult. It can make an entire route impassable for a child. 


Reading is littered with such junctions. I knew we needed change but I didn’t know how to help make it happen. Again, I felt responsible but powerless. 

Adults and children cycling together on the road at a Kidical Mass cycling event with parked cars on wither side of the road

Better together

When I saw a message early in 2022 inviting interested parties to come to a café and discuss setting up Kidical Mass rides in Reading, we showed up. The idea sounded great: a chance for kids and families to ride together, with marshals to keep the kids safe from traffic and other dangers. My husband agreed to put his years of finding ways around the town to good use by becoming Kidical Mass Reading’s official route planner. Our oldest was very excited by the conversation; despite being confident riding his bike he had never yet been allowed to ride on the road. 

The lady who had put out the summons was Kat Heath. She and her one-year-old son had just moved down from Inverness. Kat had played a key part in setting up the rides there, so she had experience. She became our official spokesperson and publicity planner. She managed to get funding in our first year for public liability insurance for Kidical Mass rides all across the country. She was later named as one of Cycling UK’s 100 Women in Cycling for 2022

We’ve seen many successes since that first meeting. Firstly, the rides have been joyous. We and the kids have made so many friends. They love riding with the crowd and look forward to them each month. We’ve been able to share local tips and bike setup advice with other families. One family test rode another family’s cargo bike after the ride and went on to buy one. We have volunteer bakers who make the most amazing cakes – and kids who run round passing them out as we socialise after the rides. 

The rides aren’t only attended by children. We love our marshals, who choose to turn up every month with a smile to make sure the children can navigate the route safely. There are a couple of slightly older gentlemen with recumbent tricycles who join us regularly, too; a city with infrastructure that’s safe for children is good for everyone. At Christmas, Father Christmas somehow always manages to fit our ride into his busy schedule. 

Adults and children cycling together on the road at a Kidical Mass cycling event

The road ahead

We have been featured in local newspapers, and after the previous action weekend we were invited onto the local radio. I was able to talk about changes that we need to see so that children can cycle safely to a new local secondary school. 

Habits set in childhood can last a lifetime, so this could be a high-impact change. 


The local council is engaging with us. They clearly want the town to be more cycling friendly, and they are interested to learn more about what that means for children. We have been invited to participate in cycling forums, and several councillors (including the mayor) have come to see the rides. 

Nevertheless, change can seem very slow. I look at Reading and I know it is the right size for bicycles and public transport to be the default way to get around. (I know from personal experience that an e-bike flattens all hills.) Can you imagine the difference this would make to Reading’s carbon emissions and air quality? It would, of course, also clear space on the roads for those few people who have no choice but to drive. But that future is a long, long way from where we are now. Sometimes it seems impossible to find the route between here and there. 

As I mentioned earlier, my older son’s favourite song from Frozen 2 is ‘Into the Unknown’. I personally prefer the quieter but resolute ‘Do the Next Right Thing’ from the same film. I love the message that we don’t have to know all the steps to where we’re going, we just have to find and take the next one. 

For me, that next step is helping to organise the next Kidical Mass ride, and leveraging it to push for better cycling access to the new secondary school. While I’m here, working for change in my town, I know that there are groups in towns and cities across the UK doing the exact same thing. I’m grateful for every one of you. 

We’re the adults in the room now. Our generation is coming into the decades where we will hold the economic and political power. It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road for children to have to deal with. We have to do the next right thing.

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Cycling UK’s view

Jim Densham, our policy manager, says:

"Sadly, too few children cycle to school or for fun because the roads are so busy and perceived as dangerous. Like food banks, Kidical Mass rides and bike buses shouldn’t need to exist and must not be seen as a long-term solution. But they are meeting a need in the current circumstances. 

"We should praise the kids who are claiming their space on the road. All of us adults should respect children’s voices and find alternatives to driving kids to school, or drive with extra caution around children. Our children need better transport options and safer road space for their health, their freedom and for the planet."