Cycling in Bristol is on the increase, and one thing I’ve become aware of recently is the number of parents cycling to school with their primary aged children. I’ve been doing the school run since 2004 and in that time have noticed a real rise in the number of children cycling to school – in my area of North Bristol at any rate. My school route takes me across several catchment areas, so we not only see children on their way to our school, but to three, if not four others.
This week I’ve seen quite a few more – and they have been sporting Sky Ride high-viz jackets, which were being given away free to anyone who took part in Bristol Skyride on 21st June. This suggests that family oriented rides are a really good way to get people motivated.
Whilst the growth in cycling to school is really positive - at a time when children are taking less and less exercise - one thing that I can’t help noticing is the worrying way in which many parents cycle with their kids. It seems that parents feel that they need to “lead” their children by cycling in front of them. This results in children, some of them barely bigger than toddlers following in hot pursuit. By doing this parents are putting their kids at risk. By cycling in front, parents haven’t got a clear view of their children; how far behind they are, or what’s happening on the road behind them.
Some children end up quite a long way behind as they get distracted by the world around them. Even on quiet residential streets there is a lot of activity first thing in the morning: cars, others cyclists and pedestrians can all behave in unpredictable ways and its takes both experience and quick decision making skills to deal with this – which most young children do not have.
The majority of parents naturally let their toddlers walk in front of them so they can see what they are up to, rather than encouraging them to follow. But somehow this natural instinct doesn’t translate into cycling. Perhaps this is because children are generally older when they start cycling, but our advice is that parents should always take up the rear until children are ready to cycle independently of you.
By doing this parents can see exactly what is going on ahead, allowing them to make decisions and then give clear instructions to children. Parents can also keep looking behind to assess if anyone is wanting to overtake, and if necessary they can guide their child to a waiting point or block the path of vehicles until there is room for them to safely overtake.
Over many years Life Cycle has developed its programme of Cycle Training, to pass on tips like these to would be cyclists. At the moment, thanks to support from Bristol City Council, we can offer free training to people who live or work in Bristol, passing on skills and knowledge gained through many years of cycling in the city.
For more information, and to book your free cycle lesson, see our Cycle Training pages.