Open to everybody: How Bikeability gives children the skills and confidence to get on their bikes

Rebecca Morley catches up with Bikeability CEO Emily Cherry

Encouraging kids to be active and helping them cycle safely has numerous benefits, with Chris Boardman recently describing the ability to ride a bike as a ‘ticket to freedom’. This was after a £500,000 Bikeability funding boost was announced to teach children to cycle during the summer holidays, and now, schools and families across the UK have been invited to take part in Cycle to School Week from 3rd-7th October.

“It’s a week of action, a unifying moment to show parents, carers, schools and children the importance of getting on your cycles and giving some top tips for doing it,” Bikeability CEO Emily Cherry told BikeBiz.

“This year we’re asking families, children, and schools to take an approach of pledging to try something new. That could be cycling to school, it could also be travelling as a family on a new route, it could just be using your cycle for the first time to go to the shops or for leisure. We’re asking for a pledge-based approach, which is really important.”

But beyond this week of encouraging cycling commutes, how do we instil good habits to ensure children continue riding all year round? “There are three things that we think are really important – the first is obviously the training,” said Cherry. “It’s the skills and the confidence to cycle everywhere that cycling is permitted, and that’s what Bikeability does.

“By the end of primary school, we would expect to give every child the skills and the independence to be able to cycle. The second thing, which is kind of more important than the first, is access to cycles. Right now, in the cost of living crisis, there are children, there are areas of the country where that’s going to be a barrier to cycling. It’s the most climate-friendly and cost-effective way to travel around, but it’s still going to be a barrier.”

The other thing is infrastructure, and while this will take large sums of money, it is what’s needed for parents and children to feel confident to cycle everywhere. “But whilst we wait for that,” Cherry said, “and it is not going to be everywhere, the safe infrastructure, it’s even more important to do the first two.

“Bikeability-trained children are more likely to cycle, their parents are more likely to allow them to cycle, and they are better at hazard perception and road safety. That’s why it’s vital, we must make sure the funding is there for every child to learn to cycle.”

Inclusivity projects
Bikeability puts diversity at the heart of what it does, with its projects highlighted in the charity’s entry for Diversity Champion at this year’s BikeBiz Awards. These included training deaf instructors to teach deaf children, instructor training for people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, using BMX to encourage girls and children from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds to enjoy cycling, funding training and providing adapted cycles for children with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities), helping girls and women learn cycle maintenance skills, and using Bikeability to help asylum seekers and refugees settle into their new communities.

In Pride month, Bikeability collaborated with PRiDE OUT to showcase inspiring cyclists, shed light on the LGBTQIA+ cycling experience and tell stories from communities whose voices are not always heard. Instructors also have free coaching to support their understanding of disability, neurodiversity and to deliver training to those with specific needs.

Cherry told BikeBiz: “We’ve actually invested further money and, let’s be honest, this takes more money and more resource, and we need to do more targeted work. We invested about £1.6 million in 44 projects, doing things like working with children who are in Asian communities, and providing role models and cycling instructors from the Asian community to be those mentors and to work with them.

“It’s work with teen girls, so I haven’t been down to it yet, but I’m really looking forward to going down to Gravesend to see an 18-week programme they’ve done with teen girls on body image and self-esteem and self-confidence, and the right cycling gear to wear and all those types of things.

“We’ve got to invest it in more of those areas. We’ve also got to invest in cycles themselves for children in deprivation, which is what we’ve been doing. There’s also children with special educational needs and disabilities, that’s been a real focus of ours, inclusion.

“When I first came to Bikeability two years ago, I looked at the data and we were reaching about 1% of children with SEND on our courses. And national stats are about 15% of children in school have SEND. That to me was woefully inadequate, and we need to provide inclusive Bikeability.

“We’ve done huge amounts of work. We’ve invested in projects to deliver Bikeability differently to children. We have invested in additional top-up funding, so providers can bring in extra staff. We’ve got partnerships with Wheels for All centres so that we can provide Bikeability through those, and we’re also about to roll out some mandatory training for our instructors so that they can do more work.

“All of these things take more time, more money and more resource and efforts. But that’s how you get to see change with those groups. And then the final group is parents and carers, they hold the key to the bike sheds.

“We can give children the confidence, the skills, the independence, even the cycle, but if a parent says: ‘You’re not cycling, I’m too concerned’, then we need to do more work with them, which is why we’ve invested in family training to show parents together the skills that their children can have and how they can help their children to develop cycling skills as well as how to cycle with confidence.”

Current trends
“All forms of micromobility, including e-scooters and e-cycles, are absolutely the future,” continued Cherry. “We obviously need to see what’s now going to happen with planned transport legislation, with the new administration, but with the potential proposals to widen the definitions and to even think about lowering the age range for children to use them legally on the road.

“We agree and support that, but we want there to be training and of course we would suggest it should be mandatory for everyone before they take on any cycle or scooter. We are the industry best placed to do that. We’ve already got instructors who teach e-scooters and e-cycles to adults, happening all over the country, happening with some of the private providers, for example Beryl down in Bournemouth.

“They work with our Bikeability instructors to do training for people going out on Beryl e-scooters. So we’ve already got the industry and the systems in place, it just needs that additional funding and rollout to make sure that we can do that for everyone but we strongly support micromobility in the future.”

On what retailers can do, Cherry said they need to be having conversations at point of sale to assess the rider’s ability. “That’s something that we could skill up retailers to do. You can have in store checks certainly and then if they’re real novice riders, ask at the point of sale if they’ve considered cycle training.

“I’d also like to see the industry come together with Government to look at different forms of e-learning. I think the Transport for London cycle skills modules are excellent, but obviously that’s London-centric.

“It’d be great if retailers could get together and we could produce something altogether that says, if you’re a novice rider, get some face-to-face training. If you’re coming back to cycling, and maybe just need a bit of a refresher, I think we’ve got the opportunity to do things on e-learning.”

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