Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Value of Cycle Training (prospective Mayors are you listening?)

There are times when people make disparaging remarks about funding for cycle training, believing it wouldn't be needed if money was instead spent on decent cycling paths and other such infrastructure.

I gave two one-to-one lessons today; one to a boy who wants to cycle to his secondary school and the other to a lady who had, she confided, somehow forgotten how to cycle.

Both of them received useful advice about on-road cycling, but in both cases they also benefited from considerable time spent making the bikes safe to ride.

The first bike needed both brakes adjusting so that they could fulfil their purpose. Part of the lesson was then spent acquiring the skill of stopping using brakes rather than shoe leather.

The second bike, which had been assembled from its box by the partner of the would-be rider, needed the forks to be positioned facing the correct way. The would-be rider was then delighted to discover that she hadn't in fact forgotten how to ride. Her day was fully made after I'd spent thirty seconds altering the position of her brake levers so she could rest her fingers on them while riding without having her wrist at a painful angle. As a non-driver she also appreciated having clarification on the priorities at junctions.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not for an instant saying that I don't want infrastructure in this country to the standards that exist in the Netherlands. As a nation we should be investing heavily in infrastructure and training.

The consequence will be fitter people who are able to travel independently over a considerable area to work, shop, play or study. Air and noise pollution and CO2 emissions will be reduced. Congestion will diminish and streets will become more sociable places. Less call will be made on the NHS to cure problems that exercise helps prevent.

The economic and societal benefits far outweigh the costs of providing both the infrastructure and the training.

I find it extraordinary that swimming lessons are a mandatory part of the school curriculum yet cycle lessons aren't. Isn't it blindingly obvious that both should be mandatory - not least because swimming and cycling are those rare things: activities that are good for us as well as ones that every child who has been well taught absolutely adores doing!

Society has so much to gain from giving every child the tools to make their way around autonomously, healthily and without polluting.

With the Mayoral elections nearing, let's find out whether the candidates  will take serious aim (with serious funds) at having 100% of primary school children doing cycle training before the end of their term of office.

Post Script: There's an interesting BBC news article about swimming in America, where lessons aren't part of the curriculum. This quote particularly resonates with me, "Parents who don't know how to swim are very likely to pass on not knowing how to swim to their children". It applies equally to cycling.

1 comment:

Paul M said...

I reckon it is entirely in order for private individuals, and in that I would include, for example, school heads and similar pillars of the community, to encourage training. After all, we live in the real world, as we find it. We might think that cycling should not more need training than walking does (although your swimming analogy seems a good one to me – sure you can teach yourself to swim but you’ll certainly make a better fist of it, and do it more efficiently, if you take some lessons) but training can teach people how to be safe on a bicycle, how to distinguish between real danger and the purely perceived kind, and how to manage risk. We know that cycling is safer than it might seem, safer indeed than walking near a road (per km travelled, at any rate) and safer than many other physical activities which person people don’t perceive as risky – DIY, for example, or amateur football – but it is not as safe as it could be.

However, whenever I hear any politician, or any self-interested group or its representatives, advocate cycle training I am deeply cynical about their motives. Politicians see it as a way of appearing to support cycling without putting any real sincerity behind it. Training is much cheaper, as well as much less effective, than decent engineering solutions, be they full separation on busy through roads or traffic calming, filtered permeability etc on side roads. Motoring organisations also have an axe to grind. When the AA hands out free helmets and high-vis I have no doubt they wish to divert attention from more meaningful measures such as reallocation of road-space or closing off of “rat-runs” which they fear will disadvantage their membership interests – not, note their members, but the notional construct of “the motorist” as though that were a breed apart, rather than a human being wearing one of many hats. Part of the reason politicians, of all parties and none, are so feeble about cycling is because fear these commercial interests, and haven’t the nerve to face them down and point out that their constituents don’t merely drive cars, they also live in houses, on streets, and from time to time they walk around their neighbourhoods, may be even ride a bike.

When I hear the likes of John Franklin advocating training, and pouring scorn on the notion of dedicated cycle paths, pushing the vehicular agenda, I immediately recall that they have a sectional interest to defend – Franklin for example wants to sell his book, and can you imagine a Dutchman, for example, having any interest in buying it?