Britain is dragging behind the rest of the western world in the number of children that cycle to school. In a nation where nearly half of all school children say that they would like to cycle to school, only 2% actually do. Why? Well, it seems parents are too scared to let their kids cycle on the traffic-filled roads.
Of course this fear would be reduced greatly by the construction of more segregated bike lanes but until that happens we need to make the most of what we have.
Less than 2% of children in the UK cycle to school
The average distance a child travels to school in Britain is 2.3 miles, nowhere near far enough to justify starting the engine of a 4×4, especially when the benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks.
Cycling to school is not just great for your kid’s health but it will help their concentration in the classroom too. A Danish study that looked at nearly 20,000 youths between 5 and 19 years old, showed that children that walked or cycled to school had much better concentration in class than those travelled by car or public transport.
Over a third of morning rush hour traffic would disappear if we stopped driving our kids to school. This would obviously make the roads clearer and more pleasant for those that have no choice but to drive to their destination and would cut unnecessary emissions too.
Kids that cycle to school arrive more energised and ready to learn
Cycling is also one of the best forms of exercise and a short cycle to and from school each day will go far towards your child’s recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise.
As well as improving your child’s health and concentration, allowing them to cycle to school will also give them a sense of independence that will allow them to develop road awareness and learn how to manage risk for themselves. And, of course, cycling is free so you’ll save money on fuel and bus passes if you let your kid pedal instead.
Letting your child cycle to school for the first time will probably be a bit daunting, but it will be less so if you’ve properly planned it.
Ask your child’s school if they offer Bikeability or Bike It! courses. If they do then enrol your child and if they don’t then pester them until they do. By attending one of these courses your child will improve their confidence on the roads, learn the highway code and become better road cyclists. Knowing your child has had this training should help set your fears at rest too.
If it’s an old bike or a second hand one that your child will be using, get it serviced before they start cycling to school to ensure that it is road worthy and safe to ride. It’s also important that you check your child’s helmet fits them perfectly so that they are fully protected.
The first few times they cycle to school you could accompany them. This would help build their confidence whilst they get used to their new route and will help set your mind at ease too. If your child is a bit older and the thought of cycling to school with their mum is far too embarrassing for them to contemplate, cycle the route with them a couple of times the weekend before instead.
Planning A Route
There are lots of tools available to help you plan a quiet, mostly traffic-free route to your kid’s school (and your place of work too). You may even be guided down little roads that you never even knew existed.
Individual councils tend to have their own cycle route mapper that covers the local area, such as Hampshire County Council’s My Journey tool. Head to gov.uk to check whether your council offers a similar service.
Cycling is one of the best forms of exercise
For anyone that lives in London, the TFL cycle journey planner is likely to be your best tool. It lets you choose how easy or challenging you would like the route to be and determines how long it will take you depending on your average cycling speed.
If your council doesn’t offer a cycle route mapping service and you don’t live in London, the Bike Hub smartphone apps and online route planner will do the job for you.
Choosing The Right Gear
Aside from a bike and a helmet there are a few other bits of gear your kid will need if they’re going to cycle to school:
- Panniers, a handlebar bag or a backpack for carrying their schoolbooks and PE kit
- Mudguards to protect their school uniform from muddy puddles
- Lights and a high-vis jacket for cycling in on dark, wintery mornings
- A sturdy bike lock to keep their bicycle safe whilst they’re in class
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