Bike ed makes kids confident and capable riders but not all kids get the benefit. Simon Vincett investigates.
Anyone who rides knows the fun and freedom only a bike can deliver. Parents happily spend hours cajoling, encouraging and steadying their kids through the learning process to witness them finally wobbling off, triumphant at reaching another of life’s milestones. To hone kids’ riding technique, deepen their confidence and to teach them safety skills, we can also thank instructors and volunteers who run bike skills courses in schools.
Kid’s love that bike education is a practical course where they get out on the bikes and ride through simulated traffic situations, usually set out with witches hats on the basketball court. Here they can learn and practise bike handling skills, the road rules and how to respond to various traffic situations. The lessons culminate with everyone heading out on the road for a ride as a group.
While riding a bike is commonly considered a normal part of growing up, it’s a learned skill with good or bad habits to develop. Steve Taylor, who trains instructors for Bike Ed in Victoria, finds that people think they are good riders without ever actually learning the best practices of bike handling. “We grade our ability based on experience – if we haven’t had an accident we must be a good rider,” he points out to instructors-to-be. “But that can also mean that we’ve been lucky and our bad habits haven’t caused an accident yet.”
All school kids benefit from bike education but in Victoria, with its 30-year-old Bike Ed program, only a fraction of school kids do the course. The number of kids in other states is much lower again. The reason is that bike education is not set in any government-prescribed curriculum, so it relies on someone making it happen at schools.
Lydia Ho, a keen bike riding parent, started Bike2Bourke at her local primary school in Sydney. “The school is right on the new Bourke Street cycleway,” she points out. “Families just needed a bit of encouragement.”
Lydia applied for grant from the City of Sydney and now awards regular riders every month with certificates and small prizes. “The kids have really taken it on,” says Lydia. “There’s a core group who ride every day and an awareness of bike riding is growing in different ways throughout the school.”
The school received bike and scooter racks from the City of Sydney and send classes of students to a council facility for bike skills and traffic education.
While it was initially difficult to make contact at the school, Lydia finds the Principal is very supportive. “It’s a matter of seeing what schools want and doing it,” she says.
Georgie Fyfe-Jamieson of Ride2School assists teachers and schools throughout Australia to remove the obstacles to kids riding to school. From her experience with Sustrans in Britain, Georgie has latched on to bike education as a key tool in the Ride2School arsenal to make the whole community of a school – parents and teachers, as much as the kids – confident about kids making their way by bike.
Ride2School has supported Cambridge Primary School in Hoppers Crossing, Victoria, from being nervous about permitting younger children being allowed to ride, to encouraging all students to ride and including Bike Ed in their PE curriculum, culminating in an annual ride they call Tour de Werribee.
Assistant Principal, Nella Cascone, has championed riding in the school and now awards regular riders. With Ride2School support, she is lobbying the local council for better biking routes to the school.
It is possible that Victoria’s Bike Ed program will become a nationally accredited course next year. This would make available an established bike education model to other states that currently don’t have a program. Ride2School, councils and bike organisations are other possible sources either of bike education courses or contacts of providers in your local area.
Perhaps you’re the person who can help kids in your local area to ride a bike more and with more confidence. You can approach your local school and offer to help implement bike ed or you can undertake training as an assistant with the bike ed provider in your area (see list below).
Bike Ed homework
Contrary to reasonable expectation you don’t turn the handlebars to turn a corner (unless travelling at very slow speed).
- lean the bike into the turn
- push with your inside arm to keep the handlebars facing straight ahead
- lift your inside knee to touch the bike frame and lean your outside shoulder further out to balance.
Try it and you’ll find you make sharper turns at speed than you believed were possible.
Look behind and keep riding straight
It’s hard not to veer off course when doing all the necessary head checks while riding in traffic. Try this technique to continue riding in a straight line while turning your head 180 degrees to look behind you:
- check your way ahead is clear for 50 metres
- take your right hand off the handlebars and slowly turn your body to the right
- point your out-stretched hand directly behind you in the direction you are looking.
You can point to the horizon or to the ground behind the rear wheel depending on what works for you.
This is fun! Which is good because you need to practise it for it to be instinctive when you need it. Don’t forget step two or you’ll face plant.
- Stand up on the pedals
- Push you bum back behind, but above, the saddle
- Grab both brakes for all you’re worth!
You should know
Except in the ACT, QLD, NT and TAS where it is legal to ride on the footpath, only children under the age of 12 can ride on the footpath. An adult accompanying a child under 12 can also ride on the footpath.
Footpaths and shared paths (also known as bike paths) are roadways by law and when riding on them you must wear a helmet, keep left and obey any other relevant road rules.
Any time you or child feels at risk or unsure of what to do you should pull over and get off the road. Repeat this simple message frequently to children and practise doing it as well.
Bike education by state and territory
Cycle Education provides bike education in schools
Department of Education guidelines recommend that bike education is provided in schools by teachers. The City of Sydney offers bike education at its own facility for school groups.
Bike education courses are provided at Road Safety Centres in Alice Springs and Darwin
Bike On provides bike education for schools in south-east Queensland
Bicycle SA provides bike education for schools in South Australia
Chris MacGregor of the Bicycle Education Unit provides the course for schools
Teachers can train as instructors and run the course in school. Instructor training is provided by Wilcare Services
Cycling Unlimited provide bike education for schools throughout Victoria
Schwheelies provides bike education for schools in south-west Western Australia
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