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Make Christmas wishes come true

By Melissa Henry,
children dressed up for Christmas with bikes

Father Christmas will bring many children bikes this year, but how much will they get to ride them?

Last year bicycles were children’s third most frequently requested gift for Christmas. It’s easy to understand why. I can still remember the thrill of finding a bike hidden under my parents’ bed, too big for wrapping and putting under the tree, and hoping it was for me.

Who doesn’t remember their first bike; the heart-stopping, joyous first ride without stabilisers; that first taste of freedom and adventure?

While a bike-shaped present will make Christmas perfect for many children, will they get what they want, and will it give them the same freedom it gave me?

We’ve looked to our recent Bike Life data for insight.  Involving 11,000 households, it’s the biggest survey ever conducted on attitudes to cycling in the UK.

Most children don’t have a bike

Children may want bikes, but less than 4 in 10 households with children have them.  This mismatch between children’s aspirations and reality may be attributable to people’s perceptions of safety.

People don’t think their local areas are safe for children’s cycling

While only 29% of people thought cycling safety where they lived was good or very good, even fewer, just 21%, thought this about cycling safety for children. This figure changes very little when compared to child bike owners only, suggesting that attitudes do not change with direct experience.

People want to cycle more

The Bike Life survey confirms that people are positive about cycling:

  • 73% of people agreed that things would be better if people in general rode bikes more
  • and more than 6 in 10 agreed that things would be better if friends and family did

An increase in cycling would bring rich benefits to children’s health and well-being and positive social and economic impacts to society as a whole. For example, reduced school run congestion could save the economy billions. For that to happen, children, and parents in particular, need cycling to be a safe option.

Perceptions on cycling safety won’t change without investment

We need to give children the skills to ride bikes, and parents the peace of mind to let them. That means funding children’s cycling skills and building more protected bike lanes and traffic free routes, making it safe to ride a bike whether you’re 8 or 80.

The good news is that people and politicians alike are united on how much they want to see invested in making cycling safer, at £26 a head annually.   

This is considerably more than is currently spent on cycling anywhere in the UK, and in England, outside of London, investment is hanging in the balance following the recent spending review. 

Unless the UK Government acts now to increase cycling and walking investment, their manifesto commitments to double cycling and reduce those killed and seriously injured on our roads will not be met.  Bikes under the tree could create expectations of freedom that can’t be met.

So let’s give children a Christmas gift for life, and fulfil their right to bike, walk or scoot to school safely. You can take action now.

And don’t forget to check out Sustrans’ resources on cycling with children. 

Thanks to Leah Jannss Lafond, a volunteer for our Research and Monitoring Unit, for compiling the statistics.

More blog posts by Melissa Henry