About the author: Karen Gee is a project manager, and has two boys (aged 7 and 4) she’s cycled with since they were very young. Here she gives us her experience of the school run by bike.
This week was Bike to School Week (BTSW), a Sustrans campaign to help schools encourage pupils to cycle to school. As much as teachers can try to encourage cycling, there are two key things that deter parents from letting their kids ride their bikes to school: road safety and the weather.
There's not much anyone can do about the weather, but one thing I've learnt is kids are pretty immune to rain, sleet and snow if they're dressed appropriately. A child's sense of fun means a ride in the rain is an adventure. They arrive at the classroom door wide awake and raring to go.
My eldest son still refers to the time we got caught in a hail storm on the way home. We whooped and cheered as we were battered by tiny balls of ice. He sometimes looks out the window and mutters "Oh, I wish it was hailing" before we set out on our bikes!
As a parent, my main concern is always going to be the safety of my children. It's this concern that stops hundreds of thousands of children cycling to school every day.
Every parent has their own perception of risk, and each journey to school is different. I'm prepared to cycle with my two sons, so long as I'm in control of the situation. They are aged 7 and 4, and we've had many years of riding to nursery, preschool and now school. First we had a trailer, until the boys became too heavy to pull. Now the youngest sits on a front bike seat, and the eldest is on a trailer bike pulled along by either myself or my husband Chris.
The 15-minute ride to school is mainly along quiet residential roads – though I confess to riding on the wide (unused) footpath for a short stretch along a dual carriageway. If I didn't do this, I couldn't cycle them safely to school.
Recently the time has come that I've been dreading. I can no longer ride with the little one up front, as I can't see over him. As Chris is taller than me, the school ride is now his sole responsibility.
Going forward, our only real option is to let our eldest ride his own bike on a daily basis, with his brother graduating to the trailer bike. The problem is at 7 years of age it’s debatable whether or not he’s mature enough to cope with school run road conditions.
Chris has given it a go but it requires our son to ride on some footpaths. This is far from ideal, especially as close to the school they get busy as his classmates get out of their cars. You can read how they got on in his blog.
At the moment every week is a Bike to School Week for my young boys – but time is running out. Have you tried explaining this to a 7-year-old? To him, the logic is easy – cycling is a good thing, so we should build more cycle paths and less people should drive. The reality is harder to explain – lack of investment, planning priorities and the car lobby all generate more questions than I can answer.
This is why the work that Sustrans (and every other cycling group) do every day is so very important. In Holland 49% of school children ride to school every day. In Denmark 45% of all children cycle. Here in the UK it's just 1-2% (1% in primary, 2% secondary).
As cycling rises up the political agenda, wouldn’t it be great if the decision was finally made to take cycling seriously, and invest so that every child could ride to school safely – whatever the weather.
Together with her husband, Chris Jones, Karen runs Cycle Sprog, a website full of information about cycling as a family.
For more information about cycling with your children visit our Cycling with Kids page.
For more information about how your school could run cycling activities at any time of the year, visit our Bike to School Week page.