Cycling to school allows a young rider to achieve a new level of independence. Add to that a daily dose of exercise and the foundation of lifelong, transferable road safety skills, and you can see why riding to school is so beneficial. Here’s how to do it safely and sensibly.
When it comes to cycling to school, preparation is key. Bike handling practice before setting out on the first ride is a good idea: the old cycling proficiency staple of riding between cones isn’t a bad place to start. If your child’s bike is lightweight, easy to control and fits them well, picking up these skills should come quickly.
Make sure your child also has good road awareness. Going out for some rides together will show you where they might need help. Set an example and let them see how correct road riding should be done. Although your child’s bike should be fitted with a bell, also demonstrate how to clearly and politely call out a warning to other people you may encounter.
The single biggest piece of advice is to teach your child to be confident and not ride too close to the kerb. Otherwise cars may try to force their way past where there really isn’t room.
You could combine these skills and awareness techniques with the next piece of advice: find a good route. Go out together and test ride a few different ways from home to school. Use Sustrans’ National Cycle Network to find low-traffic options, and look for paths through parks or over common land. Because of this, consider the tyres on your child’s bike. For example, at Islabikes we fit multi-purpose tyres that will cope with a variety of terrain. Your little rider may enjoy sliding across a muddy field on slicks, but if they fall off it won’t do their school clothes any good.
Clean reflectors, bell, high-visibility or brightly-coloured jacket and a helmet are all obvious necessities. Even in the relatively well-lit evenings of early autumn, we’d also recommend having a decent set of rechargeable lights. These mean a rider will be safe even if they’re delayed coming home or the weather is overcast.
For inclement weather, a set of mudguards are great for helping to keep a school cyclist dry and looking presentable. Meanwhile, a chainguard will keep oil off socks and trousers.
To deal with the mountain of schoolbooks, the best option is to fit a rear rack and some pannier bags. Good cycling-specific rucksacks can be effective, too. Unlike satchels, both pannier bags and rucksacks will make the rider feel more stable when in the saddle.
And don’t forget a lock for the bike sheds!
Ready to ride
In terms of clothing, layers are better than one heavy garment. Consider a lightweight jacket or jumper and a separate lightweight waterproof. Make sure the outer layers are all brightly coloured. In winter, gloves are useful to keep hands warm, just make sure they don’t impede bike control. A ‘Buff’ style scarf is a versatile option for keeping heads and necks warm. And if your child is wearing a helmet, make sure it is adjusted correctly for a snug, secure fit.
Finally, make sure you or another competent person checks your child’s bike is in perfect working order before term starts.
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