Bike To School With Frog Bikes
By Michelle Ogilvie
Beginning your day with a short ride in the fresh air is a great way to arrive at school feeling fresh, awake and ready for the day. Unfortunately, many of our kids are not getting the chance to enjoy this method of transport for many reasons; from living too far from the school, unsafe roads that would need to be navigated or parents work schedules simply not allowing them time to cycle together in the morning.
Kids Simply aren't Cycling to School
It’s not a shock to think the number of UK children cycling to school has been steadily declining, some may even say plummeting, since the 1970/80s. Our towns and cities are exponentially busier and parental anxiety around strangers and the safety of their children is completely understandable.
Whilst the number of children cycling to school has been declining, the number of children being classed as obese has continued to increase. Of course, being driven to school is not the only reason for this, different lifestyles in general and a change in food and eating habits have all contributed to the current childhood obesity statistics but it’s never too late to create new habits.
With the increase of air pollution in our cities, the rise in children with asthma and other related lung issues and many groups such as mums for lungs campaigning for cars to stop idling outside our schools, now, seems like the time to make a change. Perhaps committing to one little change such as swapping 4 wheel school runs for 2 wheeled ones could be the start you’ve been looking for.
Why Should You Cycle to School With Your Children?
• There are so many positive benefits to cycling to school. Here’s just a few that we thought were reason enough to give it a go:
• The average primary school child's journey is 1.6 miles, this may not seem far but even a short, 10-minute cycle will get your child’s heart rate up and go towards the national recommended activity levels of 60mins per day for children aged 5-18
• We know activity is good for our physical health, it’s also great for our mental health. Mind - the charity for Mental Health, report that exercise can improve our sleep, release feel-good hormones; making us feel better and increasing our energy levels, reduce anxiety and stress, increase self-esteem, help us to connect with people and make new friends
• Sustrans national cycle campaign reported teachers have said that pupils who walk, cycle or scoot to school arrive more relaxed, alert and ready to start their day
• Cycling from a young age can increase road awareness making children safer when both walking and cycling around busy areas. It can encourage them to be more independent as they grow older and creates positive lifelong habits
• Parents can benefit too, a steady riding pace can burn an average of just under 50 calories per mile. This means a 2-mile cycle to school and then back again will burn close to an extra 200 calories per day
• It can be fun! Travelling to school by bike means you can even add a detour on the way home, via a local park in the summer months
Where Do You Start?
Cycling to school with kids is definitely a ‘Be Prepared or Prepare to Fail’ affair! If you follow these simple steps then you and your family could be wheeling their way to school in no time.
• Plan the journey in advance and do a test ride at the weekend or in the school holidays so everyone is confident of the route. If possible select a flat route, avoiding busy roads or intersections
• Ensure everyone’s bike is safe and roadworthy. Are the tyres pumped up, brakes working and seat post clamp tight? Hold the front wheel between your legs and twist the handlebars to check they are secure and the bolts are tight. Make sure you fold away any parts such as kick-stands when you are ready to ride
• Decide upon suitable ‘cycling wear’ for your children so they understand these are the items they need to wear when cycling. For example; trainers rather than flip flops for their feet and no long dresses or tassels that could accidentally get caught up in the wheel
• Use a bike’s panniers or get a front bag or basket to carry items on the bike. Hanging bags from handlebars can make the bike feel very unbalanced and unstable and the bag is at risk of getting tangled in the front wheel
• Follow the Highway Code and teach your children the importance of being aware when cycling and how to stay safe on the road
• If you are walking and your child is cycling on the pavement encourage your child to slow down or walk when passing people. Position yourself next to the road to make sure they do not veer off into it. If you are cycling in the road, position yourself behind, or to the outside of them where the roads are wide enough, to protect them from passing cars. It’s great if there are two adults, then one can ride at the back and one at the front to ensure no one is lost or left behind
• Always wear a helmet. We know it is not the law (yet) but helmets have been proven to save lives, so start good habits early
Top Tips To Stay Safe When Cycling
One of the biggest deterrents to cycling with children, or perhaps cycling on roads full stop is staying safe. The perception of traffic danger and lack of confidence in cycling ability is not just a problem for our children but many parents too. Add to this the poor air quality in our towns and cities from increased air pollution and it is easy to be put off taking your children to school by bike.
The long term solutions are to become active - campaign to your local MP for better cycling infrastructure around schools and join one of the increasing numbers of groups working to reduce emissions and idling cars outside our school gates. However, change takes time, so what can you do in the interim to increase everyone’s confidence, enjoyment and willingness to cycle to school?
• Wear light-coloured, high visibility/fluorescent and reflective jackets or vests to ensure to be seen on the roads
• Make sure you have both rear and front lights on all bikes and test them regularly
• It is a good idea to ensure your child knows what to do if they become lost, perhaps give older children mobile phones when cycling without you so they can get in touch if they run into trouble
• Create a ‘Cycling Buddy’ Scheme - team up with other local parents who are confident cyclists or have been cycling the school run for a little while until you feel more confident
• Don’t ‘hug the curb’ there are many obstacles such as rubbish, potholes, uneven drain covers and often glass closer to the edge of the road. Stay a safe distance from the curb to ensure you have space to manoeuvre around any unforeseen dangers
• Once again, ensure everyone is wearing a cycle helmet
If you don’t have time to cycle to school with your children then you can encourage a ‘bike bus’ initiative. A school in Galway has had huge success with their bike bus and if you ask us, it looks like a lot of fun!
Breaking the Barriers to Cycling to School
Driver behaviour, poor infrastructure and volume of traffic are not the only issues to overcome to keep everyone safe. Many children and parents have never been taught to ride safely. If, as a parent, you have no cycling experience then you can sign up to a local bikeability course or join a British Cycling Breeze ride (for Women only) to build confidence and meet other mums enjoying life on 2 wheels.
Another barrier can be the bike. Many children have heavy, poorly made bikes that may even be incorrectly assembled by someone other than a bike mechanic. This will definitely not help with confidence-boosting! Bikeability offers cycling proficiency courses to take children and adults through the entire process of learning to ride confidently in a built-up environment. They will even show you how to check your bike over and make minor adjustments. For more information on their current courses in your area, head over to Bikeability
How Can Frog Bikes Help?
Frog First Pedal and Hybrid Bikes are perfect for cycling to school. Not only are our bikes built with children at the centre of every design aspect - from the patented straight crank arms to allow for childrens' narrow hips and make for easier pedaling to the lightweight frame and child specific brake levers for smaller hands to brake confidently.
All of our Hybrid Bikes will come with mudguards included to keep uniforms clean on muddy days (at least during the cycle to school) and the frame has the option to attach pannier racks to make carrying school books and equipment a breeze.
PCT and Time for Change
To change our situation we need funding, leadership and an understanding of how many children might cycle to school. The state-funded Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT) is helping create this picture. To help local government planners the PCT is mapping cycling routes to individual schools with a goal to prioritise children over cars. One of their policies is School Streets which will become car-free streets, safe to walk or cycle without any concerns.
The PCT has reported that if England alone achieved its school cycling potential the physical activity among pupils could increase by 57% and carbon emissions could reduce by 81 kilotonnes per year.
Cycling to school could promote the positive impact and be the start of a newfound love of cycling, exercise and spending time outdoors. This simple step, of active travel, can highlight the impact that an active mindset has on all aspects of family life.
Start this September for Bike to School Week and give your child a little adventure on their bike every day!
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