A boy and a girl, smiling on their balance bikes.

Why we should encourage more children to ride a bike

Imagine a world in which there was an invention. It could be your hobby, provide health benefits, bring you income or savings in various ways and get you to where you wanted to be for minimal cost. In some cases, you could arrive quicker than ‘modern’ forms of transport!

Yes, that’s right you guessed it – the bike is that invention. It may have been invented years ago, but it may very well be the future for all our children. I know there are barriers associated with this ambition, that can be fixed. Does the school have a bike store? Is the journey safe? Can we reduce the number of cars being used to drop children off? If a child cycles to school, would they be more likely to cycle for fun? Would they be more likely to cycle to the shop? Would they be more likely to cycle to work when they leave education? Would they be more likely to cycle with their own children to school? I would say yes to all of these, they are more likely.

So how do we make the change now to see this improvement for the future and change behaviour? First, we need to get more children cycling. By creating opportunities for children and parents to enjoy a safe space to explore and build confidence on a bike they could be cycling at an early age.

Young children learn so many things whilst playing – not just physically, but socially and mentally. They learn to understand the world around them. Providing opportunities for young children to play outdoors should be one of the highest priorities for all of us. Cycling can be a huge element of children’s play and learning, both in school and outside of school.

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity”

-Kay Redfield Jamison

So why is cycling the future?

If together we were able to get all children riding a bike at a young age, we will need to make their cycling experiences fun. We can do that by engaging in structured sessions, by improved provision and safer infrastructure. This will help to continue their cycling journey and ensure the behaviour of our society slowly becomes more active, healthy and environmentally aware. I am sure this is part of the mission of Active Travel England. 36% of Dutch individuals list that cycling is their main form of transport but in Kirklees there is little evidence of little more than 1%. Of course, geographically there are challenges, but with e-bikes on the rise this isn’t as much of a barrier as it may have been in the past. Changing culture and behaviour isn’t a simple thing and has many challenges. To succeed it needs the backing of all involved.

How can we make cycling as popular as football? How can we make it safe for children to ride to school? How can we make cycling available for all?

There are various ways, but one way of getting children active, healthier and cycling at ages as young as 18 months old on balance bikes. An early start would give future generations the opportunity to break away from the modern day ‘Peloton’. We need such initiatives that help meet the challenge of increasing adoption of cycling as an ‘everyday’ form of transport.

To improve opportunity, promote active travel, innovate and progress at pace will take a more ambitious approach than we have today. Working together with local authorities, school governing bodies, as well as the private and voluntary sectors, there is a real incentive to make this a priority – it forms a key element in our need to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.