You can’t teach bicycling in a one-hour presentation. You need to get children on bicycles, on real roads, in a carefully structured program with trained instructors. In this way cycling instruction is no different from swimming, tennis, or other sport instruction. You can’t tell children to just “follow the rules of the road.” They don’t know the rules. However, by learning and practicing good driving skills as cyclists, children can become better, safer motorists when they are old enough to get a motor vehicle operator’s license.
|Cycling class for children 10 to 12. Photo: Paul Schimek
Courses for children must focus on the road and traffic conditions appropriate for the age of the child. The training must be carefully controlled so that the children do not have to work with situations for which they are not ready. Lecturing is less effective. Most instruction is done by showing how, telling why this works, and repeated practice under controlled conditions of traffic that gradually get more difficult as each child’s ability improves. The final examination is a bicycle driving test on roads and in traffic appropriate to the age of the child.
Courses last 10 to 20 class hours, with nearly all of that time being supervised and evaluated, repeated practice of proper cycling on the road, in traffic. Each course is designed to start with beginners who have had no real cycling training before. If a school system uses all three courses, it is very likely that the time for the later courses could be shortened, because the incoming students would have learned the skills when younger and need only to be refreshed on much of the material.
Students of age eight learn the skills of using only the first three of the five basic traffic principles, which is sufficient for cycling on two-lane residential roads with moderate traffic. This enables them to travel about their neighborhoods. Students of age ten learn the skills of using all the five basic traffic principles in traffic up to that encountered on four-lane roads with traffic of moderate speed. This enables them to travel to and in the smaller commercial areas and neighborhood centers of interest that are suitable for their ages. Students of age twelve and over learn the skills of using all the five basic traffic principles in all types of traffic. This enables them to travel to any part of town that is otherwise suitable for them.
Setting up a Cycling Class for Children
It is easiest to work with an existing program. Many localities have summer programs run by parks and recreation departments that offer sports programs. Why not add cycling? For these programs a week-long cycling program may work best. In addition to covering cycling skills, the class can take children on short trips to interesting places. The last day could involve a longer trip with a lunch stop.
There are also after-school programs in many communities. For these programs it may be better to offer cycling one day a week for 10 to 15 weeks. Spreading the program out over many weeks gives more time for students to practice and improve physical fitness.
It is also possible to include cycling in school gym classes. A typical gym class that meets for an hour twice a week for 15 weeks provides enough time to cover the topic.
Instructors for this program must have some cycling experience and must be trained in the principles of vehicular cycling. In addition, they must take a 2 to 3 day training program in how to conduct cycling classes for children.
Which Bicycles to Use?
Either children can bring their own bicycles or the program can provide a fleet. If children are to bring their own bicycles, they must be prescreened to eliminate inappropriate bicycles (such as bicycles of the wrong size, from department stores, BMX style, or with only coaster brakes). In addition, the program must insure that the bicycles are in a decent state of repair. Purchasing a fleet of bicycles involves a significant expense and requires maintenance and suitable storage space. Cooperation from a local retailer may enable a program to buy basic bicycle store bikes at a price closer to wholesale. It is recommended that the program purchase helmets for all participants. Helmets are available in bulk for programs such as this for as little as $5 to $7. The Bicycle Safety Helmet Institute has a list of sources for cheap helmets.