Friday, 22 November 2013

Inspiring or Depressing?

Today a fellow cyclist passed me on a link on Sustrans website. It's certainly worth having a look at the article, but pay particular attention to the video.

So what do you think of it? I'm curious.

The cyclist who sent me the link thought that it was a very positive video and indicated that there was hope for the future. I can see where he is coming from. We have a video of a father who, rather than do as the majority do and drive his kid to school, has found a way to get his child to cycle safely to school. This is despite living in a built up area with traffic.

I have to say, that is good. I applaud that cyclist and his conviction.

But wait. (you knew that was coming didn't you).

The article and the video leave me feeling rather depressed. In fact I think this video demonstrates with exceptional clarity exactly what the problem is. Look at it again.

The dad, is not your normal dad. He is a Sustrans Schools Officer who works on the Bike It project. His job is to encourage children to cycle. Therefore, he is highly motivated and highly skilled when it comes to providing on road cycle training. He is in effect, an expert.

The video shows this expert taking his child on some 'relatively' quite suburban roads to his school. During the video you can hear the dad instructing his child what to do at junctions, when to look back, and when it is safe to proceed etc.

Hmmm. I've done similar with my oldest (who's 8) on some roads near us.

Then they come to a busier road and at this point the dad admits defeat and takes his child onto the pavement. Officially this is of course, illegal, but who can blame them. they do of course ride very carefully on the pavement.

They are at school and the video ends.

....we thought it would be a great video blog to share with other parents who are considering riding to school with their children
 Hmmm. This just isn't right. So what is my problem with this?


I personally have a lot of respect for Sustrans. I know not everyone does, but I have some insight into the problems they face and I think, when it comes to infrastructure, they do a good job in difficult circumstances. A lot of the infrastructure isn't great, but with better funding and more time I'm sure they would create some great infrastructure.

I think, on this particular blog, they have completely missed the point. Is it inspiring that to get a child to cycle safely to school you need someone who is 'expert' in cycle training? Yes I know others do take their kids on similar routes, but I'll bet the majority of those people are expert in cycling, in some way. This is not something that most parents have the skills, or the time to do, and by that I mean the time and skill to practice cycling on local roads to build up the child courage, especially when many adults themselves don't even have the courage!

What is even more depressing is that this expert dad had to give up at the end. He had to 'give in' to the traffic. What chance do non-expert parents have if even expert parents feel that cycling in some areas on the way to school is too dangerous?

If you want to see inspiring, look at the videos of kids cycling to school in the Netherlands.

There are plenty more like it.

What this video tells me, is that some parents despite the conditions, if they have the skills and time can help their children to cycle most of the way to school legally.

The very fact that cycling organisations think this is an inspiring video, is a wake up call to us all.


  1. Surely cycling organisations have been to Holland, or at least have access to Youtube? I simply cannot believe that they don't know a) what real infrastructure looks like and b) how fantastically fabulous it is - so why aren't they calling for it? What's in it for them to keep doing things so badly?

    If I can find out all about it while sitting in bed eating donuts, then surely national organisations can. They're the ones people like me, and all the children who want to cycle to school are relying on.

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  3. Anonymous: I dare say some Sustrans people have visited the Netherlands, but whether they've learnt much is another question. We've invited Sustrans to send representatives on our Study Tours but they've never taken us up on these offers. I live in hope that they will because from what I can see, Sustrans' ambitions are now a very long way removed from their original ambitions. The video of cycling in Assen was taken on one of our study tours. There are lots more where that came from.

    Well done Ethan, but Magnatom is absolutely right to call Sustrans out about this. This is a view of cycling as a minority activity - surely not what the original intention of Sustrans was supposed to achieve. It's absolutely not what the majority of parents would do.

    I wrote a blog post about exactly this phenomena two years ago, in response to someone else who made what could have been exactly the same video: I cycle so you could cycle too.

    Repeating the mistakes of the past won't lead to the majority of the British population seeing cycling as part of a normal routing. That takes actual change, which thus far Britain has proven to be rather incapable of making. This is what Sustrans should be campaigning for - not talking about enthusiastic parents training children one at a time.

  4. Fair comments in the blog and DH's note. I had similar thoughts when I saw this the other day (I think it was on

    My kids cycle to school, and started off being escorted by me. But as suggested, I'm not "normal"... I'll be off to the school in 15 minutes to teach Bikeability Level 2 to P7, and I will have to bottle up a certain amount of despair that the minority who I'd be completely happy to sign off as quite capable of cycling round our (pretty benign) bit of Scotland on their own are by and large those who have the sort of parents who get about by bike themselves. So we have one generation of enthusiasts setting up the next, and while that's better than nothing it's still not very good.

    Last night I was doing a handout for the cycling class on how to decide when to use "facilities", and how to spot when they're worse than the road. My (Dutch) wife saw what I was at and lamented that she has a similar daily commute to one of our neighbours (who does it by car while Roos goes by bike) and is dumbfounded by the way her journey is apparently not as important, in terms of effort spent on making it fast and convenient.

    We really have to move on to where the inspiring stuff is that we have lots of children riding to school because it's the obvious way to get there, not where we think it's great that one can do it, in the company of an experienced cyclist.