May 06, 2008

Children cycling

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This report on the BBC news web site says that parents are scared to let their children cycle except in or very near to their own street:-

Parents’ fears about road safety are turning children into a lost generation of cyclists, says a government-backed agency that promotes cycling. Four out of five children are banned from cycling to school by their parents, a poll of 1,079 parents for Cycling England suggests. This compares with the 35% of parents who were allowed to bike to school when they were children themselves.

It’s another symptom of the way our society has become more risk averse, and like other examples (unsupervised play, fear of kidnap, etc.) it’s not supported by the statistics; in 2006 there were 10 times more accidents involving cars than there were accidents involving bicycles, and long-term, cycling accidents, especially those which involve serious injury or death, are in decline. But will I put my money where my mouth is when the time comes, and my own children are old enough to cycle to school, crossing the A45 as they go?

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  1. Steve Rumsby

    And it isn’t just children that suffer from this. One reason many adults claim they don’t cycle is because they percieve it as too dangerous.

    06 May 2008, 11:02

  2. The other day I saw a couple of teachers supervising children learning their cycling proficiency. One of them was using a bike that was too big for her and had no helmet. She had a high vis jacket though, so that makes it all ok…

    06 May 2008, 11:21

  3. Steve Rumsby

    Define “too big”. I’ve heard of cycle instructors insisting on saddles being lowered before allowing kids onto the course because they thought the saddle was too high, when in fact the saddle was properly adjusted (or maybe just a bit too low) for the child in question. Most people I see cycling have the saddle set too low. Of course, you need to be quite stable and in control for the saddle to be that high, so for new riders the saddle needs to be lower than normal. That should just be a temporary thing though, and the saddle can go up as you get better control of the bike. Having the saddle too low can be bad for the knees (in quite a serious way).

    And as for helmets, I wear one all the time and insist that my kids do too, but the evidence that they are universally a “good thing” isn’t overwhelming and there are circumstances where they could be a bad thing, so seeing a kid without a helmet, even on a cycle proficiency course, isn’t necessarily cause for concern.

    06 May 2008, 12:21

  4. My four sons cycle to school. I worry about the one that goes to Kenilworth School along the busy road from Leamington. I suggest he cycles on the footpath/pavement but it gets very overgrown in the summer and he sometimes gets warned by the police that it is illegal.

    Sustrans works hard for recreational cycling (and recently got several £millions from the People’s Lottery) but there’s no political will to spend the real money needed to separate bikes from motors. If Cameron is ever Prime Minister, his recent experience on a bike in London may persuade him to do more.

    06 May 2008, 13:58

  5. As an untested hypothesis, I would suggest that urban cycling remains safer due to lower vehicle speeds and therefore is a perception issue with regard to safety. In the countryside, on the other hand, there really has been an increase in vehicle speeds especially off the main roads where drivers see an opportunity for some excitement. It’s not only cyclists that are at risk but also horse riders and pedestrians.

    On the other hand, some cyclists are clearly just not proficient to be on the roads, vis the lady wobbling all over a country lane at the weekend whom I warned of my approach and was rewarded by verbal abuse and the middle finger… gee, I guess I should have just run her over!

    07 May 2008, 10:51

  6. Steve – “too big” = couldn’t control it because the wheels were so large. And couldn’t get her toes on the ground when stationary without getting off the saddle. Bosh.

    07 May 2008, 22:41

  7. Steve Rumsby

    Couldn’t get toes on the ground does sound too big, unless they’re a confident cyclist. I can barely do it on my bike, but I don’t stay on the saddle when I stop.

    07 May 2008, 23:30

  8. Robert O'Toole

    in 2006 there were 10 times more accidents involving cars than there were accidents involving bicycles

    I noticed the misleading use of that statistic in the BBC article. It actually means that one is much less likley to have an accident in a car. Why? The total number of hours travelled in the UK by car is many (many) times greater than the total travelled by bicycle. Far greater than 10x. Therefore the accident per hour rate is actually rather poor for cyclists, and rather excellent for cars.

    The accident rates are skewed in another rather important way: almost all car accidents get recorded by the insurance industry (even minor ones), whereas only cycling accidents that involve moderate to serious injury are likely to make there way into the stats.

    It would be really good if many more people cycled. Unfortunately, cycling is dangerous. Abusing statistics will not change that fact. A major change in policy and attitudes is needed.

    08 May 2008, 12:04

  9. Robert is right about the skewing of these statistics. If we define a ‘serious’ accident to be one involving death or requiring medical intervention, does anyone know how to find a statistically-accurate comparison of the number of serious accidents per person/hour for travel by

    • Car
    • Motorbike
    • Push-bike


    08 May 2008, 12:41

  10. Robert O'Toole

    The DfT do have those stats, as I have seen them qouted in an article recently. Although I’m sure that they are unlikely to be particularly accurate. They also have stats that show the rather dramatic differences in risk between age groups and driver experience.

    If you look at the yearly accident totals for different modes of transport, and then consider the relative frequency of those modes of transport, you’ll get a rough idea of the real differences in risk.

    This may all sound rather grim, but understanding the common causes of accidents has helped to target the key risks. For example, nearly half of all serious motorcycle accidents happen on corners. Most of those accidents happen to inexperienced riders on fast sports bikes. So now there is a much greater focus on cornering skills (vanishing-point tracking, riding to the available information, slow-in fast-out, acceleration sense).

    08 May 2008, 13:11

  11. Steve Rumsby

    The comment about experience is also relevant here. There’s a minimum standard for drivers of motorised vehicles. There isn’t for riders of pushbikes. Whether or not there should be is a separate discussion. But, that does add another skew to the statistics. I suspect, but have no evidence, that a lot of cycle accidents involve “inexperienced” cyclists. What would you get if you looked at statistics of cycle accidents only involving “experienced” cyclists (for some definition of “experienced” that is similar to drivers who have passed a standard driving test)? That might make cycling look less dangerous.

    The reason that’s important is that experience and riding technique is something you can do something about. If “experienced” cyclists have much fewer accidents, then you can make cycling safer for yourself by getting better at it.

    08 May 2008, 13:55

  12. But will I put my money where my mouth is when the time comes, and my own children are old enough to cycle to school, crossing the A45 as they go?

    I just want to clarify that this is pretty much the greatest closing sentence to a post on Warwick Blogs ever. Something about the laid back implicit shorthand of “money” for “welfare of my children”... Beautiful.

    It’s funnier the more out of context one takes it as well.

    On the wider point, it’s all just ridiculous these days isn’t it. It’s trivially self-evident to anyone with half a brain that a good 70% of the population are patent idiots led along by whatever media nonsense is shoveled into their shit-eating grin excuses for faces. (feces? LULZ.)

    09 May 2008, 02:01

  13. What about the health issue of getting exercise by cycling to school?

    What about the freedom and self-development issue of allowing children to go out on bikes and discover the world?

    What happens at age 17 when people are suddenly allowed to take driving lessons, but have never been in control of a road vehicle (and a bicycle is a vehicle) beforehand?

    10 May 2008, 19:13

  14. John Dale

    George, who are you directing your questions at? Or are they purely rhetorical?

    12 May 2008, 09:06

  15. They are rhetorical, in the sense that they encourage the reader to consider possible answers. But not in the sense that I’m going to spell out my answers.

    ... this is what revising for a political theory exam does to my brain…

    12 May 2008, 11:47


    doing some exercise is always useful for our health and ride a bycicle is not the exception but it is shame because here in peru the most are cars and buses called combis or even taxicholos where iam a english student if someone waht to chat woth me neither spañish or english just addme my msn is

    hay nos vemos


    15 May 2008, 00:16

  17. Warwick blogs are not very chatty. Most people at Warwick University have face-to-face contact with others at the university, so don’t communicate electronically.

    If I were looking to improve my skills in a foreign language, I’d seek out a forum which was based around one of my interests and whose members didn’t have much opportunity for face-to-face interaction.

    There is also a problem that some native English speakers don’t write grammatically correct English, which will confuse those trying to learn the language.

    15 May 2008, 09:55

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