I remember having my first bike as a child. It wasn’t much of a bike, a second hand monstrosity with a broken seat that my dad had mended with building foam. But nonetheless, I learnt to ride it and eventually graduated to a slightly larger second hand pink bike. It was here that my love of cycling started – and ended.
Well by adult standards, it wasn’t a proper accident. But to me as a six year old, it was nothing short of a disaster. I got on my pink bike on our little road which happened to be at the top of a hill. And off I went, rapidly gaining speed and losing control. Until I spun into some sort of blind panic, hit a stone, braked and went over the handlebars.
And that was that. I eventually got a brand new bike, did my cycling proficiency at school and pottered around on two wheels. But I didn’t love it. I never used it as a mode of transport and avoided doing triathlons for many years despite being a keen runner and swimmer.
Cycling as an adult
Too many years went by before I took up cycling as an adult. But eventually, I decided I wanted to have a go at triathlon. I was already into open water swimming and running. There was a cycle to work scheme going on at the time and I got a bike and started cycling 4 miles each way to and from work.
As time went on, I got different jobs but continued to cycle, with the distance varying between 4 and 6 miles. I was competing in triathlons but cycling was always my weak discipline. Eventually, the children came along and my cycling stopped. I’d never really grown to love it, but I wasn’t bad at it and I enjoyed the few triathlons I did.
Cycling as a parent
As a parent, cycling takes on a whole different meaning. These days when I get out on my bike, it’s an escape. An hour to myself which I appreciate as much as a hot cup of tea. It’s great exercise too, so in the Winter I train indoors on the turbo trainer. I multitask and set the bike to the hardest setting and read a book while I cycle.
But more importantly, cycling has become a sport that I want to encourage my children into. Once you’ve bought the bike it costs nothing. It’s a great way to get outdoors and keep fit – and most importantly, it’s fun. But there’s a problem.
We bought Libby a bike for her birthday. She’s been able to ride a bike for over a year, but she was on a typical little children’s bike. It was heavy and difficult to manoeuvre with tiny wheels. But now, things have changed. Her new bike is light, easy to handle and fast. And she wants to ride it properly.
I have no problem with taking Libby to the park to ride her bike. Or taking her somewhere off-road so she can do something a bit more challenging. But she wants to start going on proper bike rides with me. And I’m not sure I’m ready. When I’m sure she can use the brakes and steer properly, I’ll take her on the pavement or a cycle path. But at what point should I be allowing her on the road?
My cycling fear
These days when I cycle, I go out first thing in the morning. This is simply because there’s less traffic about. And if I’m honest, I’m petrified of getting knocked off my bike. I’m even more worried about something happening to my children when they’re cycling. So much so that I don’t know how I’m going to manage to allow them out on the roads when they’re older.
Motorists just aren’t as careful as they should be. They don’t give cyclists enough space, they go too fast, they overtake in inappropriate places. And yet, I don’t want to let my fears stop my children from growing to love cycling. I want them to be able to ride their bikes as a mode of transport and cycle both competitively and for fun. I want them to be able to do triathlons like me, but most of all I want them to be safe.
I’m not alone
I wasn’t surprised to hear that I’m not the only one facing this dilemma about cycling. Cycle Republic have recently undertaken the British Cycle Survey. I was heartened to read that lots more females are taking up cycling these days – in fact of the people surveyed who had started cycling in the past five years, 55% were women.
Sadly though, only 54% of cyclists would encourage their children to take up cycling in the future. This indicates that cycling lovers are facing the same dilemma as me. This is reflected in the research showing that across the UK, a large proportion of cyclists don’t feel safe on the road.
In an uncertain political climate, cycling might not seem like a priority for the government. But it should be. The NHS and the environment are high on everyone’s political agenda, and cycling could provide a solution to both issues. As a population, we would be healthier if we got more exercise. And the more people that use bicycles instead of cars for everyday journeys, the greater the impact on emissions.
I do hope that road safety improves for cyclists in years to come. And that my daughters can grow up with a love for cycling that I never had – without sending me into some sort of blind panic every time they go out on their bikes!