by Adel Tyson-Bloor (Bikeability instructor, British Cycling & British Triathlon coach, and professional rider for Team Mule Bar)
The main aspect for me, no matter who I am coaching (child, adult, novice or expert) is safety. Essentially if you can get the safety aspects right from the very start then it doesn’t matter what they progress to do. Whether its touring, racing, adventuring, or popping to the skate park with their mates, they will always be safe and therefore much more likely to enjoy riding.
As a qualified coach, not just a bikeability instructor I take each child as an individual. I teach the syllabus but essentially each child comes with their own merits and their own problems. On the one hand you have the 8 year old BMX’er who hops on and off the curb into the traffic and won’t wear his helmet because it doesn’t look cool and in the same group a child who turns up with stabilisers who has only ever been allowed to ride around the back garden and is terrified of venturing out onto the roads. We also have a lot of children with learning difficulties or disabilities of some sort but I always see a progression with each child.
There are 4 areas I focus on:
Coming in at number 1: Ensuring they use their brakes. This might seem strange to most of you but I guarantee every bikeability instructor out there is currently nodding vigorously. It is of ultimate importance that a child can not only reach their brakes but use them effectively. Many children’s (and adults) bikes have very hard to reach and squeeze brakes, this does not instil confidence in your bike or your riding. If a child knows how to brake, control the speed of the bike and come to a complete stop before putting their feet down you are 50% on the way to making that child a safe and competent rider.
Second up: Control. Being able to control their bikes at slow speeds leads to being able to control their bikes at high speeds, clearly without the correct use of effective brakes this is not possible. Children are naturally competitive they want to progress and want to improve.
In third place we have: Awareness. Understanding and knowledge of their environment. Everything from the highway code to their immediate surroundings, the car about to overtake them when they want to turn right. I would include confidence here, at this point the student should have confidence in their ability to handle their bike, now they need to progress that to being confident in the traffic. “Make yourself BIG”
The process of putting their helmet on (and leaving it there when they are out of sight) is the final step on the ladder. Putting a helmet on is not going to stop a child from turning right in front of an overtaking car or wobble into a curb and fall off. Awareness and bike control will help prevent this, the helmet will then help protect the head if it happens, and of course these things do happen to even the most seasoned and experienced of riders.
I always take a Frog bike with me because invariably there is a child who has either never ridden or is very nervous. I want to ensure that this child has the best possible introduction to riding. I know the Frog bike is easy to manoeuvre, is well balanced and when the child pushes the pedals it will go forward. But most importantly, the child will be able to reach the brakes and apply pressure with ease… I will forgive you for imagining that all bikes do these things. There nothing more important when looking to buy a bike than ensuring you can effectively use the brakes.
I am more than happy after a day coaching if the more confident riders want to show me their bunny hops and their wheelies and I will encourage the less confident to have a go. It is a treat at the end of a pretty intense couple of hours playing in the traffic to relax in the playground and test their control. I think it is really important for children to experience riding their bikes as immense amounts of fun.
There really is no greater pleasure for me than seeing the elation on a child’s face when they pedal off alone. That sense of ultimate freedom is visible in their smile and they suddenly realise they have a mode of transport that is all their own.