One of my formative experiences with bicycles as a child involved a patch of nettles, a seemingly unavoidable dustbin and a disastrously shaky grasp of braking.
I’ll be honest, the experience struck the tone for my first years on a bike. Combining getting to grips with balancing and yes, remembering to brake every now and then, proved to be a task beyond my young capabilities. Thankfully for me, I did manage to get the knack eventually.
Likely most people have a story or two about learning to ride and getting a few grazes and cuts along the way. It’s a rite of passage when you’re growing up for many of us.
I’m in my (early, thank you very much) 30s and just squeaked into the ‘70s. It was a time when safety wasn’t uppermost on the agenda, when – for instance – wearing rear seatbelts in cars wasn’t a legal requirement.
Many things have changed for the better since those days. While ‘health and safety’ is much derided, even its most ardent critic would have difficulty arguing that they preferred the days when a rear passenger could have a face full of windscreen because they weren’t wearing a seatbelt during a car crash.
But, the flip side is a society that by and large is more fearful and risk averse. It’s probably why some feel the need to bungie off the side of tall buildings for kicks. It’s a fear that keeps some kids off bikes, which is bad news for the bike trade... and the NHS and Government, but good news for Weight Watchers at least. Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s bad news for the children themselves, missing out on ‘improving their health, happiness and wellbeing’, as Sustrans puts it. For it is Sustrans that has launched a ‘Free Range Kids’ campaign designed to combat that.
The project, designed to free cooped-up kids from cars, is asking for the help of the trade in mind-bendingly simple ways – like putting a poster up in bike shops – to spread the word and maybe, just maybe, get a parent to think twice about discouraging their child from getting on a bicycle.
It’s tough being a parent, especially with awareness of all the bad things that could happen to their child if they let them out of their sight and on a bike. But it’s a fear that has to be fought if we’re to see more children, families and indeed everyone else on bicycles. Cars might seem safe, but they could choke cycling if we don’t remind everyone that riding bikes isn’t necessarily a freakishly dangerous pastime.
PIC CREDIT: J Belwley/ Sustrans