Are you pledging to “Swap one car journey for cycling” as part of Bikeability’s Cycle to School Week?
With a little planning and lots of enthusiasm you and your family will soon benefit from the health, cost, and environmental benefits of cycling – and you may even find that it’s quicker than getting in the car every day too!
Karen Gee from family cycling website Cycle Sprog shares her top tips to help you get started on your first ride to school.
It’s all in the planning
Before you leap on your cycle and set off it is important to think about your journey, the equipment you’ll use and the logistics of getting everyone where they need to be on time.
The better you plan the easier it will be when you set out for school.
Who’s doing the pedalling?
Older kids may be able to ride their own cycle to school, but for younger children you’ll need to carry them on your cycle.
Thankfully, there are lots of different ways to do this, including front and rear cycle seats, trailers, tagalongs, tandems and cargo bikes, some of which can carry more than one child.
There’s pros and cons of each option so take some time to do your research before deciding which best suits your journey, family, and budget.
Plan your route
The best route to cycle to school may not be the one you drive, especially in urban areas. Spend some time looking at Google Maps for quiet routes, cut throughs and cycle paths.
Think about how you’ll cross junctions and make right hand turns, both on your outward and return journey, and where you’ll leave your cycles when you arrive.
Get moral support
Speak to other parents who cycle with their kids – we’re usually really keen to help.
You may want to enlist a friend to ride with you the first day.
For some more inspiration, check out a previous Bikeability blog on families that cycle together here.
Practice, practice, practice!
I really recommend practising the route before doing it on a school morning.
Choose a quiet time of the day, such as early morning at the weekend.
If you’re carrying your child/ren or riding with them, always go alone the first time. If necessary, load up the trailer or cycle seat with a big bag of potatoes to get the hang of riding with extra weight.
Once you’re confident riding the route do it as many times as needed with your child.
If they are older and planning to cycle to school without you it can be worth riding the route with them first to check they’re riding confidently and safely.
Work out your timings
On your practice ride don’t forget to set a stopwatch to track how long it takes.
I recommend adding in loads of contingency on the school morning, as you’ll need to factor in busier roads, misbehaving children and the general stress that accompanies getting kids ready for school.
Sort your equipment
Don’t leave it until the first morning to gather everything you need. Depending on the weather, time of year and your routine you may need lights, locks (and keys), waterproofs, helmets, or gloves. These things tend to go missing, so gather them all together in advance and check they still work / fit.
You’ll also need to consider how you’re going to carry everything that’s needed.
Rucksacks, courier bags, panniers, bicycle baskets and racks, trailers and cargo bikes are all practical solutions.
Check your cycles
There’s no point getting everyone and everything ready only to discover you’ve got a mechanical issue, or someone has outgrown their cycle.
Check that brakes and gears work, and tyres are pumped up.
Children grow all the time, so make sure their saddle height and handlebars are adjusted to a comfortable level.
Leave plenty of time
It is better to set off early and have to hang around the school gates than arrive late and panicked.
Pack all the bags the night before, and perhaps even write a checklist of what you need and the timing you are going to work to.
Enjoy the Journey
Cycling to school offers a unique opportunity to connect with your surroundings. Take a moment to share the sights, sounds, and smells with your child along the way.
Once you have settled into your routine of cycling to school, you’ll discover that cycling allows you to experience your neighbourhood in a different way to driving.
Celebrate Your Progress
Every time you cycle to school, celebrate your achievement. Keep track of how many car journeys you have replaced and the positive impact you’re making on the environment. Acknowledging your progress will keep you motivated to continue.
By next year you will be signing up for the “Cycle to School every day” pledge without a second thought!
To find out more about Cycle Sprogs visit the website here.