Bike It: sowing the cycling culture at school



Jenny Prince is a parent, governor and Bike It ‘Champion’ at Oakington C of E Primary School. Here she describes the Bike It scheme at the school.

Our roads look very different… Cycling is the normal, near-universal way to get around. Decision-makers – cyclists themselves – give cycling priority. A vision of the future? The question is, how to achieve it?

The Bike It Crew celebrate achieving Oakington’s silver Bike It Mark
Image as described adjacent

The Bike It project proposes an answer: get tomorrow’s adults cycling today. Run by the charity Sustrans, Bike It works with schools across Britain to inspire and enable a cycling culture. My children’s school, Oakington Church of England Primary, was one of the first Bike It schools in the Cambridge area in 2010. Now there are 27 Cambridgeshire schools involved, and this article aims to explain what they are up to.

Unlike, for example, building a cycle path, Bike It is a hard project to pin down in a sentence. Its concrete form is a series of activities throughout the school year, backed up by awareness-raising and a pro-cycling policy, which together encourage pupils – and their families and teachers – to cycle to school or elsewhere.

The Bike It Officer – John Stanley is the Officer for Cambridge and Ely – travels around the schools (by bike, naturally) to lead or help them organise the actions. John’s post is funded by Sustrans and the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

The school for its part must provide an adult ‘Champion’ plus a ‘Bike It Crew’; a small team of pupils who plan and assist with activities, and conduct ‘bike counts’ to chart progress. Over time, the Bike It Officer becomes less hands-on, and the school itself takes more of the initiative in steering Bike It. Bronze, silver and gold ‘Bike It Marks’ recognise schools’ evolving achievements – we hold one of Cambridge’s three silver Bike It Marks.

Left: Parents help at cycling events. Centre: Learning bicycle maintenance. Right: Inter-house cycling competition.
Image as described adjacent

However it is the looseness and flexibility of Bike It which is its strength, because all schools are different. In some areas, many children do not possess bikes, so having a pool of school bikes is a crucial step. In others, local road conditions put parents off allowing their children to cycle, so pressing for physical improvements may be the key – or then again, cycle training may increase children’s – and parents’ – confidence in cycling in traffic. Sometimes a ‘Dr Bike’ session is what is needed to entice dusty bikes out of garages.

In our case, convenient, covered cycle storage in the playground made a big impact on the number of children bringing bikes to school. Simple cycle training in the playground (complementing on-road Bikeability for older children) has been welcome and effective. An inter-house cycling competition and an after-school Bike Club have been perennially popular.

But anything which gets kids cycling is worthwhile, and the underlying message – reinforced by posters, assemblies, competitions, even lessons about bikes – is that cycling is good, cycling is fun, cycling is normal.

It’s an easy sell! When surveyed, most children would prefer to cycle to school. Many of their parents are as enthusiastic, but naturally some are harder to engage or have concerns, usually about safety. And the commitment of school staff, especially the headteacher, is obviously vital.

The challenges for the project are the many competing pressures on schools, finding volunteers to maintain the impetus, and of course our current car-dominated world with which Campaign members are all too familiar.

But Bike It boils down to this: most children become better cyclists through practice, and if they can practise every day by cycling to school, it makes a big difference. Not just to cycling skills, of course. Bike It tackles childhood obesity; it reduces the number of cars on the road at school-run times; it can get whole families cycling because children want to ride at the weekend. So although Bike It serves a future vision, its effects are in the here and now.

Bike It schools usually double the number of children cycling to school, and at Oakington it has increased at least tenfold. As a keen cyclist, I find few greater satisfactions than seeing the empowerment and independence that confident cycling brings to children. There’s a tremendous buzz to be had from a full bike shed, a successful ‘destabilisation’ session, or hearing comments like ‘This is the first time I’ve ever cycled to school!’ and ‘This is the most fun ride I’ve ever had!’.

Bike It is an effective and worthwhile project and I hope other Campaign members will consider asking their children’s schools to get involved, or even volunteering to help out with Bike It activities at a local school.

To find out more, please contact John Stanley on 01223 728543, 0758 428 1974 or John.Stanley@sustrans.org.uk.

Jenny Prince