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Last Updated: Monday, 26 March 2007, 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK
21st Century cycling proficiency
Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

Reporter Lucy Rodgers doing Bikeability training

Like many other 1970s-born children, passing the Cycling Proficiency Test was as much part of my rites of passage as playing the lead in the school nativity play or being picked for the netball or football team.

Back in the early 80s, I proudly displayed the shiny sticker awarded to me by the retired police officers who trained me on my much-loved, though admittedly rather girly, gold Raleigh.

But while Cycling Proficiency back then meant weaving in and out of traffic cones in the playground, emergency stops and a final pass-or-fail test, the scheme's latest incarnation - Bikeability - aims to get children confident to do the real cycling on Britain's increasingly busy roads.

So, 21 years after my first try, will I pass the new 21st century pedal-power test?

My instructor David Dansky, of Cycle Training UK, one of the companies helping teach youngsters on Cycling England's Bikeability scheme, was confident I would.

He explained there were three levels for me to tackle.

With eight hours of training most children can get to the end of Level 2
Instructor David Dansky

While Level 1 assesses bike control, such as starting and stopping and the use of gears, Level 2 and 3 teaches children to be confident when travelling on increasingly busy roads.

"With eight hours of training most children can get to the end of Level 2," said David with a smile.

I would be tackling Level 1 in an hour, he added. "No problem," I responded smugly.

School cycling decline

However, the scheme is not just about the Level 1, 2 and 3 badges and certificates. Bikeability has very real objectives.

According to cycling organisations, there has been a 50% decline in cycling in one generation and more than 90% of youngsters have never cycled to school.

We want to get across the message that cycling isn't dangerous - it is safe if cyclists have the correct skills
David Dansky

Bikeability, backed by 10m of government money, aims to change that.

David said: "We want to get across the message that cycling isn't dangerous - it is safe if cyclists have the correct skills.

"Bikeability is unlike Cycling Proficiency, because even when children went on the road there was little opportunity for people to practise what they needed to do on busy roads.

"We want to teach children to cycle confidently in traffic - in terms of understanding their priority in situations and how to position themselves in relation to other road users - and to ensure they are making their intentions clear to drivers."

A minute into my own training and happily straddling my two-wheeled steed, I was already in trouble.

Basic techniques

I was not starting off properly. My pedal was in the three o'clock position, not the correct two o'clock, and I was also not holding my handlebars safely. Hands should always be over the brakes, David said.

I was also not moving up and down the gears efficiently enough when speeding up and slowing down, I was wobbling when looking behind before a turn, and my hand signals were limp.

It was not going well.

However, as time went on, David managed to rein in my rather cavalier riding style.

Soon my feet were at two o'clock, my hands were hovering over the brakes, the wobbles were gone, my gear-moving was smooth and I had a firm, clear hand signal.

And after giving myself an enthusiastic pat on the back, I managed to demonstrate the real skills of my 80s childhood - swerving and emergency stops, regular features of my repertoire as a tom-boy youngster.

"Good swerving," said David, making me feel pleased with myself.

Future impact

A few manoeuvres later, and my hour was up. So, had I passed?

"It's not about passing or failing," said David. "It is outcome based. Those being taught move slowly through a check list of skills, until they reach the end.

"It is an ongoing risk assessment."

So, was I still a risk?

"You have reached the end of Level 1," David said - and I was handed a shiny red badge, making me feel surprisingly proud.

Level 2 and 3, here I come.

And that is what the passionate cyclists behind the scheme, like David, are hoping will happen - that it will have an effect on how children approach cycling in their own lives now and in the future.

"It is going to effect a modal shift," said David. "Because it is positive and inclusive. The government is targeting children in years 5 and 6, but, if they feel confident, they will continue into their teenage years and beyond."

And what of my badge? It will be taking pride of place on my not-so-girly mountain bike panniers.

Cycling quiz
26 Mar 07 |  Magazine


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