Experts are calling for free cycle training to be made available for adults to help people avoid public transport as businesses reopen this week.
The head of the Bikeability Trust and Labour's Rebecca Long-Bailey are among those calling for support to help give people the confidence and skills to ride with traffic as emergency cycle lanes are gradually rolled out over the coming weeks and months.
In February the government announced Bikeability, the name for cycle training delivered in schools, will be available for all pupils in England, but funding won’t be allocated until later in the year, likely after a forthcoming spending review. While free cycle training is available for adults in London boroughs, funded by Transport for London, provision is patchy outside the capital.
Paul Robison, Bikeability Trust CEO, which manages Bikeability funds delivered to councils around the UK, says he has been “pushing quite strongly” for Government to incorporate adult cycle training into Bikeability to help people cycle more during COVID-19 restrictions on public transport, and estimates it would cost £1.5m-£2m per year to do so.
Robison says: “For most journeys we are going to have to ride on normal roads for the foreseeable future, that’s why cycle training is important, to get you to those protected cycle lanes.”
At an online event organised by the IWGB union last week Labour Party politician, Rebecca Long-Bailey, said: “Many children and parents will not have bikes at all, many children won't even be able to ride a bicycle will never have been near a bike since they were a child.
“Some people are going to need more intensive training and support than others” she says, including people in disadvantaged communities."
“If the government is serious about this then it really does need serious investment and support for those children and their families.”
With Bikeability funding Long-Bailey says “the devil is definitely going to be in the detail”.
Brian Deegan, technical advisor for Chris Boardman in Manchester, sees a “mass rollout of cycle training” as key, adding most pop-up routes will not immediately tackle junctions, where there is the greatest collision risk.
“Having that confidence of where to put yourself and how to interact with cars is a skill that everybody needs,” said Deegan. “Lots of stuff we’re building is going to be transformational, but it's probably going to come in in different phases.”
“It's going to take six to 12 months to really get those final routes going.”
Deegan says employers can help provide staff training – and avoid a “big rise in collisions”.
“We can't just say, off you go, and head down the A56 there. We might need to give people a little bit of help if they need it.”
Mike McSherry, Chair of the Cycle Instructors Branch of the IWGB union, wants to see cycle training made available to adults “as soon as possible.” Bikeability is delivered for councils by organisations like Cycle Confident– and the same trainers could link with councils to train adults, according to McSherry.
“We aren’t saying you can’t ride a bike unless you have cycle training, but some people need help to access cycling,” he says. “Cycling is now central to our economic life so by not helping people to cycle you’re denying them the opportunity to participate in society.”
“I think you’d be surprised at the number of adults in this country who can’t ride a bike,” he said.
Cycling UK says it has seen a 166% increase in traffic to its website pages on how to learn to ride a bike since lockdown measures were introduced. Free cycle training has been suspended in London at present, but is expected to be reinstated in the coming weeks. Private one-on-one sessions can still be delivered with COVID-19 restrictions as they are.
Paul Robison says going forward cycle training could be linked to the government voucher scheme for bike repairs. “When people have their bike serviced ask them ‘how confident do you feel riding it?’ and if they say 'not very', you can offer cycle training – it’s joining the dots,” says Robison.
A Government spokesperson said: “We remain committed to working to offer Bikeability training to all children and will set out further plans for delivering this shortly."
The London Borough of Newham is among councils helping people access bikes, via a low-cost "try before you bike" hire-purchase scheme.