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2020/21 Bikeability funding announcement

More school children across England will now learn essential cycling skills, thanks to a £13 million Government investment in the Bikeability cycle training programme.

In the year up to April 2019, around 400,000 children completed the scheme, and the total number of children trained since Bikeability was launched in 2006 has now reached three million. The funding will ensure that the programme is able to continue for another year, so that approximately 50% of primary schools across England will be able to access the programme.

Read the full release here
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October 2019
Say what you mean and mean what you say

Paul Robison (CEO – Bikeability Trust) publishes his October blog:

We speak one of the most dynamic languages in the world. English is constantly evolving thanks to the huge numbers of speakers from all parts of the globe, and aided by its use in the worlds of entertainment and commerce. Of course we all have our own way of speaking, usually tied to our age (i.e. when we learned to speak): being of mature years myself, I doubt I will ever be able to say “spouse-equivalent” instead of “wife”. And in general I do not like engineered changes in language – I prefer them to flow naturally through increased use and familiarity. But sometimes we do have to stop and think very carefully about what we actually mean by the words we select.

In the world of Bikeability, we have taken a few decisions to change our own terminology to make sure that we are communicating exactly what we mean. For instance, the word “cyclist” seems to irritate some people – indeed, at the more rabid fringes of the car lobby, it has become almost a term of abuse. And rather than risk carrying any of that negativity with us, we now choose to talk instead about “people on bikes”. This has the added benefit of reminding everyone that we are indeed people – not machines. (On a related subject, have you ever noticed that when the media report a traffic accident, they will say “there was a collision between a cyclist and a car”, or “a car hit a cyclist”? Why do they not say “there was a collision between a cyclist and a car driver”? It is as though the driver has no control over the machine, whereas the cyclist is given all the responsibility.)

In a second deliberate choice, we refer now to “riders” rather than to “trainees”. This is to reflect the fact that many Bikeability riders – especially at Level 3 – already know how to ride their cycles, and are simply learning how to ride them better. It also removes the suggestion that Bikeability issues licences, which is what a “trainee” might expect to receive at the end of it.

Also (I’ll admit this one is taking me a while to adopt), we are trying to talk about “cycles” rather than “bikes”. There are many people who ride cycles in formats other than the two-wheeled (for instance, many disabled people and the very young and very old love to zoom around on tricycles), and we don’t want to exclude them from either Bikeability or the conversations that we have about cycling.

On a similar vein, we often use the term ‘industry’ when referring to the Bikeability programme in which we all operate, but is this the best word to be using and is there a good alternative?

What do you think? Are there other cycling terms that we are using without thinking deeply enough about what they really mean or say?

And finally, we have launched the annual provider survey for 2019, a link to which you can find in the October newsletter, your responses are very valuable and we would like as many responses as possible before the deadline. Previous ‘Scheme surveys’ have provided useful information for the development of the Bikeability programme. The 2018 report can be found on the Bikeability professionals website here. Results from the 2019 survey will be available in the new year.

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September 2019
Get a move on, to slow down

Paul Robison (CEO – Bikeability Trust) publishes his September blog:

As many of you will know, from 2022 all cars sold in the UK and Europe will have to be fitted with a range of safety features, including automated emergency braking, electronic data recorders, improved visibility – and devices to automatically stop drivers exceeding the speed limit. (And although the UK may no longer be part of the EU by then, the Vehicle Certification Agency, has said it will mirror these safety standards for vehicles in the UK.) Intelligent speed assistance (ISA) uses GPS data and sign recognition cameras to detect speed limits where the car is travelling, and will sound a warning and automatically slow the vehicle down if it is exceeding the limit.

I live in Cambridge and we have a good number of local roads with the new 20mph speed limit in place, down from the original 30mph. But this lower limit has no effect at all because there are no cameras on these roads and therefore drivers feel disinclined to take any notice. (Don’t get me started on cameras and how years ago the government capitulated to the car lobby and painted all cameras yellow so that no-one would be caught unawares while breaking the law, and then seemed to give up on them entirely.) But ISA will change all of that.

Here’s the cunning plan. At the moment, councils are quite happy to put 20mph zones in place (it makes them look safety-conscious and environmentally-friendly) – and drivers don’t object to them because, without cameras, they are toothless. So get onto your council now and persuade them to put in 20mph limits all over your local area. And then, when ISA comes in in 2022, the new limits will start to work. I know what you’re thinking: only new cars will have ISA – and that’s true. But if you think about how traffic works… it takes only one car at the head of the queue to go at 20mph, and every car behind them has to do it too. And people in the UK do love to buy new cars – there’ll be lots of them on the road in 2022, complete with ISA. Write those letters now!

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6th August 2019
Essential Protection?

Paul Robison (CEO – Bikeability Trust) publishes his August blog:

Let me start this blog by stating one thing very clearly: I am not in favour of dictating how people dress to ride their bikes. If you want to wear padded shorts or jeans, a skin-tight top or a string vest, cleated shoes or winkle-pickers, it’s up to you. However, there is one item that I would never go without, regardless of the distance cycled, the destination, the bike involved or the weather, and that’s my glasses. I’m lucky not to need them for vision correction but I find them invaluable for protecting my eyes from all manner of damage – and I’ve grown quite fond of my eyes.

For a start, there’s UV damage. Most research suggests that if you expose your eyes to too much UV, your vision in later life will be significantly impaired by macular degeneration or cataracts. It happened to my father-in-law, who worked for many years in what was then called “the tropics” and didn’t wear sunglasses; for the last decade of his life he could see nothing in the centre of his vision and around the edges all the straight lines were wavy. He made the best of it by saying that it made all women look like Gina Lollobrigida, but it stopped him reading, which broke his heart. Your glasses don’t have to be tinted to give UV protection; you can get clear ones that offer it.

And then there are all the things that happen to your eyes as you’re pedalling along. Wind can blow bits into them (or just dry them out), there’s endless pollen in the summer, a passing car can flick up road scraps, flying beasties can hit your eyeball – and any one of those is going to (a) hurt, (b) affect your vision and (c) perhaps startle or harm you so much that you are distracted and lose control.

We teach riders to recognise and anticipate potential risks and how to ride in order to reduce them. Eye damage from UV light is a certain risk that will happen. The good news is that it’s easy to mitigate, and to do so with style.

So come on: wear those specs with pride and protect your peepers.

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2018 Annual Review – The Bikeability Trust

The Bikeability Trust has published it’s first annual review of the national Bikeability cycle training programme. This review also covers the activity of the Bikeability Trust, but its main aim is to take stock of the Bikeability programme itself.

The Bikeability Trust Annual Review 2018

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29th May 2019
Bikeability leads the peloton

Paul Robison (CEO – Bikeability Trust) publishes his May blog:

It is all too easy in articles and indeed blog posts to focus on what can be improved and what still remains to be done, but it is important to take pride in what has already been achieved. And everyone connected with Bikeability – whether as part of the Trust, or as an instructor, a registered provider or behind the scenes in funding – should be very proud of how we are seen as a model cycle training set-up by other countries. We are frequently approached for advice and this is unusual in the world of utility cycling. (Of course, in the sports cycling world, the UK has plenty of expertise to offer, perhaps in how to cycle fast up mountains while pondering therapeutic use exemptions…)

A couple of years ago the New Zealand government did some detailed research to help them plan their own national cycling education programme and this showed them that Bikeability was the obvious source of inspiration. They approached us, we gave them some advice, and the result has been the launch of BikeReady (https://www.bikeready.govt.nz/). I spoke about Bikeability during my presentation at the VeloCity conference in the Netherlands in 2017 – and after my talk, representatives from several other countries came to see me to ask for the NZ treatment.

I realised that dealing with countries one by one would take up a lot of time and thought that the most efficient way to disseminate what we have learned would be to approach an international body and work with them to reach their members. The European Cycling Federation was not interested but the UCI jumped at the chance. As the international governing body for sports cycling the UCI naturally concentrates on that aspect but they are also concerned with promoting everyday cycling – which they call Cycling for All. (Our own British Cycling is a member National Federation of the UCI and they reflect this split of interest: sport at the heart of it but recognition that not everyone has the thighs of Chris Hoy and most trainees are going to be everyday cyclists rather than sports superstars.)

We’ve been working with the UCI for over a year now, packaging up the best practice represented by Bikeability to be made available to their 194 National Federations. The hope is that these federations will use the advice and materials to persuade their governments to commit to cycle training in the way that ours has – and then there will truly be cycling (training) for all.

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11th April 2019
The right outcome

Paul Robison (CEO – Bikeability Trust) publishes his April blog:

The most common complaint that we receive here at Bikeability HQ – and I feel sure that many similar complaints are headed off by Bikeability providers before they reach us – is from parents whose children are upset and whose confidence has been knocked because they have “failed” their Bikeability training. We know that Bikeability instructors do their very best to explain that they have not “failed” but the takeaway, it seems, is almost invariably negative and damaging. We have therefore decided that no child should ever “fail” Bikeability and that instead we will focus on celebrating and marking each child’s progress.

Our badge-awarding policy will be changing, because the old policy was exacerbating the tendency for children and their parents to perceive “not achieving all the outcomes” as failing. From May onwards, every child who attends a course will receive all three awards: a badge, a certificate and a booklet (as per the Bikeability grant terms). The reverse of the certificate will indicate to parents any areas of improvement on which they could focus with their child. As we make this change, we have resisted the (quite large) temptation to rebrand with “Bikeability badgers” – a common mishearing by children. On reflection, sending each child home with a large, striped, nocturnal, digging machine was considered impractical.

Talking of badges, we are pleased to hear anecdotal evidence from providers that children prefer our new PVC badges to the metal predecessors, even if instructors don’t necessarily feel the same way. Contrary to popular belief we did not make the switch for financial reasons but because thousands of the metal badges went rusty in storage and we didn’t want to risk having to send more to landfill. Nearly every adult you meet will tell you that they still have their Cycling Proficiency badge (“somewhere”), and we hope that Bikeability badges will be similarly treasured.

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13th March 2019
Creating The Bikeability Trust

Paul Robison (CEO – Bikeability Trust) publishes his March blog:

Last month I told you all about the history of children’s cycle training here in the UK, leaving you on tenterhooks to hear about how the Bikeability Trust finally saw the light of day!

From 2011 to 2016, the contract to manage and administer Bikeability was led by a company called CTA, of which I was one of the directors, alongside SDG. But – in a move that would be decried by management textbooks everywhere – we spent a good deal of our time trying to think of ways to dissolve ourselves and hand Bikeability over to a charitable organisation.

Along the way we were involved in the establishment of TABS – The Association of Bikeability Schemes – which was funded by a start-up grant from the Department for Transport. TABS was intended to represent Bikeability schemes, run an annual conference, and lobby for continued (and hopefully increased) Bikeability funding.

In an important step towards professionalisation, 2012 saw the introduction of quality assurance for Bikeability schemes, requiring registration (confirmed annually) and both internal and external quality assurance measures. In 2014 Bikeability Plus was created by collecting what innovative providers were already doing and re-packaging it as modules so all other providers could deliver it off the shelf. And in 2015 we made the monumental decision to change the Bikeability badges from metal to PVC.

In 2016 the contract to manage and administer Bikeability came up for renewal and the moment was ripe. CTA included its plans for a Bikeability Trust in its bid and – when it won the contract in October 2016 – the die was cast. A business plan was created for the Bikeability Trust and an application made to the Charity Commission in November 2016. Two nail-biting months later, the Bikeability Trust received its charitable status on 13 January 2017 and I had a long lie-down in a darkened room.

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22nd January 2019
Whatever happened to Cycling Proficiency

Paul Robison (CEO – Bikeability Trust) publishes his January blog:

My rather grand job title nowadays is CEO of the Bikeability Trust, but this hides more than a decade of hopes and dreams, plans and schemes, which have led to the creation of first Bikeability and then the Trust. In this first blog post from the CEO’s saddle, I thought it might be interesting to look back (carefully, over the shoulder, while keeping a steady two hands on the handlebars) at the history of Bikeability.

We need to go back further than you might imagine – to the 1970s. American engineer John Forester (now aged 89 and still going strong – that’s the benefit of lifelong cycling) was living in California and was one of the early cycling activists. In 1971 he received a traffic ticket for riding his bike on the road instead of on the sidewalk (pavement) and he challenged the ticket so effectively that the law was changed to allow bikes on the road. He conducted research into cycling safety and was the first to write down what many had already realised: in the absence of good cycling infrastructure (i.e. almost everywhere) it was safest to ride like other vehicles. British cycling enthusiast John Franklin picked up this research, adapted it for the UK and in 1988 published it as the cycling skills manual “Cyclecraft” – which is still published today by the Stationery Office.

In the background, the Cycling Proficiency Test was developed, with the first test being given to seven children in October 1947. The National Cycling Proficiency Scheme was introduced by the UK government in 1958, with statutory responsibility for road safety – including the provision of child cyclist training – being given to local authorities in 1974. The more cynical might hear a death knell at this point, and indeed the NCPS soon declined and fell apart – partly because there was no standard underpinning it. The inevitable outcome was a generation of people who had not learned to ride their bikes safely on the roads in the UK, and therefore did not pass the skills on to their children. The future looked petrol-driven…
Thankfully, in 2005 along came Cycling England, funded by the Department for Transport, and it quickly launched various initiatives such as cycling demonstration towns, a cycle journey planner – and Bikeability, in 2006. The scheme had the tagline “Cycling Proficiency for the 21st Century”. The aim was to professionalise the provision of cycle training to children (instructors would be required to be able to ride bikes themselves – a revolutionary concept at the time!), and to create a progression from Level 1 to Level 3, building on some aspects of Franklin-inspired existing training. As for structure, the plan was to create a national standard, to brand it, and to pay instructors via registered Bikeability Schemes.

All went well until April 2011, when Cycling England perished on “the bonfire of the quangos”. Much of its work was scrapped but the incoming government was persuaded to continue to fund Bikeability because it was established, popular, successful and relatively cheap (i.e. politicians could look good for very little financial outlay). The DfT put the management and administration of Bikeability out to tender and two former Cycling England employees – modesty forbids – created a company to put in a bid, and were successful. The idea of creating a Bikeability Trust – with charitable status – to bid for the support contract was raised, but the option was abandoned when the DfT pointed out that a contract could not be awarded to an entity with no financial track record. But the seed had been sown…

Next month I will explain how the Bikeability Trust eventually saw the light of day, and some of our plans for the future.

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29th June 2018
Halfords announced as major sponsor of Bikeability – what does this mean for the industry?

The Bikeability Trust is delighted to have secured a deal with Halfords, to sponsor Bikeability for an initial 3 years. This was announced earlier today by Transport Minister Jesse Norman at the annual Cycle City Active conference in Manchester. Press release here.

Halfords has 460 stores nationwide and 90% of the population live within 20 minutes of a store – they have the capacity to market Bikeability widely, as well as offer promotions and training to a large number of people.

The Bikeability Trust will be appointing a Partnership Manager to develop and deliver a promotion and communications strategy with Halfords and their own communications team. We anticipate that this PR activity will significantly raise the profile of Bikeability at a national level amongst the general public (through media coverage and promotion via Halfords stores/on-line and other forms of marketing) as well as with key audiences for Bikeability including schools, teachers, parents and potential trainees through targeted promotions and information campaigns. In turn this will hopefully encourage more people (especially hard-to-reach groups) to take up cycle training.

The Bikeability Trust will be working closely with Halfords over the summer to start to deliver some of these benefits for the industry and will provide regular updates to local authorities, schemes and instructors on our progress.