Wednesday, 21 April 2010

School cycle training

Video by Mark Wagenbuur showing traffic education of children

In the video the children are educated in school, but there is also a final practical examination, which involves a fairly long cycle journey in a prescribed route, with volunteer inspectors watching what the children do as they cycle along and at road junctions. In the case of my daughter the prescribed route was about 6 km long and children rode around it two by two. Volunteers stood on each corner, observing whether the children were doing the right thing.

It's also quite normal for children to cycle to and from the place where the test is being performed. And a couple of years ago I videoed part of the return journey of my own daughter from the local traffic examination:

Children returning from practical education

Of course, teenagers will be teenagers, and they won't necessarily really behave perfectly when they cycle after training, but at least they should know what they should be doing, having learnt in real world situations.

How important is this ?
By the time this training takes place, in the last year of primary school (age 10 or 11), the children have been riding to school for years. Many of them have been doing this unaccompanied as the average age from which children ride to school on their own is 8.6 years.

Also note that there is no traffic education at secondary school or above and no training of adults, save for specific training of some immigrant groups - though that's an integration policy more than it's to do with cycling.

Traffic education is not what makes the Dutch safe when riding their bikes.

Traffic education in New Zealand in the 1970s
These photos show my sister (and a friend) having school cycle training in New Zealand in the 1970s.

The training took place in a tennis court, not the road, and included such useful activities as cycling on a narrow plank.

I don't remember if I also did this test at school in New Zealand, but I quite possibly did. It's a fair test of skill, but I'm not sure it translates usefully to an ability to survive on roads which don't take cyclists' needs into account. When I was a child living in that country in the 1970s, all my friends also cycled to school. However, cycling in New Zealand is now very much a minority pursuit, and far fewer children cycle there now than was the case when we lived there.

Not the same in NL
School cycling in the Netherlands is not just about getting too and from school. It's also very common here for children to take school trips by bike. For instance, to visit sport facilities, museums, forests or farms, and as a sport activity in themselves. For the school trip at the end of the last year of primary school, my youngest daughter, with the rest of her class, went camping by bike and covered 150 km over three days.

Note that cycle training does not come out of the cycling budget, but is part of the education budget. The cycling budget (in Assen it works out as about €27 ( around $36 or £23 at the time of writing ) per person per year and is spent on new infrastructure in the city.


Anonymous said...


I can see why cycling on a narrow plank might be useful for teaching children to cycle here in Australia:

Some bike 'lanes' near the gutter here have been chopped up by utility companies so much that we are often left with a small strip of fresh asphalt to cycle on safely - not much wider than that plank!

Cycle either side of this and you're in serious trouble!


Paul Martin
Brisbane, Australia

Michael S. said...

Thank you very much for this information. I hope that we can use this here in Berlin in a "walk/cycle to school"-campaign later this year.

J.. said...


You left out your usual caviat about the need for good cycling infrastructure in this post. I think it's worth including it here, especially because "cycling training" is often used as an excuse in other countries. It's worth noting that the training these kids are getting is useless unless there's a safe place to apply these lessons. Otherwise you end up with lots of people who theoretically now how to ride a bike, but never actually do.

didrik said...

"I think it's worth including it here, especially because "cycling training" is often used as an excuse in other countries."

Or worse: they just provide "helmet training" and then pat themselves on the back for increasing cycling safety.

Amsterdamize said...

"Or worse: they just provide "helmet training" and then pat themselves on the back for increasing cycling safety."

you mean something like this, I'm sure :)

neil said...

Though of course it is worth noting the opposite too - that if even the Dutch with their excellent infrastructure still see training as important and worthwhile, that other countries need it _at least_ as much.

- ubiquitous training to familiarise everyone with cycling.
- suitable infrastructure to make it easy and pleasant for all.

... and I'm wondering if there should be a 3rd, since these things always come in threes.

J.. said...


My point is that Cycling Training without good infrastructure, even **good** Cycling Training, is like insisting on seatbelts in a car that has no engine.
If you want to make people safer through training, you first have to create the possibility for well trained people to be safe. Needless to say, many places in the world are incredibly dangerous for cyclists no matter what their level of training.

Frits B said...

@Neil: and this is what happens to a cyclist who refuses to obey a stop sign and crosses a line of children on bikes:

(the real reason being that he was ticked off and then became very aggressive towards the police)

neil said...

@J I have to disagree. I can agree that they go hand-in-hand, that you _should_ have both. But you seem to be suggesting that without the infrastructure, the training is pointless, which I can't agree with. Training will never replace infrastructure and vica-versa, but that doesn't mean it is pointless on it's own.

@Frits.B - it's a shame Google Translate doesn't fully understand Dutch, though this section is highly amusing - "The man and the police were present quarrel, after which the rider was thrown to the ground and was beaten in chains".

tOM Trottier said...

We all would like nice safe places preserved for cyclists - but the fact is that the road is pretty safe, even in North America or the UK. I recall a UK study that found that every hour cycled resulted in more than an hour additional lifetime. The health benefits of cycling far outweigh the dangers.


David Hembrow said...

Tom, you're right that cycling isn't a particularly dangerous activity anywhere. I've covered this before on many occasions.

However, the fact remains that where cycling has the appearance of being a dangerous activity, people mostly do not cycle. Subjective safety is more important than actual safety when it comes to convincing people en-masse that cycling is for them.