Wednesday 21 April 2010

School cycle training

Video by Mark Wagenbuur showing traffic education of children

In the video above, children are being educated in school. There is also a final practical examination in the Netherlands, 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, who in the video below, 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.

Children returning from practical education

The most interesting point about this is that it's quite normal for children to cycle to and from the place where the test is being performed. i.e. they cycle before they've taken the test. In fact, as the test is taken in the last year of primary school, the children in the video had actually been cycling to and from school and for many other purposes for many years before taking their traffic examination.

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.

Much is sometimes made of how the Dutch train children, but it's not as important as it is made out. Nor does it result in all children behaving perfectly. Quite the opposite in fact as kids will be kids, and of course, teenagers will be teenagers. They won't necessarily really behave perfectly when they cycle after training.

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 as Dutch schools don't have their own sports facilities but share them so children have to cycle several times a week to reach those facilities. The trips out of school go to museums, forests, farms or to city centres and these journeys are also made by bike. Sometimes, cycling is a sport activity in itself. At the end of primary school, many Dutch schools take entire classes for multi day trips by bike. My youngest daughter, with the rest of her class, went camping by bike and covered 150 km over three days. All of this is made possible by infrastructure which goes everywhere and makes the entire country accessible to children by bike.

Note that cycle training does not come out of the cycling budget, but is part of the education budget. The cycling budget (in Assen this worked out over the last few years 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.