The other day, my partner and I rode to the cinema with her 8 and her 10 year old. We rode along busy roads and the kids loved it! After the film, we got out the bike lights and road back.
The next day, the kids wanted to go for a ride again. This time, my partner decided not to come, and frankly, the kids were a bit relieved. Why? My partner gets nervous and anxious for the kids, and she herself doesn’t have the long years of on-road cycling experience that I have. However, regardless of her worry, she trusts my knowledge, skills and care for the kids, and is fully supportive of me taking the kids to do the ‘dangerous’ things. Basically, I’m calm and steady, and the kids respond to that.
The ride we went on was longer and included two of the busiest streets in the city – trams, service vehicles, cars parking, double parking and leaving, people and cyclists going every which way… there was a lot going on. I had the kids ride in front so I could see everything happening ahead, and be the bigger body behind. Before the ride, which started on a quieter residential street, I provided some basic instructions:
- If you feel scared or if the moving cars are too close, go to the curb and stop – we can start again;
- If there is any danger, your life comes first – even it if means you pull over into a parked car and leave a dent or scratch;
- Signal when you turn or stop;
- Ride about a meter from cars in case of doors opening;
- Don’t pass another cyclist (although I said they could when they were older and more experienced).
When we got to the first really busy road, we all stopped and stood at the corner to watch the traffic and overall street scene. I then provided the next set of instructions:
- You must obey the road rules as if you are a car driver;
- Always look around you – look for people in cars and think about what they might do, or pedestrians who may step out onto the road;
- Ride on the left of the yellow line (for those of you without trams in your cities, the yellow line identifies the safe distance from the tram so you don’t get hit);
- When stopped at the lights, stand in front of the cars in the square with the bicycle in it so the driver can see you.
When we arrived at the next busy street which had its own particular characteristics, including some construction works, we went through the next set of lessons and assessment:
- Check for car turning signals in case they cut you off and you need to stop;
- Slow down when approaching cross streets in case a car doesn’t see you and pulls out suddenly;
- Beware of cars pulling out of driveways;
- Beware of the ‘keep clear’ zone when cars are stopped in traffic as drivers may turn into that space;
- Watch for larger vehicles that come into the cycle lane;
- Avoid the metal plating (especially when it is raining) that is used in road construction as it is slippery.
We had some events on the way like a lane suddenly veering off, a car pulling into the cycle lane to make a turn a long time before it was necessary, drivers not indicating. We also had many patient and caring drivers who gave us the time we needed to do what we had to do. When we got home, we sat down for a few minutes and went over some of the trickier stuff, including the notion of ‘blind spots’ in cars. I will get them to sit in the driver’s seat and look out the mirrors as we move around the vehicle soon, so they have a better understanding.
I did not expect them to remember all my instructions while they were riding – they got somewhat frustrated that I kept calling out the same things over and over – ‘Are there cars coming from the side road?’, ‘That car has it’s lights on – watch out in case the pull out’…
I do not expect the kids to remember everything for next time either. However, if we go on these bike rides frequently and over a long period of time, they will learn to read traffic and people. They will develop their own decision-making competencies, and hopefully have the wisdom to learn when to follow and when to break the rules in order to be safe. The most important thing for me in all this, is for the kids to learn that each traffic situation is different. I really want the kids to learn that they need to be aware at all times, and that subtle changes in the dynamic means that each traffic situation needs its own unique set of decisions.