Cycling to school guide

Riding advice  |  Sep 23, 2021  |  Dave Bowater

We are big fans of cycling to school and make no apology for shouting about it. As well as the well-publicised environmental and health benefits, the morning dose of physical and mental exercise mean your kids will arrive at school feeling switched on, energised, and set up perfectly for a day of learning.

If you are thinking of ditching the car and turning to bikes for the school run, here are our tips on how to make the ride to school safe and enjoyable.

Skills

Before you take on the school run it’s important for your child to spend time riding, iron out any nervous wobbles and build their cycling confidence until two wheeled travel becomes second nature.

The old cycling proficiency staple of riding between cones is a good place to start. In the likely event that you don’t have a set of cones at the back of your shed as a souvenir from your student days, improvise with whatever items you have to hand to make suitable markers. Find a quiet, tarmacked or grass space and get your child to practice riding between them, moving the markers closer together as confidence grows.

Naturally, the concern for many families when considering cycling to school is rider safety. There are of course risks involved and we highly recommend free cycle training courses, such as Bikeability, for teaching sound road-craft and ensuring core skills are in place. Often these are available through schools or local authorities for children from around the age of 8.

If you are chaperoning younger riders be confident that they can stop, start and steer their bike. Check that they understand and accurately respond to clear instructions such as "stop", "left" and "right", and always ride behind them for visibility. Remember a confident young cyclist may not yet be able to make judgements on other road users or understand and respond to instructions.

Ultimately, the above should put you in a good position to assess when your child is ready to make the journey to school by bike.

Route

In preparation for the ride to school take some time to find a good route - using cycleways wherever possible - and become familiar with it. Go out together and test ride a few different routes from home to school to decide which is best; choose a time where there is no pressure to rush and ideally any traffic is lighter. Think about low-traffic options, the best route may not always be the most obvious, use paths through parks or over common land if this is an option. 

Kit

Clean reflectors, bell, high-visibility or brightly-coloured jacket and a helmet are all obvious necessities. Even in the relatively well-lit evenings of early autumn, we’d recommend having a decent set of rechargeable lights.

Mudguards are great for helping to keep a school cyclist’s feet and legs dry and looking presentable when it inevitably rains. For older children who have more to carry a rear rack and pannier bags are a great option. These evenly distribute the weight and aid stability on the bike. For shorter rides you might find a cycling-specific rucksack more convenient.

Last but not least, don’t forget a lock for the bike sheds!

Ready to ride

In terms of clothing, layers are better than one heavy garment. Consider a lightweight jacket or jumper and a separate lightweight waterproof. Make sure the outer layers are all brightly coloured. In winter, gloves are useful to keep hands warm but make sure they don’t interfere with bike control. A ‘Buff’ style scarf is a versatile option for keeping heads and necks warm. For the hardcore, all-weather school commuter, a pair of cycling-specific waterproof trousers can form an invaluable part of the cycling wardrobe.

Make sure the rider’s helmet is in good condition and adjusted correctly for a snug, secure fit. Check this periodically as helmets can pick up damage or drift out of adjustment with regular use.

Finally, make sure you or another competent person checks your child’s bike is in good working order at regular intervals.

Shop accessories

Helmets

Mudguards

Luggage racks and bags

Locks

Pump and tubes

Lights