Friday, April 27, 2012


1. Cycling is Good. Fact.

2. Cycle Training Enables People to Cycle Safely. Fact.

Therefore, by the rules of Logic, investing money in Cycle Training is a Very Good Thing. Fact.

Or is it?

"More than 300,000 school children will learn to cycle safely, competently and confidently on the road over the next year, thanks to nearly £11m worth of government funding allocated today, Norman Baker has announced."

What on earth could be wrong with that? Well, the problem is that cycle training does not result in more cycling. We know this because there is no shortage of cycle training, but nationally cycling is flat-lining. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with cycling, or with cycle training. It is simply that cycle training does not create safety, it simply enables people to adapt to a dangerous environment. It's a bit like giving people a bullet-proof vest. Will they go on holiday to Afghanistan? Possibly, if they really love the country, or have a high tolerance of danger, but for most people simply being in a hostile environment is stressful, no matter how well prepared or protected you may be. Afghanistan, of course, is an extreme example, but even countries like Egypt and Morocco, which are in fact very safe for tourists, experience a downturn in holiday bookings as a result of one isolated incident. That's because people, like all animals, are easily scared, arising from their built-in instinct for survival. Perception of danger leads to stress, which leads to flight (or possibly fight).

Of the 300,000 school children trained next year, only about 2% will actually cycle to school. So with such an abysmal conversion rate, the cost of training works out at £2000 per child actually cycling. If they spent some money on infrastructure, a lot more kids would cycle, and adults for that matter. Not just this year, but for decades into the future. Then it would actually be worth training them.

The fact is that cycle training is an easy way of spending money on cycling, but it is not currently an effective way of spending money on cycling. In fact, it's downright wasteful. If you were investing £11M in education, and only 2% of your pupils succeeded, or £11M in job creation, and 98% of it was wasted, there would be an outcry. But cycling is something politicians need to be seen to be spending money on because it's A Good Thing. It doesn't seem to matter if it's as effective as backing a 3-legged donkey to win the Grand National.


  1. One thing about spending money on training is it avoids the hard work of putting in good cycle facilities, -because that is politically harder. People will be upset about things being taken away from them. Then there is the fact it takes time to build anything.

    Useless paint on the ground is politically easier, and with that and training money, cyclists have nothing to complain about, do they?

    It's only once cyclists are seen to be as politically influential as minicab drivers, important enough for the transport ministers to be embarrassed about their ignorance, that progress will happen.

  2. While I completely agree that money needs to be spent on infrastructure and we need 20mph as the normal speed limit etc., I suspect it's too early to say whether the training money is a waste of time as Bikeability on-road training has only been around for about 5 years. I don't think driver civility / cycling infrastructure are currently good enough for most parents to let their children cycle to school until they're 14+. Analysis will need to be undertaken as to how many of those 9/10 year olds who had training five years ago cycle to school/college/work over the next five years.

  3. Eloquently written, but I think you are missing out some important factors.

    I think we have spent rather more than £11M on cycle specific infrastructure and yet the revolution we so crave has not happened or (UK wide) even started. In fact I would argue that £11M would hardly pay for the maintenance of that infrastructure, which is of course hugely important if we want it to be viable.

    On the other hand we get fantastic feedback at our cycling advice stalls about cycle training. People say it transformed their lives. Although I do think Charlie Holland (comment above) is onto something when he mentions the parents. In most cases they are not part of the training. I doubt many are interested. So why would anything change for a primary school child after the training? Maybe we should have a programme that 'takes the parents with it'.

    Now here is the thing about danger. My family lives in the suburbs of Vienna and the Austrian countryside. When it comes to safety this really is it.
    So it's understandable that they are very concerned about me living in dangerous London. And, to reference one of your analogies, a stab proof vest was mentioned :-).
    After the 7/7 bombings you can imagine that the wide eyed rabbit-in-the-headlights calls for me to come back home became very loud indeed.
    Yet here in London people got annoyed about the tube being shut for a few days, so desperate were they to get on it again.
    A few months later my mother came for a visit to London and she received 'London training' by me. It's quite simple really. Enjoy London as you would most other cities, look right first before crossing the road, don't go down dark alley ways you don't know at 3am, don't get into a mini cab you haven't ordered, etc. etc. She had a fab time and she'll be back.
    I do think it's a similar story on our streets and it is what cycle training is about. People looking in from the outside see the crazy mayhem on our streets plus some newspaper headlines and stats and they see danger. Don't ever go there unprotected.
    Cycle training has nothing to do with bullet proof vests. I think this analogy is really unfair. It is about enabling and empowering and making good informed decisions.

    Of course I would like to see more spent on infrastructure and I enjoy the care free environment of a smooth cycle track as much as the next person. But cycle training in the UK is excellent and good value for money. Whether it is effective specifically for getting kids to cycle to school depends on many other factors outside the cycle training remit.