When it comes to heroes I have a few. Rosa Parks, John Muir, Calvin, Mark Cavendish, Fr Reid and Bonhoeffer are certainly all on the list. Remarkable people defined by outstanding contributions not only to their particular field but to the well being of the wider world (yes I do think Cav has made that sort of contribution).
This week my eleven year old son (Oisin) is fighting for contention and he’s in with a very good chance. He and his brother have been the joy of my week and the absolute inspiration behind writing this blog; here’s why.
Oisin is one of the thousands of Birmingham kids for whom the transition to secondary school is filled with challenges; while some are of his choosing many are not.
For the last seven years Oisin has enjoyed the benefits of attending a primary school literally round the corner from our house. It’s been a huge blessing. At 8:25 on the average week day morning Oisin has little idea where his left sock is, whether he’s brushed his teeth and why it’s a problem to me as his Father that he’s about to walk out of the house in only a polo shirt when the skies are pouring rain. Attending a school he could literally roll to has been a gift and one we’ll all miss.
Cometh the hour cometh the man and this September Oisin will start a whole new adventure this time at a large comprehensive school in Birmingham’s city centre and thus four miles from our home in the east of the city. All of which begs one obvious question. How will he get there?
I don’t own a car and while the bus is an option it leaves much to be desired not least its dent in my bank account. The train involves a short walk at either end but otherwise lacks any real advantage. Segway remains on the 2054 Christmas list and skateboarding is forbidden on the grounds he’d never actually get to school. The bike therefore feels like a natural choice except for two clear reasons. Firstly for a number of years Oisin has lived in his brother’s cycling shadow pulling his estimation of his capabilities way below reality. Big brothers do that. Secondly, concerns regarding road safety are at the very fore of my mind. Add to these obstacles his self description, ‘Dad I really don’t think I’m a morning person’ and the challenge becomes clear.
Thankfully Oisin’s secondary school has the very unusual practice of hosting a full week summer school hosted during summer holidays and designed to aid the child’s transition from primary school to secondary school. Thus we had both the opportunity and necessity to trial run cycling to and from school over a five day period and without the added pressure which September invariably brings.
Here’s what we learned:
1: Plan a route that suits your child
The planning is as important as the person it is designed to serve. Be specific.
Looking over the map we had three distinct choices. Route one, short but busy traffic and major roads. Route two a little longer, slightly quieter and a few more climbs. Route three longer, canal sections but all the usual problems of getting on and off the canal not yet mitigated by the Birmingham Canal Revolution. Oisin immediately decided to ditch option 3 “Why should I go twice as far just because I’m on a bike” quickly followed by his dismissal of option two “I hate hills, especially in the morning”. Leaving a shorter but busier route requiring real attentiveness and zero risk taking.
2: Practice without pressure
If you can afford the time to shadow your kids during the summer holiday’s it’ll soon pay off once term begins. If not how about a couple of Saturday mornings?
3: Taking it easy goes a long way
While the ride home tended to gain a little momentum the morning commute often felt slow and steady. The point was never to get there in record time but rather to arrive safe and happy.
4: Be safe
If you’re teaching your kids to cycle to and from school this is no time for an academic reflection on the rights and wrongs of wearing of helmets. Be big, be seen, teach your child to hold a strong lane position and to head check relentlessly.
4: Choose an appropriate bike
Oisin rides a large child’s road bike. More efficient than a hybrid while still capable of taking a rear rack when the books get heavy. Stick with your child’s BMX and you’re setting them up to fail.
5: Be proud
You’re not only investing in your child’s health, their well being and their productivity you’re also refusing to be part of a high carbon culture and in a city where the air quality is matched only by its obesity statistics, these things matter. You have every right to be proud of your child’s contribution and so do they.
6: Mix it up
Planning well means you can afford to take a little detour and keep things varied/interesting.
7: Use Subways Wisely
At extremely busy roundabouts subways are often your friend. You shouldn’t have to use them but until our city council takes cycling seriously they’re a useful tool. Learn where they are and how to use them efficiently.
8: Affirmation matters
An end of week trip to the Olde Sweet Shop certainly helped.
Let’s be clear. Do I think Oisin will ride his bike every day? Probably not and that’s okay. What I do know is that he has the skills and confidence to make that choice and enjoy it. The polarisation between militancy and apathy is somewhere far beyond the word ‘unhelpful’ it’s about doing what you can when you can in the way that you can.
If only Oisin could clean his room; hero status would surely be his.
If you'd like to discuss how we might help get your child cycling to school please don't hesitte to give us a call or drop us an email. We're here to help.