School Run

Yesterday I was helping out at the village school bike picnic. Nearest Village School has a grand total of 16 pupils (it’s community council policy to greet all newcomers to the catchment area of breeding age with a welcome pack of Viagra and a packet of condoms with some sneaky holes in them*) and has been enthusiastically participating in the Big Pedal. They decided to celebrate with a ride to the reservoir for the bigger ones, and some bike skills in the playground for pretty much all of them and I volunteered to help the local Sustrans iBike officer out. The day, naturally, dawned wet and promised to stay wet and I thought the weather might put a dampener on the proceedings but these are rural kids who had come prepared with raincoats and it was only really the adults that seemed bothered by a little bit of water coming out of the sky – in fact, the kids on the ride took great delight in riding through every puddle they could find, even the more delicate looking girls.

After the Sustrans officer had fettled the bikes into something resembling working order, or at least got the brakes braking and the handlebars on the right way round, and a bit of cycling round cones in the playground, the nine bigger kids set off in two groups to cycle to the picnic site. I had the slower group, including two girls whose bikes were stuck in top gear, one girl whose bike was stuck in bottom gear, one tiny girl who appeared to be composed of pure energy and got up the hills by sheer force of will alone, and a small boy who stuck at the back well away from the resulting procession of pinkness, plus the playground assistant on a bike shaped object that looked like it weighed half a ton. Three miles – quite rolling miles, with a sharp hill at the end even I don’t like riding up – suddenly seemed quite a long way. The girls – I had forgotten this about little girls – made up a whole series of additional rules about who could do what on the ride (my only instructions were don’t overtake me, go in single file when a car comes, and avoid the puddles, and fat lot of use the last one was) and wasted quite a lot of breath attempting to enforce them. The first real hill had most of them getting off and walking, and there were some dubious looking faces at the thought of carrying on, but they stuck with it and two of them even made it up the hill at the end – which I had renamed heartbreak hill, because if you’re going to be defeated by a hill, it’s better if it has a name. There was then much whooping and squealing as we reached the final flat bit and saw the rest of the school waiting for us. ‘I think this is the proudest of myself I’ve ever been,’ I heard one of the little girls say to herself as we finished.

The ride back was, thankfully, largely downhill and – despite being overtaken by the bigger boys – I think we were all pretty proud of ourselves as we rolled back into the school, myself included, if only because the same number of kids came back as went out. It did open my eyes to the dreadfulness of the average kid’s bike though – it’s not just that the gears and the brakes didn’t work that well, but they were so badly designed, with no mudguards, brakes that small hands couldn’t reach, grip shifts that weren’t aligned with the gears, heavy suspension systems. As a way of putting kids off using bikes they couldn’t really be bettered. And yet, somehow, the kids seemed to have a blast anyway…

Still, I doubt that if the entire school was magically kitted out with beautifully maintained Islabikes that the kids would start cycling in in great numbers. And I’m not going to pretend that one bike picnic and a led ride is going to suddenly transform the Nearest Village school run into something the Dutch might recognise. But if you get a chance to help out at a cycling event for schools like this I urge you to take it anyway – if not for the kids’ sake, then for your own. There’s nothing like seeing the sense of achievement on their faces as they get from somewhere to somewhere else on their own two wheels to gladden even the most jaded cycling campaigner’s heart…

*not really, but the chairman looked thoughtful when I proposed it at the last meeting.

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6 Responses to School Run

  1. Betty says:

    Sounds like a great time! I’m sure they will remember it when they get older too.

  2. Andy in Germany says:

    Children’s bikes are a bit better here, but the business about poor quality is an issue for us as well.

    Bikes should (in theory) have mudguards, dynamo lights and a bell in order to be used on the road which does help a lot, and many come with that fixed and ready.

    Hopefully you’ve given the munchkins the idea that you can go on a bike to places and not just pootle about in the garden.

  3. disgruntled says:

    Betty – here’s hoping they get on and do so much cycling on their own they *won’t* remember!
    Andy – that was part of the plan, and we tried not to make it too elaborate so they didn’t feel it could only happen on an organised ride

  4. Puddles, hills and picnics – sounds like a brilliant day out!!

    On a serious note though – it’s the really heavy bikes, and the bikes that are bought for kids to “grow into” that can cause problems with handling and safety, and put kids off riding.

    We’ve got our schools “family bike ride” in a couple of weeks – I’m hoping for some drier weather…..

  5. disgruntled says:

    fingers crossed … (it can’t stay winter for ever can it?)

  6. […] was riding a full-suspension Hello Kitty mountain bike stuck in first gear’. We’ve done this before and it was more or less the same deal, except that the whole school detoured to the village coffee […]

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