Encouraging Sheffield children to get on their bike and be active

When I go into a school, I’m like the bloke who’s come in with a sweetshop,” says teacher Craig Malkin, who for the past 20 years has been turning up at local schools with fleets of bikes for schoolchildren to ride.
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“Kids absolutely love cycling, it’s about speed and fun, going out and seeing things and getting places. Every child wants to cycle, even those who can’t do it yet.”Members of the city’s Children’s and Young People’s Cycling Group reckon families do want to cycle more, but aren’t sure how to go about it, so this month have launched a ‘cycling map’ to help families find their way.“Every child should have the opportunity to enjoy cycling!” says Anna Lowe from Move More.

“Not only does it build confidence, physical literacy, strength and fitness, it is also fantastic fun, and when parents are active, kids are more likely to be active too.” She added.Gareth Jones is a researcher in behavioural and health psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, and says the increased family cycling for many this year helped people connect with their local area, and recognise that they can actual travel by walking and cycling.“But it also showed the barriers to cycling,” he says. “For communities to continue cycling, infrastructure changes need to be there as well.

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"For cycling to be seen as an acceptable form of transport, you need to have the right infrastructure to feel safe, and the skills and confidence to do it. If you have those things, I think people will choose to cycle more.”So Gareth and cycling group colleagues from Yorkshire Sport, Move More, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield Council and school sports partnerships, British Cycling and others have put together the ‘A Childs Journey to Cycling in Sheffield’ guide for schools and parents.

Children having a picnic after cyclingChildren having a picnic after cycling
Children having a picnic after cycling

The guide lists road skills training organisations like Cycle North and Pedal Ready, sports groups including Cycle Speedway and race training with British Cycling, and local learn to ride your bike sessions.There’s also a map showing venues from BMX tracks to family cycling routes in local parks and woodlands.“Having safe environments to try cycling and develop your skills is really important,” says Anna Lowe, who mountain bikes with her son.

“Cycling is a skill that stays with you for life and normalising travelling by bike has the potential to reduce our carbon footprint. So introducing kids early to sustainable transport options can have many long term benefits.”A new all weather ‘pump track’ for kids and adults will be built in Hillsborough Park early next year adding to the city’s many cycling options, says Gareth Jones.Craig Malkin has taught in Shefield’s less wealthy areas over many years, and says one key deterrent to cycling for many Sheffield kids is that they don’t actually have a bike, or the bike they can get hold of isn’t much fun to ride.

"So the Hillsborough pump track will have bikes to hire for kids who don’t have one.“You should see the state of the bikes that get brought in when we do a Dr Bike repair session,” he says.

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"The free £50 government bike repair voucher was supposed to address this problem but you need access to the internet and the patience to get it sorted out online,” Craig says. “I don’t know anyone who’s been able to access it.”Nevertheless, this term he’s seen an increase in kids cycling to school on the Manor, where he works.Jo Pearce, head of Physical Activity and Sport at Sheffield Council, likes to ride round local bridleways with her kids.“We are so lucky in Sheffield to have so many wonderful parks, green spaces and woodlands as well as dedicated bike tracks and clubs that people of all ages can go out and enjoy, but often the problem for families is not knowing what’s out there.

Anna Lowe and family at the Sheffield Big Ride in 2019Anna Lowe and family at the Sheffield Big Ride in 2019
Anna Lowe and family at the Sheffield Big Ride in 2019

"So I’d say, download this map and jump on your bike!”The growth of family cycling in Sheffield this spring, when there was little traffic on the roads, shows demand is there, if the barriers are removed, says Gareth Jones.He added: “Change can occur but you have to make it an easy and comfortable decision to make that change.”To find out more about the Map and Family Cycling Guide visit http://bit.ly/MoveMore_SchoolsCycling

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