Escorting teenagers

As it is half-term I went on two rides yesterday escorting teenagers.

One to Blockbusters (about 9 miles round trip) and one to Starbucks (going the reduced traffic way which is 3.5 miles instead of just over 1 mile).

My choice with a teenager is to ride behind them. I can then offer them support and encouragement (such as reminding them to pull out a bit earlier to go around parked cars) as well give directions (as they are learning their way around the area). However, more importantly (to me as a parent) it allows me to act as a bit of a shield.

I tend to ride a little bit further from the kerb (parked car etc) then they do. That makes it easier for a vehicle to see there are two of us. It also tends to increase the space they are given by overtaking cars. It also reflects that when they are nervous they tend to ride too close to the kerb anyway.

When we approach an obstacle such as a pinch point I take the lane so that it is safe for them to pull out and so they will not get squeezed against the obstacle or separated from me.

For background our youngest is only just a teenager while the other is 16. Neither are used to riding in traffic on their own.

I would appreciate suggestions as to whether there are better ways to do this to help build their confidence and techniques.

I had one significant scare yesterday. My younger son and I were coming north through Thurmaston on the Melton Road (B667). This has a lot of parked cars. It also has a combination of speed humps and speed plates. As we approached a particularly narrow point (cars parked both sides) with a large speed hump/platform I heard a loud engine revving behind. I pulled out slightly to protect my son (but was still on the correct side of the dashed line in the middle of the road). A large Mercedes Sprinter van then accelerated to zoom past me, they passed within 1 foot of me (bigger gap on the other side) and then turned right off the road less than 50metres ahead. I was not surprised to notice that their offside wing mirror was held together with tape. They were certainly doing more than 20mph as they passed (and my first guess would have been more than 30mph).

My son is quite a nervous rider and I am concerned that if they had passed him that close and that fast he could easily have been frightened into wobbling into them. At the very least if they had passed as close to him as they did to me he would have been scared and put off riding his bike.

Clearly somehow they interpreted my defensive move as some kind of challenge.

While not as close I had a similar situation when with our middle son earlier in the day. Approaching one of the pinch points on the Wanlip Road in Syston I pulled out a little (it is not wide enough for a bike and car to be comfortable in the gap at the same time) and a Nissan Micra decided to accelerate, go past me and swerve at the last moment inwards to get through the small gap.

It seems to me that at the heart of vehicular cycling is the idea of riding defensively, of being willing and able to take the lane to ensure that you are not in danger in the gutter of the road. However, it seems that here such defensive moves are seen as aggressive and both car and van drivers are responding by forcing their way through tiny gaps.

I find it hard to see how to respond to this. There are no cycle routes as alternatives. Both these are in 30mph limits that are widely ignored. Both roads have “traffic calming”.

Longer term I am totally convinced that we have to move away from Vehicular cycling with a proper Dutch style infrastructure where all routes either have fully separated cyclepaths or major traffic calming (no through routes etc),

In the medium term I think the Melton Road B667 in Thurmaston needs to be blocked at some point so that it is not a through street (add moving bollards to let buses through). Wanlip Road needs a proper separated Cycle infrastructure as one of the key routes in Syston (possibly making the section between Fosse Way and the Melton Road one way for cars – it is dangerous at the moment due to the parked cars making it too narrow).

In the short term what options are there? Stop the kids cycling? Break the law by getting the kids to cycle on the pavement like so many other people do around here? Wear a helmet with a video camera to catch all these drivers and report them?

Suggestions are welcome.

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  1. Dave, I regularly go cycling with my 13 yo son and 7 yo daughter. Like you, I ride at the back, so I can see them at all times, but more importantly so I can place myself between other vehicles and them.

    With my daughter I regularly guide her to cycle on pavements, while my son & I ride on the road. On roads that are more quiet I get her to ride on the road, too.

    My son is getting far more confident (and sensible!) but when cycling to school on his own he often rides on the pavement. I’ve taught both of them to slow down, or even stop for pedestrians, when cycling on the pavement. I won’t tell them not to ride on the pavement.

    Like you, I do worry about my kids’ safety when out cycling. I’m fortunate in that most drivers in Plymouth are actually quite good and courteous, but you do always get the occasional moron.

    I know the statistics state cycling is actually safe, but I fear many of the cyclists that help make up those statistics NEVER cycle on the road, so I sort of doubt the validity of the statistics.

    Above all else, I don’t ever want my kids to end up as statistics indicating the number of cyclists run over on our roads.

    • William,

      Neither of our sons needs to cycle to school (one walks, one train + walking). They don’t really need to ride around Syston (not big enough) and generally go into Leicester by train. So cycling is generally family leisure or holiday for them at the moment.
      Sadly I rarely get a day without a moronic driver. My guess is about one per 10 or 15 miles of riding.

  2. Do your children wear helmets? I have noticed (and some research back this up) that I was passed by motorists much closer when I wore a helmet, which was one of the contributing factors as to why I no longer do. Helmets are a nice idea for when kids are first learning to ride and may fall off a lot, but they aren’t designed to help if you are hit by a motorist.

    If your children are confident enough cyclists that falling off regularly isn’t a problem, ditching the helmets (if they do use them) might be a good way to get motorists to overtake more appropriately. It would also help motorists to better judge the age (or lack thereof) of your youngest and drive more cautiously because of it.

  3. > Wear a helmet with a video camera
    You don’t need a helmet for a camera. Apart from the fact they can attach to your bike, if you feel you need the flexibility just strap to your head using head torch or a single strap.

    Maybe add one of those child onboard stickers you get for car windows – though the idiots will probably be idiots anyway.

    Probably just a case of doing what you are doing, maybe close up to your son if you get enough warning so it’s clear you are ‘protecting’ him.

    Oh and keep campaigning for separation so we don’t have to worry about this.

    • I figured a bike mounted camera can’t catch the idiots until they pass me. I don’t like wearing a helmet and to be honest strapping a camera to my head also sounds more than a bit nerdy :-)

      I’ll keep on about separation. It became clear at the start up meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain that concern for their kids was a common motivator as cyclists realised they could not expect/want their own children to also ride bikes as they do.

  4. My only comment that may help with preventing drivers from ‘squeezing through’ is to look over your shoulder when taking the lane (and, indeed, again when you have the lane). If you sense that someone is being particularly agressive, then I find taking one hand off the handlbar and giving the driver the long hard stare often calms them down.

    Of course, looking over your shoulder does have one disadvantage: you’re not looking at events unfold in front of you, this could be a disctinct problem when riding with teenagers, or when the road environment happens to be particularly dynamic.

  5. Eye contact is important. Often gives more of a message about what you’re doing than signalling. I’d say a long hard stare might be misinterpreted as aggressive and cause you more problems. Obvious eye contact is good though.

    Also riding behind is the way it’s done in cycle training as it means you can’t accidentally lose the person behind you and not realise.

    Taking the lane is important where appropriate. I was told to give a slight wobble too or to not ride too straight a line to make the person following feel like I’m not so experienced and predictable. Don’t overdo it though as swerving about can cause problems in itself. I sometimes do this to make sure people behind are prepared in case I need to move around potholes or drains etc.

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