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.