An open letter to UK’s cycle training industry

The Alternative Department for Transport emblem
The Alternative Department for Transport

Re: Government using cycle training as an excuse to sideline cycling

Dear TABS and other cycle training organisations,

Are you annoyed that the politicians use you to suppress cycling? This probably comes as no surprise, political figures spouting nonsense is nothing new, after all!

Personally, I would be very annoyed if my work was being misrepresented, and used as an excuse to ignore real cycling provision – and unfortunately that’s exactly what’s happening with you.

Time after time, we see those in power refuse to support proper cycling infrastructure – good quality cycling infrastructure, enabling cycling for all, regardless of ability, as can be found in the Netherlands – and one of the frequent excuses given is that cycle training is offered instead.

What they mean by this is that the government throws some money at the cycle training industry. I know it’s not much money in the grand scheme of things, not enough even to teach every child the basics, and yet some of those in power then consider it “job done” as far as cycling is concerned.

Here’s an MSP in Glasgow refusing to support space for cycling, using training as an excuse.

Doesn’t that make your blood boil? Here you are, trying to do some good, and these politicians are using that as a reason to wash their hands of responsibility!

Here’s another politician, in London, cherry-picking a very rare situation as part of an ongoing campaign against the type of infrastructure that’s proven to be safe for everybody.

Central government frequently trumpets the number of children who have received Bikeability training as if this is a goal in itself, ignoring the fact that very few children actually then put these skills to use by cycling for transport.

Surely this must bother you? I can see you being wary of biting the hand that feeds you – the (other) Department for Transport’s logo is on your website, I guess you must receive funds from them – but isn’t it time to issue a statement which will prevent the politicians’ divide-and-rule, infra-versus-training debate once and for all? I’m often told that training is not in opposition to infrastructure, and this is a good chance to prove it.

As an industry, you surely support the principle of investment in high-quality cycle infrastructure. TABS’ website states that their ultimate aim is “more people taking trips by bike more often and more safely” (and some of your most prominent people are in favour of cycleways).

As we all know, “more people taking trips by bike more often and more safely” will only happen when people feel safe and comfortable travelling by bike – which inevitably means not having to cycle amongst lots of motor vehicles.

Surely you’d much rather be teaching every child in the country the rules of the road on safe infrastructure? Perhaps, with your help, one day the UK will be a country where eight years old is considered late for independent cycling!

I don’t expect you to become another full-time campaign organisation, but silence on this issue is tacit agreement with those who abuse your work. It would help everybody if campaigners had something to show to the politicans to say “look, cycle trainers say you’re wrong too. Cycling needs standards and investment.”

So I’m asking you to issue a press release, or add a page to your website, to make clear that training isn’t an alternative to proper infrastructure, but is instead an adjunct to it. Let the politicians know that throwing a few quid at Bikeability isn’t enough to create mass cycling in the UK, and that they can’t continue to design roads solely for motor vehicles any more.

All the best,


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8 responses to “An open letter to UK’s cycle training industry

  1. The depressing thing in Surrey is the Bikeability manager is responsible for infrastructure and endorses the appalling Walton scheme and help design the woeful Ashtead/Leatherhead cycle route

  2. As a National Standard Instructor I am appalled that cycle training and Bikeability is touted, usually by local authorities, as the answer. It is not.

    Proper segregated provision is the way to go, and I campaign separately for that, but regrettably however much we wish, it cannot happen overnight.
    I regularly am approached by ‘new’ cyclists who want to ride NOW and I will happily teach Level 2/3 to enable them to have the confidence to get out on their bike tomorrow.
    Telling them to wait a few years is not an option as they would just leave the bike in the shed and drive. Not good.

    It galls me to hear of cycle training being slammed by some campaigners as it really does help people to ride, but you are right it really shouldn’t be necessary and wouldn’t be if we had proper infrastructure. It is not a substitute and I am always happy to make that clear.

    • Jitensha Oni

      Well said. But most people wouldn’t go skiing without instructors *or* pistes, and I think there’s an analogy to be made with cycling. So some cycle training for all, as part of the school curriculum perhaps, would always be welcome even with cycle paths at Netherlands density. At the moment UK instructors are being asked to take their charges straight onto the cycling equivalent of black runs and off-piste with very little green to red. It’s no wonder the mode share is so low.

      • That is understood and a concern.
        I always carry out an off-road assessment of the rider first which includes basic cycle handling skills such as being able to start and stop under control and to take a hand off and look around, plus a few other requirements. If there are any difficulties then these can be addressed through advice/practice before using roads.

    • Hi John, thanks for your comment, and sorry for my late reply.

      I agree with what you say here, it’s especially good to hear it from a cycling trainer! It’s often difficult to get the nuance across when criticising “training”, but I have no problem with training as a concept, or the work that you do, of training people who wish to cycle.

      I do have a problem with those who make patently false claims for what cycle training can achieve, the people who run the cycle training industry and refuse to say boo to the DfT, seemingly because they don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them.

      I’m pleased to hear you’re not one of them! Your comment is essentially what I want TABS to provide – “training isn’t a substitute for proper infrastructure”. If only they could be as bold and honest!

      Unfortunately, two months on, TABS haven’t responded at all to this article or any of my attempts to contact them.

  3. zedek666

    Cycling in kensington gardens, London,
    with a sticky surprise at the end

  4. Pingback: More Dutch cycling scenes in a British context | The Alternative Department for Transport

  5. Thinking about the spending and what is usually included in training advice, helmets and high viz, the latter two cost money. Let’s say that you replace a bike helmet and a high viz jacket every 2-3 years, I’ll say 2 years. Let’s say that a good bike helmet costed 25 dollars CAD, and a good high viz jacket costed 40 dollars. Add the two, and we get 65 dollars. Let’s divide that in two to get an average for a single year. 32.50 dollars CAD. By just spending the money that we spend now on helmets and high viz jackets, we get about 75% of the money that we would need if we were to spend a similar amount per person as the Dutch do every single year. A pair of happy meals at McDonalds each year will cover the rest, and even if the taxpayer was responsible for the rest, just $11.50/year more, out of let’s say an average income of let’s say $75k/year, that would be an extremely small amount of your money. And it is for a good cause. Even if we ramped the spending up to 100 dollars per person or more than double what the Dutch do now (I know the Dutch use euro, I’m converting between units) so as to make a transition to cycling faster, that is still an extremely small amount of money. If you gave your child a happy meal every two weeks, you’d already pay off the amount of money, if the taxpayer himself was responsible for all of the costs. And it’s been proven that the Dutch spend less on other things like healthcare because of all of their cycling. Enough that it probably outweighs the amount spent, on healthcare alone.

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