September 16 – bike Friday!

During national bike school day (Journée national des vélo-écoles), this Friday September 16, participants across France will be promoting the variety of services and activities on offer to encourage uptake of cycling – by each and everyone of us.

Actions include the launch of a bike school for adults in Vannes, feedback from women in Bordeaux on learning to ride a bike, and operation Vélibus for children in Luneville.


In essence, bike schools train the basic skills and knowledge for cycling on a regular basis. “This task entails teaching both technical competencies, e.g. balance and pathways, and social skills such as sharing the public space and road safety rules,” says Bernadette Caillard-Humeau, vice president, Fédération française des Usagers de la Bicyclette (FUB).

There is a strong sense of inclusion about these schools, which are open to all ages and provide for all levels of mobility – children, adults, older people, those with handicaps – and cater to every level of cycling proficiency, and situation – from the basics to mountain biking, plus getting back onto the saddle.“This across-the-board vocation also opens up a new mobility avenue for individuals in social and/or economic difficulties, which include many women with immigrant backgrounds,” adds Ms Caillard-Humeau.


Mobility, the environment & health

Released in June 2016, a study by French environment & energy agency ADEME explores seven types of bike service, with a particular focus on the offers and usage. On bike schools, it finds their main impacts centre around  mobility, the environment, and health.

On average, after completing their course at a bike school, cyclists cover 1,500km every year; importantly, this activity (unlike going to the gym for many!) is sustained too, e.g. after five years they are still pedalling. Furthermore, these individuals tend to ride around 30 minutes every day – thus meeting the recommended amount of daily physical activity.

The study findings also confirm that bike schools impact modal shift. Following their training,  46% of students stop using the car on a daily basis, while 24% give up public transport (Ed. more space in the metro and on buses for others).

Cycling can serve first/last mile trips to/from public transport stops and stations – providing facilities for attaching or storing bikes are available, and the price, if any, is right. Bikes help boost mobility too, by enabling people to make trips they might otherwise not undertake

Three wins

For Sylvie Banoun, national walking and cycling officer, French environment ministry,  bike schools (and cycling, by association) have three key strengths: they help fight social inequality, contribute towards reducing road safety risks, and represent a faster, cheap and non-polluting mobility mode, compared to others, for certain daily trips.

Like the FUB’s  vice president,  Ms Banoun is keen on the social element of the bike school. Contrary to common belief, not everyone learns to cycle during their childhood – whether brought up in France, or elsewhere.Yet for adults, it is often difficult to catch up without the help of dedicated services (likewise for swimming, reading and writing).

Hence, by way of example, bike schools offer women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s an opportunity they might otherwise miss, due to lack of money, education, embarrassment, fears, and so forth. Yest once these ladies can ride a bike, a new mobility world opens up, with services valuable to health and well being, as well as everyday life, henceworth within pedal reach.

67% of bike schools in France cater to adults

Road safety is a concern too. While a many cyclists may think they know how to ride, when in a dense urban context they are likely to lose their bearings and confidence to a certain degree. This in turns risks them becoming more of a danger to other traffic and pedestrians sharing the public space.

£50 million (59m) from 2016-17 to 2019-20

Bikeability is the British government’s long-standing programme of cycle training for schoolchildren, with over 1.7 million trained since 2010. It is available to every local body in England (London has separate funding arrangements)


The bigger picture

The 2015 French law on energy transition and green growth includes several articles of relevance to the cycling debate. These include reference to strengthening the country’s energy independence, and incentivising commuting by bike by, for example introducing tax breaks for businesses such as the bike kilometre indemnity (l’indemnité kilométrique vélo, IKV).

“If we want energy autonomy it means thinking about other transport modes [to the private car],” said Ms Banoun. With around 50% of all daily trips under 5km and home-work travel around the 7km mark, there is certainly a window of opportunity for cycling. “The advent of electric bikes could both further extend these distances, as well as opening up mobility for people unable to ride standard pedal bike,” adds Ms Caillard-Humeau.

Such trips are certainly feasible, assuming, of course, that the route is cycle friendly; indeed, while distance is certainly an important criterion, so too is infrastructure. “For years the state, has focused on optimising traffic flow for more cars and speed,” says Ms Banoun. “Given this standpoint, I think it now has a responsibility to do the same for bicycles, in order to overcome ruptures.”

To boost uptake of the IKV, whereby companies pay their staff 25 euro cents per kilometre biked to work, “the social security system needs to understand that cycling is not dangerous,” she adds.

So regarding cycling and state intervention, at what level should the French government best act, and how?  Summing up, Ms Banoun suggests it could play a part by providing a vision, a strategic horizon, which local authorities could then apply in their own way, in line with their particular situation.

 Further food for thought:  Isabelle et le vélo is must-read bike blog (in French)








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