Stars n Stripes in Hackney are delivering Balanceability: the UK’s first accredited learn to ride programme for children aged 2 ½ upwards. They provide sessions using balance bikes with fun activities that help build confidence, spatial awareness and dynamic bike skills to transition children to pedals without ever needing stabilisers.
They run two groups twice a week in Hackney Downs Park, with a ratio of one coach to eight learners. Level 1 is for children aged 2 ½ - 4 and teaches children to pick up, manoeuvre, mount and dismount their bikes, and learn the skills to ride a balance bike safely. Level Two is for children aged 4 - 6 which teaches gliding, stopping and braking, and the skills to enable them to ride a pedal bike safely and confidently. At the end of a Balanceability programme, 94% of children aged 4 - 6 are able to ride a pedal bike.
Data from Hackney School Travel Plans indicates that 33% of children would like to ride a bike to school but only 2% do, and 43% of children cannot ride a bike by the age of 6. In Hackney there can be many barriers to cycling, especially for those with low income living and those in estates or high-rise buildings where there can be no secure storage for bikes, or lack of a safe space to learn.
Parent of participant: “My son Kai was stuck on stabilisers; he is zooming around confidently on only two wheels after attending for five weeks and he is so pleased with himself!”
The money provided from TfL’s Cycling Grants London programme is helping to address all of these issues through balanceability sessions, as well as a pool of balance bikes to borrow or rent with accredited training for parents partaking in physical activity. For parents who are disabled, 50+, inactive, or with no previous riding experience, additional funding for e-bikes is available to ensure that they can participate too.
To keep the project running after the grant period, Stars n Stripes started an event marketing campaign in 2018 to expand exposure. Further on they will aim to rent and sell equipment to schools, nurseries and parents, as well as providing their services to schools, nurseries, children’s centres, smaller housing associations and tenant management organisations that would have the budget to book sessions. They are also in talks with two major highway companies who could provide staff twice a year and make equipment donations.
Parent of participant: “I have not been on a bike in years and never on an electric bike: they are so much fun - even for us older folk!”
Giving advice to future applicants, Stars n Stripes say to go and talk to parents in the local area: “parents fundamentally are the customers and bring the children. They’ve suggest offering free taster sessions or inviting local schools on good weather days. If you have the money, try advertising at a leisure centre or other similar locations".
Natalie, Project Leader: “Balanceability is amazing, when my son first attended at Butlins I thought it was magic the way he listened to the coach! Now all the parents think I have magic the way their children listen to me. The secret is you’re the coach with all the fabulous bikes; that seems to win over the kid’s time and time again!”