What does “cycling empowerment” mean?
Cycling empowerment refers to responsibility, self-confidence and technology. Children and young people learn to repair bicycles and are given one afterwards for their efforts. Children and students are involved in spatial and transport planning with an eye to bicycle use. Repair shops offer the possibility of repairing one’s own bike with the help of others even with little prior technical know-how. Many different ideas help and promote better access to bicycles, but biking, too, must be learned.
Cycling empowerment in Vienna – Cycling schools and cycling courses
Cycling is not only a leisure pastime but an everyday mobility form. To be able to make use of this-self-determined mobility, it is necessary to learn about cycling techniques, traffic rules and correct behaviour. And all this must be backed up by a pleasurable experience of movement and self-confidence to be able to hold one’s own on the street. The existing range of cycling schools and courses focus their services on children and adults, individuals, parents with children, groups, run-of-the-mill cyclists and athletes, newbies, veterans returning to the saddle as well as people who simply want to learn more about cycling.
“There is a manifest demand for people to develop a sense of responsibility for themselves and the traffic situation they find themselves in, and to understand that observing the Traffic Code is necessary but not sufficient to ensure smooth and skilful city cycling.” – Bernhard Dorfmann, City Cycling School Vienna
What is taught at cycling schools?
Cycling techniques, traffic rules and cycling behaviour are taught with a special focus on each individual participant group. In general, traffic safety is a priority concern.
Moreover, other factors are communicated, such as self-confidence in claiming and occupying road space and avoiding to be pushed to the edge of the street. Cognitive skills are trained to enable participants to absorb and simultaneously process the numerous sensory impressions typical of urban traffic situations. At the same time, health-related and ecological aspects as well as personal quality of life are addressed – cycling can be more than just a means of transport. Children taking part in group courses develop a strong sense of solidarity through joint learning and excursions. Smooth co-operation and co-existence in the streetscape with its myriad facets calls for a variety of skills and knowledge, which is taught in many different ways in the courses.
How are these skills taught?
The range of methods is varied and customised to react to participants. Cycling is tried out the first time in a protected environment – initially on push scooters, followed by the first short ride on a real bicycle. The City Cycling School also provides accompaniment for participants planning on travelling to and from work by bike, thus offering assistance regarding routes, biking techniques and similar questions, until the person feels safe to undertake the ride on his or her own.
The same experience is available for children wishing to learn how to travel to and from school. But children ride through the city not only on their own, but in groups or entire forms as well. The association Schulterblick assists up to 700 youngsters annually with city cycling courses – although the demand voiced by schools exceeds the capacity. To make sure that kids can also travel safely in their spare time, special joint cycling courses are held for parents and children travelling together.
Depending on a person’s skill level, courses are taught in various traffic settings. Beginners start out on parking lots until they acquire the basics of cycling. Then they are ready to face traffic, which they do first on quiet streets until they feel safe in travelling across the entire city.
The pilot project “BisikleteBinelim“, a co-operation of the cycling lobby IGF and the women’s integration association “Piramidops”, offers specially designed cycling courses for migrant women. With professional instruction and in a protected environment – which means that all participants and instructors of these courses are female –, women can learn something that was barred to them in their countries of origin.
“I’d have never thought that I could ever learn to ride a bicycle. I feel so light and so strong; finally, I can go on biking trips together with my husband and children.” – A participant of the “BisikleteBinelim – RaufAufsRad“ course organised by the cycling lobby IGF.
What about the future? Objectives, requests, plans?
“Since March of last year, interest has been noticeably increasing.” says Giles Ross from the cycling school Giles and Robert Fuchs from the association Schulterblick adds that “the demand by schools significantly outweighs supply.”
It is evident that demand for the wide variety of courses is strong. The organisers above all wish that decision-makers, who can offer financial support, would catch up with this demand. And they do see the important role for cycling empowerment in successfully promoting sustainable mobility and the potentials lying therein as Robert Fuchs puts forward that “if we’re smart about it, Vienna could play a pioneering role in the switch to environment- and child-friendly mobility.”
However, the course directors not only wish to expand their range of offerings. For example, Giles Ross would like “that children’s bicycles were not longer produced like cheap toys but as serious, safe means of locomotion.”
Bernhard Dorfmann, head of City Cycling School, wants to strengthen confidence and safety in traffic by understanding and teaching traffic situations in their full complexity. The different road users do not compete with each other. Driving schools could e.g. include the perspective of cyclists in their curricula and enter into co-operation with cycling schools towards this purpose. With regard to the courses for migrant women, Ms. Debenjak from the IGF cycling lobby spots one problem in the fact that her course participants do not own bicycles and would want them to have access to a simple and uncomplicated way of renting bikes.
We want to thank all participants in the interviews for this cycling story for their valuable thoughts and for providing us with such encouraging images. May Velo-city 2013 be a catalyst for pushing forward the efforts in cycling empowerment in Vienna! We wish our interview partners all the best for their valuable work.
Read more about cycling empowerment via these websites:
Association Schulterblick – The Viennese cycling school
City Cycling School – The cycling school in Vienna
Cycling Lobby IGF – FahrSicherRad
Giles – Cycling with children starting from 2,5 years.
Velo-city 2013 Vienna | Cycling Stories
Velo-city 2013 Communications Team