When you cycle alone, you have to do everything yourself
The cycling proficiency test and the first cycling trip alone are important rites of passage for both children and their parents. In Austria, children can be entered for their cycling proficiency tests from the date of their tenth birthday. After passing the test, they can be seen happily brandishing an official certificate which sanctions their new-found freedom. This is an achievement which makes everyone feel very proud. So, is it now time to head off on the road? The following interview with 10 year old Amélie will awake memories and provide encouragement for both parents and children.
Amélie is ten years old. She is the daughter of the Managing Director of Bike Citizens Daniel Kofler and has been brought up in a car-free household. She lives in Graz, the second largest city in Austria, where she cycles almost every day. She passed her cycling proficiency test at her school last year. The time had come this spring for Amélie (and her Dad) to dare to venture out on her first solo trip, in other words, her first trip without anyone else.
In this interview – also without her parents – Amélie talks about her cycling proficiency test, her first solo trip and she reveals to us how her Dad felt about it all.
Amélie, how did you start cycling?
Amélie: It was all down to my Dad. He was always out and about on his bike. I was always with him in my bike trailer. I then used to go on the cargo bike. So, I have always been connected with the bicycle. I was three years old when I first sat on a bike.
Where did you used to cycle?
Amélie: We began by cycling along cycle paths that are not on the road. We used to cycle around a lot together. When I passed by proficiency test, we soon began to cycle on the road. We avoided the large roads and we cycled together on lots of short paths for short distances. I learned a lot from doing this!
What would you call a short stretch?
Amélie: From the office to our house is a short stretch. It is a short stretch because I know the area and I know where I need to go.
What would you call a long stretch?
Amélie: More than 40 kilometres in one day!
How did you find the cycling proficiency test? Were you nervous?
Amélie: I took the test last year. I was the only nine year old and I was allowed to choose whether I wanted to take the test with the older kids. I thought: Yes! Then: No! I was torn about it. Yes and no. And no and yes. My dad said to me that if I believed I could do it, then I would do it. But, you don’t need to prove anything to us or yourself. I actually really wanted to do it. I would not have managed to have come to the decision on my own. It was actually quite easy then. I did not feel nervous. When we found out that we had passed, we were all happy!
How did your Dad find it? Was he nervous?
Amélie: Dad was nervous. He is actually never nervous. But, I can’t really know because I have never felt what he has felt. I think that he was anxious because I was the only 9 year old.
Did you want to cycle on your own before you took the test?
Amélie: Yes, I often asked when I would be allowed to cycle on my own. My dad said to me that I could when I was proficient enough. We then talked about the cycling proficiency test. It was a good feeling to look forward to the test. When the time came, it was fun to take the test. The first time I cycled on my own was completely unexpected. We were out shopping and my My dad said to me that I could cycle back home on my own. I thought to myself, ‘Yippee! Finally!’ And last week, I cycled back home from the office all on my own for the first time.
So you just pedalled off?
Amélie: No. Before I set off my Dad asked me, ‘Where are you expected to go? And how would you get there?’ He also gave me some tips before I left. I should avoid the big roads. But, he already taught me that when I was younger.
How was your trip?
Amélie: I was really excited. Because it was my very first time! It was really good. A feeling of happiness. A feeling of freedom. Finally, something new. Finally, something different. But, I also noticed something else: I need to pay much more attention.
What sort of things do you need to pay attention to when you cycle on your own?
Amélie: You have to look around much more when you cycle on your own. When you cycle alone, you have to do this yourself. I was worried that I would graze myself or something like that. I once went round a bend too fast and fell off. This can happen. (Editor’s note: This happened on a bike ride with her dad.) And I knew that no one was there. I had to completely take care of myself. I am ALONE in the traffic. I had to concentrate. I need to take it seriously. I didn’t realise HOW much you need to watch out before. ‘I need to go left,’ I thought to myself. I know that I need to pay attention. I also need to watch out for pedestrians. It can be difficult to see them if they are wearing dark clothes. This was also a new challenge. And: I need to memorise the way well and think. Ah! I need to give a hand signal.
Did the proficiency test help you with this?
Amélie: After the test, I noticed that I felt safer. I did not feel worried that I was doing something wrong.
Was your Dad frightened about anything?
Amélie: My dad was quite cross with me once because I did something wrong. I turned left. A car only just missed me. He said, “YOU HAVE TO BE MORE CAREFUL!” I need to give a hand signal! I think he was a bit scared. But, he also knew that I knew what to do because we had practised it for years. He trusted me. Although, he was a little bit scared. But, not much!
Do you cycle a lot on your own now? Which routes do you normally cycle along?
Amélie: I want to cycle every day and I do this more and more regularly on my own. I will often cycle on my own from the office to my house. I know I can do that. I can manage it. However, I also know that I can’t always do it. But I look forward to doing it. And I think I will be allowed to do more. New situations. Bigger roads. Traffic.
Can we talk about your bicycle for a moment. I know that you have ensured that your bike is fit for the road – pedals, mudguards, lights, even the handlebars have been changed. Can you tell me more about this?
Amélie: I got a new bike, I reckon, about seven months before my cycling proficiency test. That worked out well. My old bike started to get too small. The saddle is already higher than the handlebars. And I got cages on my pedals.
Really? You use pedal cages?
Amélie: I find it much easier with the cages. You can’t slip off! I used to put my foot on the pedal in the wrong way – not on the ball of my foot but between the heels and the front of the foot. My feet would always slip off the back. Then there was a dangerous situation. I nearly got thrown off my bike! This doesn’t happen any more with the pedal cages. And I now always take a look to see if I can get a better grip – at the traffic lights, for example. Or, I look around to see if there is a small stone which I can stand on.
What does cycling mean to you?
Amélie: We were once on a cycling trip and I got really really scared. There was a Mediterranean storm and it was really raging. There were even hailstones! I couldn’t steer my bike anymore which really made me scared! But it is a bit like a spiral staircase. I noticed that cycling can be an adventure: Fun! Freedom! Thunderstorms! Sunshine! Lightening! It keeps me fit and healthy. I felt proud when we reached our destination. There are always new steps to climb. Like a new journey! Like a spiral staircase!
Background information on the cycling proficiency test
The standard cycling proficiency test is generally offered in primary schools in Austria and it is voluntary. It is conducted by the local police authorities who work in tandem with the school’s teaching staff. It is usually run in the fourth and fifth school years on a dedicated traffic course. Children can get more information and test their knowledge before the test on the Austrian website of Radfahrprüfung.
An optional course is held on a Friday at Amélie’s school. The course also prepares the children so they are able to complete the cycling proficiency test. Children most frequently choose to take the test when they are ten years old. The programme also includes a cycling excursion. However, additional practice at home with their parents is indispensable to ensure the children are ready to cope with cycling on the roads. The cycling proficiency test alone is no guarantee that children will be completely safe and careful when cycling among traffic.
Daniel’s additional note and the number one tip for parents on how to survive the first solo trip
“Choosing the right route is the key element here! It is extremely important to choose a safe and pleasant route. It was only when my daughter took her cycling proficiency test that I really became aware of the sorts of conditions that a 10 year old is faced with when they head off alone onto the roads!”