Oxford’s Kidical Mass
By Owen McKnight
Did you see a parade of children cycling joyfully through Oxford on Sunday 26 March? Maybe you heard them ringing their bells, chanting and singing?
This was Oxford’s second ‘Kidical Mass’. It’s a family group ride in which adults keep children safe so they can experience cycling on the roads of the city they call home, Oxford.
We rode together on bikes big and small – tandems, tag-alongs, cargo bikes – and children as young as four were able to ride independently.
Feeder rides from three different directions converged in Broad Street, a space which was until recently a car park. Then the massed groups made a celebratory loop of the city centre.
Last summer the ride took place in glorious sunshine. This time it drizzled, but everyone in Britain knows you can cycle in the rain, and children aren’t made of sugar.
What is a Kidical Mass?
Kidical Mass rides have been taking place all over the UK, from Inverness to Exeter, since the first ride in the USA 15 years ago. They’re a celebration of children cycling. And there is a serious purpose: independence.
All abilities of cycling were on show during this Kidical Mass, from the determined preschooler eager to stay at the front, to the nervous older child keeping close to grownups.
It’s important that children learn how to handle their bikes, how to follow a route, and how to cycle with others. But confidence needs experience. While Bikeability training in schools is a good start, there’s no substitute for everyday practice.
And if the roads aren’t safe for children, where can children learn to be safe on the roads?
In any case, it’s wrong to expect kids to shoulder responsibility for road safety. Traffic takes away children’s freedom. The roads belong to all of us, but they’re built for the biggest and most powerful vehicles.
Instead, adults have a responsibility to design streets which are safe for the most vulnerable members of our community.
Finally, children’s independence is good for adults, who can be freed from the school run and the obligation to provide lifts. School Streets, being introduced across the county, are part of the solution. But children also deserve to explore outside school hours.
Some adults benefited from Kidical Mass more immediately. One local parent told me that, with safety in numbers, it was the first time she’d dared ride into town across Magdalen Bridge.
A taste of freedom
There’s still a lot to do. On the return ride, the East Oxford group had to make a long detour via South Oxford, because it’s not safe to take children around The Plain. Families in East Oxford who want to cycle together are cut off from the city centre.
Kids who get a taste of freedom on their streets will start to ask why they can’t ride their bikes every day. A 7-year-old boy said ‘This will be the longest distance I have ever cycled’ and one 6-year-old announced that she is going to keep cycling ‘forever’!
Riding a bike is good for children’s health, good for their community, and good for their environment. The County Council has an ambition to reduce car journeys by a quarter by the end of the decade, and empowering children to cycle in safety will help us reach that target.
Come along to the next one!
‘It takes a village’, or in this case a city. This ride was organised by Cyclox volunteers, and extra safety marshals are always welcome. More rides are planned for Sunday 7 May and Sunday 24 September this year. Children, and their grownups, will be welcome to turn up on the day. Look out for more details on the Cyclox website, or email email@example.com to volunteer.