We spoke to cycling instructor Kelly Fry about her route to cycle training, her passion for children’s cycle training, and why she is keen to bust the myth of stabilisers.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I started off in conservation work in the Caribbean. I was living in Barbados, and I worked on the Barbados Sea Turtle Project, which was a conservation project for sea turtles. I met my husband there, moved to Scotland, and then did my postgraduate in Edinburgh.

I did Environmental Sustainability and that got me into cycling for Sustrans. I worked with local authorities with the I Bike project, getting kids cycling to school as a sustainable mode of transport, and that's how I ended up on this cycling journey.

Cycling has just sort of followed me. The local authority brought me in to do more Bikeability [Scotland] training. And then I came on as a tutor with Cycling Scotland.

I see it as a really practical way of giving people the skills and the abilities to travel more sustainably. Starting off right at the beginning with the Play on Pedals programme, you’re getting children cycling from a really young age. With Bikeability, you're training them up so that they feel more confident to go out on the roads. And hopefully you see that as they progress towards university.

[Bikeability Scotland] is supported quite a lot by other activities going on in the school and the local authority. So I think they are making those connections, but it's also encouraging them when they do it and to saying to them, “You know, this is the beginning of your cycling adventure. You can use this every single day.” And you do see, at the end of the programme, more kids cycling to school.

I did some training at Kinross Primary School and one of my friend's sons was in the training programme. I'd actually taught him to cycle a few years before. On my way home, I ended up driving behind him and saw him cycling so confidently on the road, in a little bit of traffic as well. And for me, that was just the moment where you're like, actually, it works; you're seeing it in action.

My oldest son, who's ten now, learned to ride a bike at three. And so we've been riding with him from a really young age. He rode his balance bike to nursery every single day, and I would just ride down the road next to him [while] he was on the pavement. From the age of about eight, he started cycling on the road with me. So, with one-to-one support, me cycling on the right, him cycling on the left, and just through our local neighbourhood.

He's now at the stage where he's cycling in front and I'm supporting him from a little way behind and just giving wee pointers. He's going out riding with his friends around the neighbourhood, which is lovely. It's the same process that you see with Bikeability.

I think Bikeability now is much more practical than it has been in the past. It's really developed. So now you're training children on the road, but you're also taking them out on rides when they're doing their training. So they're applying it to a real situation. It's not just static training on one junction, it's actually part of a journey. It's going around their local neighbourhoods and showing them roads that they can use and showing them routes that they can use.

We’ll occasionally get parents that have done the training with us. They've not actually done Bikeability before, and from that, they're really keen to become trainers themselves and they'll go on a BSI (Bikeability Scotland Instructor) course. Some of them have even become a full Cycle Trainer. I have worked in some local authorities, like in East Dunbartonshire, where they've gone on to become a tutor. So, it's fantastic seeing that pathway, not only for the children, but for parents as well to get involved.

I'm really passionate about Play on Pedals. I think of all the training I do, it's just the most fun course. The Play on Pedals programme started back in 2014 in Glasgow and the aim was to give every child the opportunity to learn to ride a bike before they go to school. So it's a nursery-based setting.

The programme is really practical; it's really fun. It's all based around games. It's starting off from not even knowing how to push your bike. Just learning: how do I push a bike? how do I use the brakes? Moving on to - some people call it paddling on the bike. I call it giant's footsteps - moving about on the bike and running on the bike. Progressing along to frog's legs, which is where they push along with both feet together – like a wee frog, to gliding. Once they're gliding, you know they're ready to get onto pedals.

The early years practitioners that come on [the course] are so creative. They're so full of ideas. Not only are you training them, but you're always taking away something from the course going: “I loved how they did that. I'm going to take that and use it in future courses.”

You see a culture change in the nurseries that are doing it. They have the kids out every single day. They might be doing the Play on Pedals, or they might just have bikes out in the playground and the kids are getting to ride around and put into practice everything they've learned.

Not every child is going to get to ride with pedals by the end of it. And that's okay. Every child has their own progress and they've got their own journey of learning to ride a bike, but they can all celebrate a success - whether it's being able to get on a bike and scoot around. Because some children at the start are terrified of even getting on a bike and pushing it. So for them, it might be being able to scoot along with the bike and scoot to school with their families. And for some of them, it's riding confidently with pedals.

I step back as a trainer. I just observe. Keep a few pointers where I think, we'll discuss that, and we'll have a look at what was really great, what we might do differently next time.

One of the early years practitioners got the child cycling and in walks the dad into the playground. The dad came rolling in like, “That's brilliant. I've been trying to teach him to go on his pedals for months and he has adamantly refused.” He was just so excited and so proud. He took a video of the trainer working with the kid and having him cycling along. Those moments are just priceless.

I get to train people, see people evolve and come away really enthused and really excited about cycling, but also it fits in really well with my home life. So because I'm self-employed, Cycling Scotland offer out courses and I'm able to pick things that fit in with my family. So my oldest son, he'll be starting secondary school next year and my youngest, he's only seven, so we've got a little bit longer at primary school for him, but I would love to keep doing it. There's plenty of ways to progress as a trainer. There’re more courses that you can get involved with.

I've taught loads and loads of children to ride a bike, and I think for me, I would just like to bust a myth, which is stabilisers. I've had so many children that come to me, and you can tell they've been on stabilisers because they lean to one side, and they fall off.  Whereas children that have gone from balance bikes to pedal bikes, they don't have that falling to one side. They've got the balance and all you are teaching them is to just pedal forwards. Do balance bike straight to pedal bike, and you’re going to see them having that confidence to ride a bike earlier and faster.

In some of the schools I work with, there's lots of children that can't ride a bike at P7. We will work with them and get them riding a bike. Most of them - I'd say nine out of ten - go through the whole Bikeability programme and they come away being able to ride a bike, not  just in quiet neighbourhoods, but also on the roads as well. So the earlier we get them on a balance bike and onto the pedal bike, the better.

Hopefully, with the success of programmes like Play on Pedals, we won't have those children that can't ride a bike in P7. They are all ready. They're all able to get on their bikes and get going.

Photograph by Julie Howden.

Music by Birds for Scale.

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