Saturday 16 September 2017 11.00 BST
Stored away on my phone is a brief video showing the day, a few years ago, when my son first learned to ride a pedal bike – more precisely, the moment he gained sufficient confidence for me to stop hovering and record the historic event for posterity.
Looking back at the footage, what struck me was the meandering route he plotted. But this wasn’t beginner’s wobbling – it was a deliberate decision to cycle through as many puddles as possible, thus creating the biggest possible splashes.
It is an illuminating experience to cycle with a young child. You relearn the sheer joy of travelling fast and effortlessly under your own power; the exhilaration of freewheeling down a hill; and of course the vital importance of a good rear-wheel skid.
James Holloway, an instructor who often teaches young children, says he gets huge satisfaction from watching them master cycling for the first time.
“As soon as that sense of them balancing the bike by themselves clicks, their enjoyment is exponential,” he says. “What I have to teach is very, very basic and simple – they’re doing the work themselves. And when it clicks you don’t think about it again. You just go.”
But what Holloway also sees is that for many of his charges, their opportunity to use this newly won skill is extremely limited in everyday life.
“The children that I know who do end up cycling regularly tend to have pro-cycling parents who ride themselves and want their children to participate,” he says. “It all comes down to a very family level. There’s not any sense there’s any wider responsibility from society to help children cycle safely.”
This is borne out by statistics. Slightly under 3% of pupils aged five to 16 cycle to school, according to the official national travel survey, with more than a third going by car.
In countries where decades of investment in bike routes has made cycling safer and more everyday, the reverse is true. Almost 40% of Dutch children go to and from school by bike.