'Cycling is the future – and we must pay instructors fairly'

Camden Community Cycling Project

Young cyclists with the Camden Community Cycling Project - Credit: Instructor James Perrin

It’s Friday morning, the last day of a week-long Bikeability course with eight young Haringey riders. 10-year-old Ella positions her bike to start. I give her a thumbs up, ready to watch her ride through the junction ahead of us on her own in traffic.

Her journey may be short, riding out of the side road onto the main road, then stopping, but to ride it safely, Ella has to use every skill she’s developed this week: observation, communication, road positioning and understanding priority.

She’s watched my demonstration, we’ve discussed it, now it’s Ella’s turn on her own. She checks behind and rides confidently out past parked cars, avoiding the "door zone". She looks back, signals to let a van driver know she’s turning. She scans the main road ahead, waits while a motorcyclist passes, then checks behind again just before turning.

Ben House

Ben House says cycling instructors have become unionised - Credit: Ben House

She’s ably demonstrated the skills that are key to riding safely and assertively on roads. It’s the culmination of seven hours of training, taking her from hesitant rider in the playground to confident cyclist on the road.

Most cycling instructors love their job. But many are increasingly angry, even leaving the field. Since 2009, instructors in most London boroughs have had no pay rise, while public sector pay has risen 30%.

Instructors are precarious, self-employed. In Haringey, we can lose a week’s work with just a few days’ notice. There’s a fairer cancellation policy in Islington and Camden, but hourly pay is no better.

The government has committed to training every child to ride (only half are currently), but instructors are quitting because they can’t live on current pay or conditions.

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Funding for cycle training passes from government to TfL, boroughs and “provider” companies, only then to instructors, with each taking a cut – and whenever we ask for a raise, they all pass the buck. So cycling instructors have unionised (as part of IWGB) and are demanding fairer pay and conditions. We recently protested in Enfield.

Safe cycle routes are vital to get more people cycling – that’s something I campaign for with Haringey Cyclists. But we also need to help kids, families, adults ride those routes and feel comfortable ditching the car. That means we desperately need more, not fewer cycling instructors who are paid and treated fairly.

Ben House is coordinator for Haringey Cyclists and a cycling instructor.