The above video was recently uploaded to Vimeo. The shot above shows Theresa James, then 10-1/4, leading two other students (off-screen uphill) in a bike education class as she heads south on N. Elizabeth Ave., Ferguson, Missouri, preparing for a left-turn onto Hudson Road. The date was October 7th, 2000.
I used a Panasonic PV-43 VHS camcorder weighing 2 lbs. to record the on-road part of a comprehensive class I taught in September-October 2000. This was after classroom sessions which included discussion of crash statistics, bike mechanics and adjustment, and video and PowerPoint presentations, followed by bike handling and crash avoidance practice in a large parking lot. Four students enrolled initially. Ten-and-a-quarter year old Theresa, Annie, 13, and Sarah, 15, were the three oldest of four sisters from the James family in Ferguson, joined by Verna, an adult living in the City of St. Louis.
Sarah dropped out during the parking lot practice. She had initially been persuaded to enroll by her parents but was really more interested in getting a driver’s license. I believe she would have learned useful skills that would have improved her driving but it’s hard to convince a teenager eager to get behind a steering wheel of that.
Her lack of interest was reflected in the 20-question true/false written tests taken before and after the course. Here are those test results:
Pre-test %/Post-test %
Note that not only did 13-year-old Annie do better on the pre-test than anyone else, she also aced the post-test!
In 2003, I created a 7 minute bike education video featuring Theresa, Annie and Verna taped during this class, using Apple Final Cut Express, but did nothing further until recently, when I wanted to upload it to this blog. By then the original videotape footage had been lost and there were numerous problems with the video file I had left. These included the audio commentary being drowned out intermittently by traffic noise, poor quality text linking video, and the need for some script updates. The problems were compounded by audio and video being combined, instead of on separate tracks.
The video was re-edited using the latest version of Final Cut Pro X, which is a full featured video editing program.
Despite being dated I believe this video can still teach important lessons about the abilities of even young children to learn to use a bicycle safely on-road as vehicle operators, and definitely those who are more mature, like 13-year-old Annie James.
It also demonstrates that normal roads and traffic conditions present no special problems for bicyclists who acquire the skills, and are ensured equal rights, to use their bikes for transportation. An obvious trip for children like Annie would be to school, but school administrators are reluctant to encourage such activities due to liability concerns and the time constraints on providing school-based education programs, despite the availability of good educational materials. (Please see Diana Lewiston’s work in this area, featured in this earlier blog: Diana Lewiston’s “Bicycling in Traffic” curriculum for 13-year-old school children)
After uploading the video to Vimeo I requested informed feedback from cycling instructors on the League of American Bicyclists list serve and several were good enough to respond.
John S. Allen, who is very knowledgeable about bicycle transportation, sent the following comments, to which I’ve also responded below:
JSA: The video was edited at a different frame rate from the shoot. As a result, the motion is jerky. ….
MP: I don’t have the technical knowledge to cure video problems like this, and the original taped material has been lost, unfortunately. This was created from an edited version.
JSA: There is “ghost” narration quietly audible.
MP: I wanted to retain some traffic noise in places and thought I had reduced the level sufficiently so that, especially once new commentary was recorded, my original narration would be inaudible. Evidently your hearing is better than mine!
JSA: The microphone makes your voice sound nasal.
MP: I have a good quality microphone but there doesn’t appear to be any option in Final Cut Pro X to use anything other than the built-in speakers in my MacBook Pro.
JSA: There are several examples of remaining on the saddle while stopped — a demonstration of correct vs. incorrect technique would have been helpful.
MP: It was already quite time-consuming to sync my new commentary with the on-screen action. I did point out the errors at times but not on every occasion on which they occurred.
JSA: Your British accent makes me think that I should be looking at traffic keeping to the left side of the road 🙂
MP: If you were to hear my fake American accent you wouldn’t be sure in WHAT country you were in!
Jim Baross: I like that the kids are being shown. Pointing out mistakes is useful… and I’d hope that there always is a depiction of the correct moves too.
Nice job but would likely not stand alone; needing an in-person instructor to intro and further explain stuff… maybe.
MP: It takes repeatedly pointing out mistakes and then practice by the student to correct them, although probably not going overboard during a class due to time constraints. This is definitely intended to be supplemented by in person good on-bike instruction. I have found that books or video alone are either insufficient or it takes the student much longer to achieve the necessary on-road skills and confidence. This was certainly true for me.
JB: The narrator stresses dismounting and putting a foot down, why? This is not required in California, USA. Is it because this is a best practice, especially for kids?
MP: It’s a requirement in Missouri for cyclists, like motorists, to come to a complete stop at stop signs. But St. Louis is notorious for its so-called “rolling stops.” Personally, if there was in-school bicycle instruction based on Diana Lewiston’s curriculum so that almost all cyclists behaved as vehicle operators, then I would favor making the “rolling stops” an exception for bicyclists alone, as Idaho has done.
(Note: I found a nice video about Idaho’s “rolling stops” at https://vimeo.com/4140910)
JB: Some of the kids – well, at least one – is signaling throughout her turn. I don’t think the narrative mentions that this is not required, means less bike control, etc.
MP: The students were told this was not necessary, and that from a safety angle, bicycle control while turning was far more important. I think it may have been because signalling is stressed in the U.S. almost as much as wearing a helmet, whereas scanning behind, which is arguably more important, is almost never mentioned.
JB: The video was pretty fuzzy on my PC.
League LCI Trainer & Effective Cycling Instructor #185
San Diego, California
MP: It’s also fuzzy on my Mac, and there’s nothing I can do about it. As mentioned above in the discussion with John Allen, this was taped using a VHS camcorder in 2000! Amateur video has made great strides since then, especially when it comes to taping bicyclists on-road.
JB sign off: “Cyclists should expect and demand safe accommodation on our public road(way)s, just as does every other user. Nothing more is expected. Nothing less is acceptable.”
Jack R. Taylor
“Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”
“Same Roads Same Rules Same Rights”
“Roads are for people, not just for people in cars.”
The following input was also received from Karen Goodwin, LCI list, on Dec. 21st, 2012
KG: Thanks for sending. I did watch the video and it is impressive to see those kids riding so well and controlled.
MP: I recall a young boy in my class, accompanied by his mother, who wanted him to learn to bicycle safely on-road. After riding down 4-lane Florissant Rd. back to the parking lot he dropped out, saying it was too scary. So not all children are as willing and able as 10-year-old Theresa. I suspect this is more so for boys, who are less mature than girls at Theresa’s age. Interestingly, this boy’s mother remained in the class.
KG: You cover a lot of skills in a short time, but I don’t think this is too useful for educating kids for many of the comments that John Allen had made. Primarily, the video is too jerky and the voice over doesn’t inspire anyone to ride. Cycling is fun! It sounded like more of a “lesson in the corner of the room” where a child was sent for punishment.
MP: There was a lot of preparation, both classroom and parking lot, before we went on-road, as I mentioned. And the on-road portion which followed started on low-trafficked residential roads. Throughout the on-road portion there were numerous stops for instruction and practice, e.g. of the cyclist’s U-turn, and dealing with a stop sign at a priority street with little motor traffic but poor sight line from one direction.
KG: Also, the photo shoots were a little too distant; zooming in might have solved that issue.
MP: I agree in general, although long shots permit context and would have been much better quality with a modern camera. VHS technology is what was available and affordable to me back in 2000.
KG: The concept of kids teaching kids is awesome!! One other suggestion is to have the kids read a voice over script.
Again, thanks for sharing,
MP: If it could be pulled off successfully, I like your idea of kids teaching kids! That isn’t really what I was doing here though. It’s just that each student took it in turns to lead the group. I no longer allow such young students to ride leaderless, as was happening here: the risks are too high. Theresa was exceptional.
My thanks to Chuck and Maryann James for enrolling their children in this class, and for showing their trust in me, which I’m glad was not misplaced.
I’m also grateful to Jim Abernathy Jr., Video Production Coordinator at the University of Missouri St. Louis. His invaluable assistance in using Final Cut Pro to update the original video saved me considerable time and effort.