There can be few things more pleasing to witness than a child’s first ride on a bike, free of stabilisers or parental hand.

The evident delight and pride affecting all involved and the dawning realisation that a new era of independence and discovery awaits, combine to create a perfect blend of emotions.

No child should be denied this pleasure, and bike riding should rank with learning to swim as one of those rites of passage with only positive associations.

Paradoxically, although swimming is on the national core curriculum, and therefore obligatory for schools to provide lessons, bicycle training is not.

At the start of another school year, encouraging children to walk or cycle to school seems the right response to the daily headlines on air pollution, climate change, traffic congestion and levels of childhood exercise.

The recent rejection of the Swan School proposal by the planning committee was partly based on the negative impact on schoolchildren using the Marston Ferry cycle track, the route that enables Cherwell school to have the highest cycle use in the UK, so clearly our councillors also see this as important.

How can we get more children cycling confidently? Perhaps most important is to start early – children of two or three can easily use a balance bike, and most children between four and five can learn to ride a pedal bike, even up and down hills. Steering and stopping are the basic elements of cycling, along with attention to the surroundings. Cycling on the pavement, working out how lampposts, dogs, kerbs and pedestrians need dealing with differently develops this valuable skill.

Teaching roadcraft is the next stage, and other On Yer Bike articles have talked about Bikeability in Oxfordshire. Four-year-olds can be shepherded quite well by an experienced adult bike rider on very quiet residential roads, but most riding will be in parks and on pavements. These are still opportunities to instil awareness of traffic and how the rules of the road work.

Being able to avoid pedestrians, control speed and direction and do an emergency stop mean that youngsters can concentrate on the road rather than having to worry about controlling the bike. Explaining traffic lights and lane discipline when driving makes the journey more interesting and encourages the child to regard the road as relevant to them.

Given the relatively small distances covered by children’s bikes, maintenance is rarely an issue, but it is important to do a quick check of tyres, brakes and chain. In particular, check that brake levers are near enough for small hands to reach (there is usually a grub screw to adjust this) while still providing effective stopping power, though don’t adjust the brakes without telling the rider.

The starting point is the normalisation of bike riding as a method of transport and of course this is easier if the adults in the family use a bike themselves. Quite often though, it is a child’s enthusiasm that gets a whole family riding, particularly along off road National Cycle Network routes where everyone can relax. Now you know what that young person needs for their birthday.