First we had the 93-page guide for police officers contemplating the onerous task of riding a bike. Now we have the compulsory 10-hour training course.
If people in the Kingsley and Parklands area of Northampton were wondering why a planned fleet of intrepid bobbies on bikes had yet to be seen on the streets, their local newspaper has uncovered the reason.
Apparently, police bosses have decreed that officers need a 10-hour training course before they are permitted to start riding on duty, meaning they will not be deployed before the summer.
This has brought a predictably withering response from one independent local councillor, Malcolm Mildren, who chaired a public meeting at which the news emerged. He told the Northampton Chronicle:
You would have thought riding a bike would be common sense, it's the kind of thing where you can either do it or you can't. I've not ridden a bike in years, but I'm pretty sure I could get on one and not be a total disaster.
Northamptonshire police has defended itself. A spokeswoman said the course would include such non-standard cycling matters as "how to use the bike as defence if confronting an offender".
Now that bit sounds useful, though I'd be surprised if there was much more to it than a) holding the bike up in front of you by the frame as a sort of improvised shield and b) if possible, pedalling away at full speed. I've used both over the years, although the former method only once during an unfortunate incident involving a very big, irate driver and an ill-thought out hand gesture on my part.
I'm instinctively sceptical, even hostile, to the sort of "it's health and safety gone mad!" stories which litter many papers these days. But I have to admit I'm struggling here. Aside from the obvious – fulfilling a legal obligation to minimise the chance of the force being sued by a cycling officer who takes a tumble – can anyone think how you could possibly fill 10 hours?
Or am I being unfair? After all, a child completing just two of the three levels on the Bikeability scheme usually requires around eight 90-minute lessons. Why should we deny police officers – who might not start off as regular cyclists – the same chances to learn good habits? After all, not even Bikeability students usually have to hunt down and tackle miscreants from the saddle.
So here are my questions: is this a waste of time? And if you ran the course, what skills would you cover?