Learning to ride a bicycle was always a significant childhood milestone. So was acquiring a bike suitable for road use. This often came as a present to mark a special birthday or passing the 11-plus exam.
Owning a cycle offered independence. Freed from bus timetables and tedious walking, a bike saved both time and money. It also offered the prospect of days out with friends or even a cycling holiday at youth hostels.
This liberation also carried the risk of being involved in a road accident.
In a bid to improve road safety and enhance road users’ skills and competence, the Cycling Proficiency Test (CPT) was introduced in Britain in 1936.
In the CPT’s early years, there was an entry fee of 6d. The enamelled badge cost one shilling and was initially circular.
The very first CPT took place indoors in October 1947, with just seven candidates. Participation grew quickly with 10,000 passes a year by the mid-1950s and almost 200,000 a year by the late 1960s.
The most popular age to participate was 11 or 12 and the tests were eventually run at schools.
Passing the CPT carried considerable status and certificates were awarded at school assemblies with the triangular enamelled badges worn with pride on school blazers.
The test was designed to be both thorough and demanding and every aspect that affected the safety of the cyclist was examined and assessed. Candidates had to receive at least 75 out of a possible hundred marks to pass.
The first perfect score was achieved in 1962 by Stephen Borril of Scunthorpe. He was given the honour of Knight of the Road by the mayor of Scunthorpe and featured on the front of the News Of The World.
Although not actually part of the test, all cycles were inspected for their roadworthiness and safety. Examiners were especially interested in the brakes and the correct height of the handlebars and saddle.
The actual test assessed the rider’s ability to control the cycle and avoid wobbling. The main part of the test was devoted to starting, stopping and signalling correctly on a marked course that involved replicas of road junctions, traffic lights and zebra crossings.
In the last part of the test, riders had to weave in and out of a standard pattern of cones placed 5-feet apart to demonstrate control during manoeuvring.
Increasing affluence and rising car ownership from the 1970s onwards eroded the tradition of cycling, and a school run in the family car replaced the cycle ride.
As cycling became less fashionable, so did the appeal of the CPT with its formal and rather institutional image.
The revival in cycling in the 21st century led to the CPT receiving a thorough makeover in 2007 as Bikeability.