When I recently mentioned to friends that I was going to take an Outspoken cycling lesson they all asked ‘Why? You already know how to ride a bike!’. Well there is knowing and there is knowing…
Those who remember my first article in Newsletter 120 may recall that I wasn’t a natural when it first came to cycling. This was in the late 80s in a very car centric suburb of Perth in Western Australia. I didn’t need to learn much beyond balancing and looking left and right when I crossed the road, because I was only ever allowed to cycle on the pavement or in parks. This wasn’t necessarily because my parents were over-protective. It was because cycling on the road was just so uncommon, especially for children.
It wasn’t until I moved to Melbourne at the age of 23 that I actually rode on the road for the first time. In hindsight, I can recall some moments when my lack of knowledge or confidence contributed to me coming off the worse for wear in a few ‘car vs Roxy’ incidents. Had I had the opportunity for Bikeability training as a child or even as a ‘rusty rider’ adult I think I would have fared much better when I resumed cycling.
(Note: these were not incidents where I was at fault, just incidents that could have been avoided had I known better how to position myself to deal with poor driver behaviour.)
With these thoughts in mind I was keen to try out the County Council-subsidised training that is being provided by Outspoken to see if there were still some things I could learn (£10 for 2 hours one-to-one).
I arrived on a slightly rainy morning and was introduced to my instructor Nikki. The first part of the lesson involved fun things like standing on one leg and looking behind me while touching my nose three times. This was a great way for Nikki and me to ensure that we could communicate well, that I knew my left from right and that I had a decent level of coordination.
We then checked my bike. Something I should have done already, but it is a busy life being the Cycling Campaign Officer. Unfortunately, my tyres were not as ‘pumped’ as they should have been and after a good discussion on why this is important, and then making me pump them up on the spot, Nikki decided that my bike, and I, were fit to go.
We then progressed to a quiet car park so that Nikki could start me out with some Level 1 cycling manoeuvres. Starting, stopping and so on. I was pleased to learn that I was doing this properly. Knowing the right position for pedals and body is not something that has ever occurred to me. Instinctively I do this correctly, but I wonder if this was the case when I was less experienced. I did learn that I am a little too heavy on the front break. Being aware of this has changed my technique for the better over the last few weeks.
We moved on to complete some cycling with one hand, cycling while touching my nose type activities including my favourite, ‘side-fives’ (like a high-five but to the side and while cycling). In other words, how to teach someone to indicate without them realising. Nikki related a great anecdote of asking children in Bikeability, while cycling, to put their hands up if they couldn’t indicate. (It turned out most of them could).
Once we knew I was safe for the road (a relief), Nikki and I spent the rest of the lesson progressing from the basics of Level 1 through to Level 3 of Bikeability. This included discussion, examples and practice in a number of different traffic and junction scenarios. I found that I was usually quite adept at this and I attribute this to having learnt to drive a car. My positioning on the road was informed by where I would be if I was in a car. It made me realise that for younger people who have not had driving lessons, understanding where to position themselves would actually be quite a challenge. Conversely, learning to cycle on the road would be of great advantage when it comes to learning to drive.
Our lesson ended with an analysis of what I described as an awful junction on Newmarket Road. As Nikki corrected me, no junction is awful, it is a ‘learning opportunity’. This is the junction where she brings the lorry drivers who take Bikeability as part of their driver training. By the end of their training the drivers have usually gained a new perspective. When asked what they would want from a cyclist in this situation, visibility, they all agree, is the most important.
What I enjoyed about this final lesson is that Nikki was not telling me what to do in this situation. Nikki was asking me what I would do. I presented three different ways that I would feel safe to navigate the junction, and all of them were deemed suitable. And this is the point of the lesson. Ensuring that I have the knowledge and skills to react and determine safe strategies to deal with the multitude of situations that cyclists face.
As experienced cyclists, it can be hard to realise how much there is to learn when we start cycling on the road. But really, the hesitation of potential cyclists is easy to understand. Not only is there a period of adjustment as the body learns how to cycle and coordinate our limbs for starting, stopping, indicating, balancing and turning, there is also learning how to deal with roads, traffic and many far from ideal environments. It can simply be too overwhelming.
Whether new to cycling or experienced I strongly recommend undertaking some training with Bikeability. After two hours I had learnt a few things and I had more confidence about the things I was already doing correctly. And, it was fun!
Roxanne De Beaux