A recent survey by SUSTRANS found that 79% of British women don’t cycle at all. When asked for a reason, one in five said it was because they felt “unsafe cycling on the roads”.
I know how they feel. An indecisive wobble into a moving car, and the ungainly smack of my bum onto tarmac marked the end of my cycling days 30 years ago. Getting back on the road this year was a scary journey. Roads are now covered with an algebra of traffic markings, bikes bristle with mysterious gears and some motorists bristle with regular rage. As a non-driver I got returned to the road by guesswork, amazing luck and getting off and pushing at the awkward bits (roundabouts, steep gradients, largish junctions…). You might call it ‘semi-cycling’!
So when Bristol-based Life Cycle UK, whose purpose is training people to cycle in safety and confidence, offered me an Adult Training session, I went for it.
The session started in the quiet roads around Victoria Park in Bedminster (Bristol) where Life Cycle UK’s trainer Veronica rapidly assessed my competence. First she checked my equipment. I knew my wobbly bike helmet was probably more of a liability than a safety device and she showed how to tighten the webbing and make it fit properly (yep, that basic!). I was impressed with the kind way she pointed out that I’d not locked my back wheel on after changing a flat. (“See that lever over the wheel that says ‘open’… what do you think it should say?”).
Next she observed my cycling quirks as I rode my bike. I was glad my mounting was good. Apparently some folk need to be shown how to raise their pedal before take off! Veronica clearly had a broad mental checklist of things that cyclists need to know and was steadily ticking them off as we progressed. Positioning on the road is key: I learned a vital lesson in making sure that drivers can see me by not hugging the gutter for ‘safety’. Now I hold a visible position in the hurly burly of traffic flow. We practised looking behind to check traffic before signalling on approaching a junction, which took up quite a lot of my hour-long tuition slot. I learned that I didn’t need to signal if no-one was around to see it.
Everything I learned was potentially life-saving and I’ve incorporated it into my cycling. The training was focused, expert and friendly and I never once felt overstretched or that I was being made to feel stupid at any point.
An Adult Training session normally costs £30 but there’s a special Cycling City offer of just £5 available for Bristol cyclists. This is a great offer, as it really could save your life, as well as making cycling easier and more pleasant. Life Cycle UK offer adult courses in: Biking for Beginners, Returners, Urban Cycling for (gulp!) roundabouts, busier roads and multi-lane junctions, and Professional Cycle Training for people cycling for work including midwives, messengers and St John’s Ambulance crew.
My session with Veronica made me appreciate how lucky we are to have Life Cycle UK in this area. They also do bike maintenance courses and instructor training (as well as providing cycle maps and free cycle parking stands for small
businesses, shops, health centres.
Written by Ann Sheldon
Published in The Spark issue 58 - autumn 2009
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