Bike to basics

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Thinking about getting back on your bike? I had been for some time, so tried out one of the free ‘Cycle Skills’ training sessions to see if I could re-build my confidence on two wheels.

As a child, I used to love cycling. Pedalling down the quiet country lanes of North Yorkshire was all about fun and freedom but, when I moved to London, all that disappeared. I didn’t know my way around that well then, and the thought of cycling along busy roads made me think it wasn’t for me.

But after 7 years, I started to wonder, usually under the shadow of someone’s armpit during rush hour on the Tube, whether I should re-think. I’d done the odd ride around local parks over the years, but I wanted more of a challenge. Cycling to work offered a healthier way of travelling, so I booked myself onto a free training session.

Find out more about Cycle Skills training.

Request a free session in the borough where you live, work or study.

Start at the beginning

Out-of-practice, anxious cyclists are their business, so it didn’t faze Niall, my trainer, when I arrived feeling a bit nervous about what was to come. His friendly and enthusiastic manner put me at ease straight away. Our initial conversation about my previous cycling experience meant Niall got a better idea about my ability and confidence and could customise the two hour session accordingly, meaning I would never feel like I was being thrown in at the deep end.

The first thing Niall showed me was how to choose the right bike and adjust it to make it a comfortable fit. I’d borrowed a Bikeworks bike which meant adjusting the seat height before doing anything else.

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Easy as ABC…and D. That’s air, brakes, chain and direction to a rusty cyclist like me. This one-minute safety check listed what you should do before heading out:

  • Air – give your tyres a squeeze to check they have enough air
  • Brakes – make sure front and back brakes are in full working order
  • Chain – if it’s not going round smoothly, something isn’t right
  • Direction (handlebars) – technically not a ‘D’, but you should make sure they’re not loose before you go

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Practice makes perfect

There’s nothing like a bit of off-road cycling to get you used to things. It was helpful to have the first part of the session dedicated to simple cycling and not having to worry about cars. Riding around in circles gets you used to the saddle and allows your trainer to show you how to stop and start in the ‘ready’ position. This is how you need to start when you’re at a set of traffic lights, for instance.

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There’s no point in cycling if you don’t know how to stop, so it was handy to learn how to emergency brake. Most importantly, how to emergency brake without crying, flying over the handlebars or panicking! It was reassuring to know just how quickly and safely you can stop your bike if you need to.

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Next up was something of a circus act. You are taught how to signal and do ‘lifesaver checks’ so that you know how and when to check for drivers and other cyclists near you, and also to let them know if you’re turning into another road. But it requires the ability to keep an arm outstretched, cycle in a straight line and not fall off. Fortunately, this was all done off-road and it didn’t take too long to get the hang of it.

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Hitting the road

Once you’re comfortable with everything you’ve learned, you’ll move onto a ‘real’ road. My road wasn’t very busy but it was still a road, which made a big difference. Niall explained the key rules of the road, like how to position myself when stationary and when moving off, and why. A few cars drove past as I cycled and I think I handled it well.

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By the end of the session I had gone from ‘Bikeability’ level 0.0 (no previous training completed), to 2.10 (making a U-turn), and I had a much calmer approach to cycling.

Many boroughs offer more than just a few hours free training too, meaning once you’ve mastered the basics you can move onto more challenging cycling.

I completed a ‘Basic’ cycle skills session but there are more advanced sessions available too. The ‘Urban’ cycle skills sessions are for regular cyclists who want to improve their ability, and the ‘Advanced’ ones are for experienced cyclists who want to improve how they deal with challenging situations, such as complex junctions and cycling at night.

I’d definitely recommend trying out a session – not only was it fun but it has made me much more comfortable with the thought of road cycling. I’m not quite ready to commute to work, but I feel like I will be soon with a bit more practice.

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Find out more about Cycle Skills training.

Request a free session in the borough where you live, work or study.

Thanks Bikeworks for running this free session .

Written by Amy Smith

Amy is a Social Media & Content Editor for Transport for London

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