bikebritain Says October 2, 2011

...it's never too late - to learn to ride a bike!

Just a case of balance.....right?

I don’t remember learning to ride a bicycle. Some people argue it still hasn’t happened, but I’ve told bikebritain to desist from such making these jibes. 

I can only assume, then, that I was great. You know how it goes; a few sessions with the stabilisers on, then the euphoric moment when parent/uncle/milkman lets go of the back of the bike and you wobble a bit, sure, but you’re definitely not in a painful heap in the middle of the road and before you know it you’re writing irreverent pieces for a cycling website whilst sat at a desk being paid to do a different job entirely.

But what if that didn’t happen to you? What if, when you were knee-high to a grasshopper, you mastered the stabilisers bit, but when the decisive moment came about you DID end up in a painful heap in the middle of the road with a pair of grazed knees. What if you then thought ‘screw this, I’ll run everywhere instead’ and gave cycling away for the next twenty-something years? 

Worse, what if, during those twenty-something years, you ended up friends with me and we decided that I was going to help you learn to become a competent cyclist? What if I also said I was going to write about it and get it published on the internet? Ladies and gentlemen, someone has been that unlucky.

Over the past few months, it has become well known amongst my acquaintances that I’ve got quite interested in my cycling. When I’m not begging them to listen to my tales of being cut up by Addison Lee drivers or begging for sponsorship to cycle around Goodwood in lycra, I’m begging them to read my articles on the bikebritain website. This cycle of begging has obviously permeated the consciousness of my non-cycling friend and it was on this basis, I think, I was awarded the cycling tuition gig. I accepted without reservation, and it was only shortly afterwards that it dawned on me that I hadn’t the faintest idea either a) how to impart knowledge of any kind or b) how to cycle. 

I mean, I know how to cycle. Sort of. But once you get into the detail of what you are actually, physically, doing, it gets a whole lot more complicated.

It is a lovely Saturday morning when we arrive at Southwark Park, picked specifically because of the generous maze of paths and relative lack of popularity amongst London parks. My companion has a ‘Boris bike’ for the morning, principally because if he wraps it round a lamppost or a dog-walker then he is unlikely to do the machine much damage, given that they weigh about the same as a passenger ferry. Now, I should caveat any impression given of my teaching expertise, and in fact perhaps compromise this whole article, by pointing out that my friend isn’t a complete novice. Certainly, he was confident in his ability to start off by cycling in a straight line, and lo and behold off he went. I was fairly relieved that I didn’t need to teach getting on and pedalling and quickly realised that it wasn’t so much the mechanics of cycling that needed to be disclosed, more the navigating of the bicycle that comes more naturally to the derring-do of a child. It quickly dawned on me that corners were going to be the main issue. His first couple of attempts to turn were aborted, and I noticed that he was tending to lean into corners as a motorcyclist might, at the expense of any serious steering. After a swift discussion of this technical flaw, there followed what I imagine was the amusing spectacle of me following my friend about the park on my own bike screeching “don’t lean” at appropriate intervals. Bemused observers may have believed they were witnessing a slow-speed chase to continue a bizarre posture-based argument.

It was encouraging to see, as time went on, the confidence grow; the leaning waned and was replaced by a smooth steering in and out of corners, the pace increased and was more even, and the lines less wobbly. And that was just me. I became aware that my friend’s success was directly linked to the depth of his consideration of the approaching hazards and, as soon as my pupil stopped concentrating, the old leaning habits returned. It occurred to me that I needed to remain aware that, however impressive the short term improvement, things needed to be re-learned almost constantly, especially as the day grew older and more and more people arrived in the park accompanied by dogs, children, frisbees, and remote-control helicopters. At such times, I am glad I grew up in relatively rural Sussex, where cars stopped for street football and not the other way round and provided a hazard-lite environment for learning to cycle. Even the gentle frenzy of Southwark Park leaves you convinced that you might at any second be propelled skywards by dog, helicopter, or Boris Johnson himself. You don’t get many places where you can have a low-risk learning experience.

It did get me thinking about how useful the blind acceptance you have of things as a child is. Adults naturally critique and question things, such as gravity, in a way a child will not. The consequences of falling off, or colliding with a poodle, are well known by the age of 31 and, naturally, this can hold you back.

By the time we called it a day, I think that, in some small way, I had helped. Not least due to being very happy to spend my morning cycling round the park shouting “don’t lean”, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. At this point, we were comfortably cycling loops of the park with some ease and, in the purest sense, my pupil can ride a bicycle. However, it is one thing to carousel around a park one sunny Saturday morning, and we still have work to do to achieve our long-term goal, which is getting out on the roads of London together. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Words, Thumbnail and Slider Image - Lukey

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