How do you ride a bike? Part 1

Yesterday I began to teach Cerys how to ride a bicycle. I was not confident that I could do this, so I did a lot of research and planning instead of just winging it. Cerys is blogging about this as well, and her opinion of how it is going is obviously much more important than mine.

Cerys has attempted to ride before as a child and an adolescent but never really managed it. She put the blame on bikes not fitting her well, so the first port of call was to get a bike which does fit her well. We went to Chainey’s Cycles in Shenley Church End and, in stark contrast to what recent issues of Rouleur had led me to expect when taking a lady to the average bike shop, they were quite happy to ignore me and talk to Cerys about what she needed.

The end result is that we spent about £400 on a Giant ‘hybrid’ bike. This is a lot more than we could have spent, on a BSO from Halfords for example, but it will continue to be usefully rideable for many years whereas a BSO would have become useless almost immediately.

Before the first lesson I removed the pedals and set the saddle as low as it can go; effectively changing it from a bike into a balance bike.

Lesson 1

For this lesson we needed a gentle grassy slope over smooth ground. The aim was to give Cerys confidence that she could balance herself on the bicycle while moving, control her speed with the brakes and safely come to a halt without falling over.

We had discussed the principles of bicycle braking before going out with the bike: it is important to brace your bodyweight against the handlebars when braking so that you don’t slide forwards and fall off the front; and it is more pleasant if you apply the brakes smoothly. The latter principle is fairly obvious once you start doing it, and since smoothness is a matter of practice it was probably not worth mentioning in advance.

The first lesson’s objective was for Cerys to be able to roll down the slope with both feet off the ground, control her direction and speed, and end by coming to a smoothly controlled halt putting only one foot on the ground. To prove she was controlling the halt she would say in advance which foot she was planning to ground when she stopped.

Initially she had a lot of trouble; I had not inspected the sloped adequately and about 2/3 of the way down there was a concealed drainage channel which was causing the bike to violently jerk left or right as it was crossed. Obviously that’s the kind of hazard which has to be dealt with at some point but it was an unwelcome intrusion for an absolute beginner. I like to think I have good bike-handling skills and I had trouble staying upright crossing that bump with no pedals. We relocated to a smoother section of the slope and the situation improved significantly.

We still had a few falling-off moments, but they rapidly reduced in magnitude and frequency. I think there was probably about 1 hour and maybe 30 runs down the hill between the initial “roll 2 metres then fall off” and the complete control we were looking for at the end.

For lesson 2, later today, we will relocate to a longer slope and practice these skills a bit more before adding steering and pedalling. I need to do some more research to find out which of pedalling and steering should come first; I would like the answer to be steering but as I ride I think most of the weight-shifting required to steer comes from bracing the legs against the pedals. Probably therefore pedalling has to be first, but there is always a chance that I have been doing it wrong myself all these years.

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