Learning To Cycle
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Some of these are unrealistic but not impossible move; get a staff job ; some are ridiculous learn to skateboard and dive ; and some are just plain doolally get me a baby — as Edwina said, in Raising Arizona.
So I look at my list again and circle the one thing I think is possible, useful and not too demanding of time: learn to ride a bicycle. It gets me Googling cycling lessons for adults, me emailing my borough for information and to the local park a week later to meet my instructor Will.
How to Learn to Bike as an Adult
Enfield, like so many other places throughout the UK, offers a couple of hours of free tuition to people who live, work or study in the area. The first thing I notice about Will is that he arrives riding the bike — something out of Toy Town on account of me being five feet nothing — standing up.
Not for long, and not with any grace, but cycling nonetheless. Nor am I getting the hang of being able to set off on my own, so Will calls it a day.
Lesson two begins in much the same way as lesson one. I start singing.
But singing does the trick. I go once, twice around the tennis court… and then I fall. Once, twice, and then I fall. Not only that, cycling was not thought to be a suitable activity for girls, so there were cultural barriers as well. After marrying her British husband and moving to the UK some decades ago, Alicia had tried to learn to ride so she could accompany her husband - a cyclist himself - and her daughter on bike rides, instead of always being left behind.
However, her husband's attempts to teach her had ended in failure and damaged her confidence further. But she at least had a bike of her own - and her desire to master riding it was as strong as ever. As with teaching a child to ride, the easiest way is to break the process down into several basic steps and getting the trainee to master each one before moving on to the next - that way confidence is built up slowly and surely. However, children tend to pick up balancing fairly quickly whereas an adult learner may have had a crash as a child that put them off cycling, or they may have already tried and failed to ride unaided.
It is essential that progress is made at the learner's own pace, no matter how slow that might be. First of all, before Alicia went anywhere near the bike, Julie checked that her clothing was suitable and that her trainer laces wouldn't get caught in the chain. She chose not to wear a helmet but had she done so, Julie would have checked that it fitted and was adjusted correctly - and most importantly, that she knew how to do that herself.
Next, we looked at her bike and I showed her how to perform an 'M' check to make sure the tyres, the brakes, the chain and the frame were all in good working order. As the bike was new and had hardly been ridden, it passed with flying colours.
Next, we made sure that the bike fitted her well and she could reach the brake levers comfortably. We decided to put the saddle down as low as it could go so she could put both feet firmly on the ground - this helps novices feel more confident, although it should be raised again later on when they are pedalling unaided.
2. Put on comfortable clothes
It also helps with learning to get on and off by swinging the leg over the saddle whilst holding the brake levers on, which means the bike doesn't wobble or fall over. Next, Julie made sure Alicia herself was well and had no physical or psychological problems that could interfere with the training. Then it was time to find a quiet spot in the large car park and get Alicia to start scooting the bike. But before that, Julie made sure she knew how to stop by showing her how to squeeze the brake levers gently - both at the same time.
Julie didn't bother to take the pedals off as she could tell straight away that she had good natural balance and it wouldn't be long before she could start pedalling. After a few goes at 'walking' the bike up and down like a hobby horse, Alicia began to be able to pick her feet up off the ground and go a little further each time.
How to learn to cycle when you're over 50
The gently sloping gradient of the car park helped but Julie occasionally nudged the bike from behind, as the slower you go, the harder it is to balance a bike! It was the end of the first lesson - as it's important to stop before the rider is tired or getting frustrated. Soon, it felt time to start adding pedalling into the equation.
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Firstly, Julie showed Alicia how to 'set the pedal' by bringing the right hand pedal up with her foot so it was in line with the down tube. Many adults - and children - find this very hard as they forget to balance on their left leg at the same time! After much determined practice, Alicia finally got the hang of it.
Then they worked on pushing off and bringing the left foot on to the other pedal - Julie held on to the back of the saddle.
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