Too scared to cycle? A two-hour training course turned me into a born-again rider

It’s simple to register and arrange, I found: my assigned National Standard for Cycle Training qualified instructor, Louise Lee Jones, called directly to discuss details and go through what to expect. I work in Westminster, but arranged to meet her at Wandsworth Common near my home. She assured me we would begin in a safe environment to refresh my cycling technique, and practise on quiet roads before tackling junctions and heavy traffic.

When the day came – as someone reasonably proficient on a bike, if afraid of traffic – I found my first two hour session invaluable: it dawned on me that I’ve never actually had cycle training from an instructor before (beyond being taught how to start and stop as a child by my grandparents in the cosseted confines of Center Parcs).

We started by checking that I could straddle the bike while looking around me, making eye contact with Lee-Jones while she stood behind me. “Eye contact is the most effective form of communication with other road users,” she stressed. After that, we headed tentatively to local roads to experience the importance of what she described as “riding in a primary position on the road”.

“Positioning yourself in the centre of the lane encourages drivers to consider whether there is time and space to overtake, rather than trying to squeeze past, which can be dangerous” explained Lee-Jones. Her words surprised me: previously, I tried to take up as little space in the road as possible, clinging to the edges. It was enlightening to learn that as a cyclist, it can actually be safer to hog the centre of the road.

Before long I was pedalling like mad with a bus behind me, twisting my shoulders to look at the driver behind me before signalling to turn left. Not so long ago, doing so would have been the stuff of nightmares.

Next, I rode my bike behind Lee-Jones to watch as she enacted the four “core functions” of road cycling, according to the National Standard for Cycle Training: frequent observations, communication with others, choosing and maintaining a riding position, and prioritising road use. Every time she wanted to change position on the road, she would look behind her to communicate her intentions, then do so again before acting. It looked so simple, and so safe.

Lee-Jones also explained to me the best technique for sudden braking (two hands, arms locked, pushing your weight backwards to avoid hurtling over the handlebars); and she gave me a quick course in bike maintenance, from oiling a chain to learning how to use a puncture repair kit. Throw in some practice at passing queuing traffic and dealing with major junctions, and I was off and away, feeling happier than before to wind my way around south west London. 

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