So far, my cycling progression – much like my cycling itself – has been slow, wobbly and completely aimless. I’ve pedalled, steered and braked in all the wrong order, injuring both my pride and my limbs along the way. Somehow though, one thing has characterised the entire journey since first I touched a bike last September – for the brief seconds when I manage to pull it all together and make the wheels roll in the right direction long enough to fool gravity, I really love riding a bike!
But, when the only adult-cycling teacher around leaves for pastures new – and outwith my range – where does a balance-free grown-up go to learn the basic bike-riding skills without resorting to tracking down one of the Goonies kids?
Luckily for me (and Sean Astin), the Bikeability Scotland scheme exists. Run by Cycling Scotland, the three-tiered programme teaches children (yes, I know I’m not quite their target pupil) to ride bikes safely and effectively in the modern-day environment. For those of us who understood the Goonies reference, it’s cycling proficiency but with a less learn-y name. And I wanted to try it.
When I nervously approached Cycling Scotland, wearing a hopeful smile and my ‘I Heart Bikes’ t-shirt, I really didn’t expect the wonderful reaction I received. Before I had polished my handlebars, I was welcomed into their office, presented with some colourful information booklets and invited to become one of the first adult Bikeability Scotland participants, with a place in the fantastic Pedal for Scotland event on offer if I thought I could manage a 47-mile cycle trek by September. I even caught a glimpse of the shiny badge I could earn on successful completion of the Bikeability training. I, of course, agreed and, since I’ve not quite mastered steering yet, there was no turning back.
My first lesson – on a sublimely dry February afternoon – came around far too quickly and anxiety battled excitement for top billing in my nervous system. Paul and Will from Cycling Scotland met me in Glasgow Green with everything I would need for my lesson, except spare talent, which I could really have used. After a safety check, helmet fitting and explanation of the different parts of the bike – during which I discovered I had made up most of the part names I already ‘knew’ – it was time to start some basic starting and stopping activities to determine my current cycling level.
I couldn’t get on the bike. I fell trying. I veered into a railing. My cycling level was determined.
The very patient Paul pointed out some key issues with my current technique. My main problem was fixation. As soon as I spotted something (animal, vegetable, hedge) that my brain classed as an obstacle, it seized my full attention until, inevitably, the bike seized it. In the grounds of the People’s Palace, Paul fashioned a course with cones and showed me how to move around one while focussing on the next and, after some wild steering at first, I managed to improve quickly and started to feel the benefits to my balance and manoeuvring.
There wasn’t time to bask in the triumph, however, as, to finish my far-too-quick lesson, it was once around the nearest square of grass with my instructor, avoiding trees, pedestrians and very cute puppies along the way. By the end of the ride, I actually felt like a proper (if still a novice) cyclist and really didn’t want to leave the borrowed bike behind.
My next lesson is arranged and, inspired by the progress made over the last hour of practice, I’m excited to return to the saddle and build what I hope will be a long and not-too-turbulent relationship with bikes. With three stages of Bikeability training to conquer, it’s not going to be an overnight accomplishment. But with a Pedal for Scotland place, a lifelong skill and a sparkly badge on offer, there’s no way I’d stop the wheels turning now – even if I knew how!