Whether it’s ABC, pie or falling off a log, some things in life are widely considered as easy. And riding a bike, I was always promised, is one of them. But if you’re naturally predisposed to gravity and you’re about as well-balanced as a Glasgow meal plan, getting on your bike can be daunting.
As a child, I watched friends and family take to cycling like ducks to watermelon, but anxiety pinned me to the sidelines – and bikes aren’t great on the verge. As an adult then, finding my cleats as a cyclist was more pi than pie, which everyone knows is 3.14 times as difficult. So, if you’re feeling a bit tentative about learning to two-wheel travel, here are my tips for a happier journey.
Dust off your school bag
I won’t lie – guilt gives me hives – I assumed learning to cycle would be a few hours’ effort for a lifelong reward. Sure, I’m not a practical soul. I can change a lightbulb but only if it really wants to change. I just never really expected something that children learn in an afternoon to be so damned difficult. Pedals, brakes, gears – I know the theory so let’s just get out there and put it into… ouch.
Four tries and legs like the face of a second-placed boxer later and it was clear that I needed help. Fortunately, there are such things as adult cycling lessons, and they’re not nearly as awkward as I imagined. In fact, the only embarrassment was the length of time it took me to finally book one. And while the effort levels were the same and the bruises hurt no less, the difference was that I now had the guidance I needed to make some forward progress.
Don’t be afraid to support your learning with a class or two, whatever stage your cycling is at: beginners’, bike maintenance and road safety lessons will make sure you’re always moving in the right direction.
Follow your own path – or don’t
Of course, it hasn’t escaped my attention that cycling is a mode of transport – and a pretty effective one at that. I’ve seen people get from here to there on a bike, and sometimes even back again. But I’ve still yet to feel confident enough in my own abilities to put tyre to tarmac on the busy city streets.
It’s a personal choice though, since cycling is as business or as leisure as you imagine it. If, like me, you prefer your path with enough space for a wobble and no motorists to witness, there are plenty of options that’ll keep you off-road and on-the-go. Parks are the obvious start but you don’t have to stop there, since over 600 miles of the National Cycle Network in Scotland is traffic-free. Mix and match between tow roads, canal sides and forest tracks or take your skills to the fast lane. Whether on-road or off, just pick your cycle path and ride it.
Join the club
While it has all the hallmarks of a solitary pursuit, cycling can be a great way to spend time as a team. Now, I’m not suggesting you shed your stabilisers and sign up for Le Tour, but joining others on a led ride or simply convincing your nearest and most gullible to saddle up can turn a muddy cycle path into a laughter track. Some of my favourite days out have been spent with family, young and not-so, exploring the world on our doorstep, hearing their laughs at my tenth topple of the trip.
Cycling is a solo sport with a playing field big enough for everyone. And if you have your own Daisy Bell, there’s always a tandem to try.
Embrace the ups – and downs
Cycling, as a novice, is all about the highs and lows. Don’t be confused though: going up can sometimes really bring you down. But the downs, wow, they’re delightful. Hills on a bike are both nemesis and friend: you just have to catch their good side.
If, like me, you don’t genetically have thighs that could crush a walnut’s dreams, the leg power to climb the local molehill is hard won. But, trust me, it’s well worth the winning. For that freedom of tearing down the other side, sublime wind only pulling your grin wider, is a prize of unmitigated joy. Find the pleasure in the physical price and, I promise you, the payoff is worth it.
Convinced? Why not register for this year’s Pedal for Scotland and join me and thousands of others on the traffic-free route from Glasgow to Edinburgh? Bring the kids, bring the waterproofs, bring a big smile.