Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

After 20 years on a bike, I needed a little training
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I've spoken up in favour of more training for cyclists, but I thought that for once it would be a good idea for me to know what I'm talking about. So last week, for the first time since I slalomed around traffic cones in the school playground to earn my Cycling Proficiency badge, I had a cycling lesson.

Fortunately, at least in this respect, I live in Hackney - the borough with the highest concentration of cyclists in London, and one of several that heavily subsidises cycle training. So one day last week I spent a couple of hours being shown where I'm going wrong by David Dansky of Cycle Training UK, one of the schools that's been involved in setting up the new National Standard for Cycle Training.

After a quick going over to make sure my bike was fit to ride, we went to a quiet street near my house where David took me through the basics of bike handling - starting, stopping, steering changing gear, keeping up a more or less even cadence, and checking over my shoulder to see how many fingers David was holding up.

I was more relieved than I had expected when I got through this section without much difficulty. But it's shocking the bad habits you can fall into. I don't, for example, keep my hands covering my brakes - in London, pretty much essential. And I've developed a knack of putting my left foot down and resting on it as I stop, with the result that my back wheel jumps off the ground.

As David pointed out, you need to pitch your weight backwards when you stop - stretch low and stick your bum out behind your saddle to lower your centre of gravity and put some weight on your back wheel. (Incidentally, a few people have e-mailed to ask why I said that the front brake is the more important. Well, this is why: when you stop, your weight is thrown forward, so that you have more traction on the front wheel and less on the back wheel.)

Then on to road sense. Two problems here: first, that I wasn't looking behind me nearly enough, both to see what's going on and to establish a relationship with the vehicle behind; second, that I have a dangerous urge to make room for motorists - if I'm turning right at a junction, for instance, I position myself up against the white line, the way I was taught at school. But no, David says: you're inviting cars to squeeze past on the inside, blocking off a section of the road that you may well need. Far safer to hold your lane, and let motorists wait their turn, though David's demonstration of the principle nearly came unstuck when an aggressive Hackney driver almost rammed him from behind. I tell you, it's the badlands out here.

Finally, ho! for the open road, or at least our local stretch of the A10 - changing lanes, negotiating junctions, and dodging the buses and lorries. Or rather, not dodging them, but holding that lane: even in Hackney it's usually safer to be obvious.

For me, the lesson wasn't so much a matter of learning anything new so much as reinforcing things I sort of knew already, and resolving some of my uncertainties. In particular, I already knew that - like a lot of other cyclists - I'm uncertain with cars when they're on the go, and over-confident when they're standing still (overtaking stationary lines of traffic: often much less safe than it seems).

David gave me more confidence, and a few days on it hasn't worn off; I've been enjoying the roads more than for some time. Bearing in mind that I've been riding in London for nearly 20 years, it's probably fair to say that most cyclists could benefit.

Then, if we can only get the motorists trained, how happy we will all be.

CTUK: 020-7582 3535, www.cycletraining.co.uk. London School of Cycling: 020-7249 3779, patrick@londonschoolofcycling.co.uk

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