How I overcame my fear of cycling in traffic
The thought of cycling in traffic left me cold
At the age of 43 I decided I would like to start cycling to and from work. This would involve some negotiation with traffic at certain points along the route, not something that left me with a feeling of joy!
Not to be put off however, I took the bus from Darlington to Stockton-on-Tees each Wednesday for six weeks.
How could this help me feel more cycle confident you’re wondering?
Well, the reason for my weekly trek was to take part in the Stockton Active Travel Hub’s free ‘Back in the Saddle’ course; a zero to hero style crash course to get you cycling.
My ultimate aim in this bus and bike-based quest? The dizzying heights of Bikeability Level 3.
So, what was I expecting from cycle training and Bikeability?
I expected it to be good fun, the staff and volunteers at the Hub are very friendly. But I didn't expect to learn very much to be honest.
I have had a bike for years but my travel alternative to driving tends to be good old shanks pony or taking the bus.
My forays into cycling to date have tended to be on holiday. Though these outings offer huge enjoyment this is then forgotten the minute I get back home and back into my usual routine.
Let's face it, I thought: I can ride a bike, there are just too many cars for me to be able to do that. But I was wrong.
How did I find it?
Like many people I have been put off by cycling to work and other places because of traffic. Doing free Bikeability training through the Hub has definitely changed that for me! So yes, it was a winner.
What did I learn on the course?
Mostly I learned that riding a bike is a lot of fun and a lot safer than I thought. We learned not only to ride better but how to be more visible and communicate with drivers through our positioning and actions. We were taught how to let drivers know what we are going to do and how to claim our lane for 'pinch points' to keep us safe from drivers who might try to pass when there is not enough room.
Each week we did something different so the course was never boring and I learned lots of new practical skills!
- Week one – getting to know your bike and (in my case) hello to the gears. We started by learning to do the M-check on our bikes. And yes I came on the bus, so I borrowed a bike and helmet (they have all shapes and sizes available).
Having mastered that we pushed our bikes to the riverside and took a leisurely ride along the cycle path, practising changing gears along the way (I always find gears confusing but practice in this calm environment made perfect!!)
- Week two – we did a longer ride, also along the river and away from roads. It was a beautiful sunny day, Stockton riverside is a fantastic place to ride. We even saw a seal!
- Week three – some basic cycle maintenance. YES! I now know how to find and fix a puncture or even remove and replace an inner tube on the roadside if necessary. And yes, we even went as far back to basics as pumping a tyre for those absolute beginners!
- Week four – we used the local cycling and walking map to plan a safe route (you can get one for your area from your local Hub). We then followed this route along cycle paths and quiet roads, gradually building up to busier roads. We learned how to anticipate where pinch points would come and where to best position ourselves on the road. The ride leaders were very supportive and informative and went at our pace at all times.
- Week five – well this was crunch time! Week 5 was all about passing our Bikeability level 1, 2 and (possibly, they said) 3. You remember cycling proficiency don’t you? Well, Bikeability is the newer, improved version. And it is not just for kids! After a brief introduction from our instructor and a run through of some rules of the road and best practice cycling approaches we headed out.
Buses and cars and trucks – oh my!
Firstly to quiet streets where we were set some very simple tasks around positioning ourselves on the road, checking for cars, how to pull out, signal and park the bike like a pro.
We then moved on to some busier but still quiet spaces, gradually building up to busier roads while we were assessed on our positioning, communication and handling on the road.
Job done we cycled back through Stockton, yes through the roundabouts, traffic lights and past busses, cars and trucks. I was amazed at how confident I felt and how easy it was to use the skills I have as a driver to anticipate what a driver might do, while letting them know my intentions with my new found cycle skills.
Cycle September starts next week and I will be cycling to work.
If like me you’d like to conquer your fears and go from zero to hero on a bike or to find out more about the courses and rides run by the Hub do get in touch with them directly. They are also on Twitter and Facebook.
If you don't live in Stockton you can find your nearest Bikeability trainer here.
By Nicky at 29 Aug 2018, 17:17 PM
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