Learning to Ride a Bicycle

Riding a bicycle requires the same skills as walking: a sense of balance and the ability to move one foot, then the other, rhythmically. Some people may worry about falling, but, given the proper precautions, a fall will not cause any injury. Just as with any physical skill, you start out slow and easy and progress to higher levels as you’re able. In the UK, there is a program called Bikeability to ensure that those who want to learn how to ride a bicycle can do so and be certified. The testing, formerly separate and first called the Cycling Proficiency Test when it was introduced in 1947 by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, is now part of the Bikeability program.

The purpose of Bikeability is to give both the basic biking skills and the confidence to practise those skills to those ready to learn. Though the first steps are typically intended for children around the age of nine years, the program is designed to teach anyone who does not know how to ride a bicycle. Bikeability works in stages, with each level building on the previous one.

But, before we go on about the details of the Bikeability program, let’s go over the general steps anyone should go through actually embarking on a program of learning to ride a bicycle. Have a friend who already knows how ride a bike slowly by you and closely watch how the feet move the pedals and how balance is retained. Sit on a bike yourself, with your hands on the handlebars and your feet on the ground — you likely will have to adjust the height of the bicycle seat. Move around with your feet to get a feeling of how the bicycle moves.

Move on to a grassy area with several slight inclines. Put on a bicycle helmet. Have your friend hold the back of the bicycle while you sit on the bicycle seat in the same way as before. Again, scoot around the field with your feet on the ground and your friend holding the back of the bicycle. Try using the brakes by squeezing the lever on the handlebars while you’re moving to get a feel of how the brakes work.

With your friend still holding the back of the bike, get the feel of the pedal movement by putting one foot on a raised pedal and pushing off the ground with the other foot. Use the brake to stop and don’t try to roll too far. Balance is difficult when you’re moving slowly on the bike, so try to build up the speed and the distance you go in order to get a better feel for how to balance.

Your friend will be getting tired from holding the bike upright from behind, so let him or her relax for a bit while you roll the bike around the field, brake and start up again. Try turning the pedals a few rotations with both feet. Try going slowly uphill and then slowly downhill, using both the pedals and the brakes. Now you’re ready to sign up for a formal training course that will teach you to ride a bicycle safely on the road, in traffic and in wet weather.

The Bikeability program in the UK was developed by over twenty safety and traffic organisations, supported by the related government departments and run locally. The scheme is not compulsory — it is not the cycling equivalent of a driver’s license for a motor vehicle, but instead is intended to increase the cycling skills of everyone and to encourage people to take up cycling for both its utility and its health benefits. It has three levels, with Level 1 teaching the basic motor skills of bicycling away from traffic, Level 2 teaching how to cope with light traffic on minor roads and Level 3 covering how to deal with heavy traffic. Entry into Level 1 does assume some familiarity with a bicycle, but no more than explained above in the grassy field exercise.

Graduation from Level 1, usually around the age of ten, then means the student has gained bicycling skills sufficient to ride in locales with no other traffic. Graduation from Level 2 as a young teenager means the student is capable of biking in light traffic, while graduation from Level 3 means a student can basically bike on any road anywhere in any weather in any traffic condition. Each graduation comes with a certificate and a metal badge to attach to the bike: Level 1 is red, Level 2 is orange and Level 3 is green.

Once a student has gone beyond the basic motor skills of bicycling, there are some basic concepts that everyone who rides a bike should be familiar with:
o travelling in the same direction as other traffic, which includes both motor and other cyclists
o dealing with pedestrians, whose rule is to travel in the direction opposite of traffic
o practising lane control for riding with other cyclists
o negotiating and advertising to all other traffic your intentions, such as using your lane position and signals to indicate a turn

Bicycling is also a physical effort. The action of cycling itself will build muscle strength and increase flexibility. Exercises during your cycling down-time to build up the legs, your shoulders and your core muscles will all make a bicycle ride much less exhausting and much more fun.