Cyclist Charlotte gets on her bike to help get the confidence to tackle our busy roads
9:08am Thursday 28th February 2013 in News
IF, like me, you have always fancied the idea of cycling to work but have been too terrified to do it — help is at hand.
I often admire the courage of cyclists who whiz past me on their commute to work, but assume it is just for fitness fanatics.
Transport for Greater Manchester (TFGM), however, is keen to convince people like myself that cycling is the way forward, and with spring just around the corner, I thought I would give it a try.
TFGM has a team of cycling instructors offering free one-to-one sessions, lasting two hours, to people of all abilities. My instructor, Steve Owen, also known (in his blog) as the Sacred Rider, is an expert in all things to do with wheels and scary traffic. We start off in Queens Park in Bolton, a safe place away from roundabouts, drivers and, my biggest fear, lorries and buses.
Steve, from Wigan, starts off by taking me through the basics, such as the correct seat height.
I instinctively want mine nice and low so I can put my feet flat on the floor, but that’s a no-no in cycling, apparently.
The higher the better, according to Steve, who says you should just be able to touch the floor with your tip-toes. In the sessions instructors will assess each cyclist's ability and what they want to achieve. I explain that my biggest worry with cycling in busy town-centre traffic is turning right at roundabouts, traffic lights and junctions.
I’ve had a couple of near-misses before where I’ve not known how to get in the right lane and ended up wobbling about in the middle of the road.
But Steve says confidence and clear signalling is the key to mastering the roads on a bike. He explains: “It’s a delicate relationship we cyclists have with drivers on the road, so signalling clearly and with confidence is key.
“If you’re nervous about turning right, it’s important to maintain your position on the road and look behind so you know what’s happening traffic-wise. It’s about thinking in advance and trying to anticipate potential problems. Turning right is the big one for everyone, but if you plan it carefully and show drivers you are confident, you can do it.”
And it seems to be the same “can-do” attitude that will help relatively novice cyclists like myself overcome the fear of intimidation from drivers.
Steve adds: “Again, it’s about confidence and maintaining your position on the road.
“You should never let yourself be bullied off the road or into the gutter. You have to be quite gutsy. I never make any bones about that because you have to have the courage to control the traffic.”
The course is a bit like the old cycling proficiency test that I did when I was at school. If nothing else, Steve’s enthusiasm for cycling is infectious and, as part of the free course, all cyclists are taken out on the road with an instructor to try out the their new skills. Bolton is also due to get a £350,000 cycle hub at the new transport interchange, which will include showers and secure bike storage for people who want to use a combination of cycling and public transport to get to work.
l For details, go to cycling.tfgm.com/training or sacredrider.com