At the beginning of January, Life Cycle's Communications Officer decided to “go back to school” and booked herself some cycle skills tuition with a Life Cycle instructor. Here is her report back on the experience...
It was a beautifully clear and bright day when my instructor Polly met me at our agreed place (I chose to meet outside my house). We chatted about my goals for the session and then Polly did an ‘M’ check on my bike: My back brake was a little spongey so she showed me how to adjust it and let me know that my brake blocks would need changing in the next few months.
Feeling confident that my bike was in good working order, we set off. Polly suggested we pick a route that passes through places I feel less confident to cycle. To get a sense of how I ride, she spent some time following me and then took the lead to show me handy cut-throughs and quieter routes. We went at a leisurely pace, pausing regularly along the way to review our journey and discuss how best to approach certain situations.
Finding the sticking points
We ended up on City Road and then Stokes Croft, places I sometimes find intimidating due to the volume of traffic, parked cars and suddenly disappearing cycle lanes.
We spent time observing from the pavement the flow of traffic and cyclists’ behaviour and road placement. This was really eye-opening: Ever in a rush to get from A to B, I have never paused to look at what happens on the roads from an ‘outside’ perspective. Polly provided practical solutions for dealing with the tougher spots in these areas – where cycling infrastructure doesn’t exist or is unhelpful, or even counterintuitive.
“The whole time I felt safe and supported. As an experienced cyclist, I did not feel talked-down-to, and I was pleased to learn plenty of handy hints and tips. It was reassuring to be shown ‘textbook’ approaches to sharing the road, after many years of muddling along, trying to work it out for myself”.
We reflected on how my feelings about my place on the road - and drivers’ perceptions of cyclists - translate into how I ride.
We discussed my anxiety around annoying other drivers by ‘taking up space’: For example, I know that when riding past parked cars it is safest to cycle far enough out into the road to avoid opening car doors. But, there is still a part of me that feels I am trespassing into others’ territory.
Polly reassured me that moving closer to the centre of the lane is not only vital for protecting my safety – it is also perfectly legal and not as disruptive as I imagine. She explained that due to persistent traffic congestion, the average vehicle speed on places like Stokes Croft and Gloucester Road is 6mph. So I am not single-handedly bringing the average speed down!
Cyclists: here to help
Despite sometimes feeling like the bottom of the pecking order, it felt empowering to be shown that cyclists can have a bigger influence on driver behaviour than we think. Looking at the bigger picture helped too: Polly reminded me that my decision to cycle was (at least in part) a socially-conscious one. Potentially annoying a driver for one minute is far outweighed by my overall contribution towards reducing traffic congestion and helping the community by improving our air quality.
Our lesson closed with a quick recap of the things we had covered and some reflection.
We agreed that whilst inadequate cycle infrastructure, driver behaviour and even other cyclists can be a source of frustration, things are improving every day - and the positives vastly outweigh any negatives. In fact, my confidence to confront any issues has grown massively, along with my ability to effectively communicate with other road users.
For anyone thinking of brushing up on their skills, I would highly recommend booking a session. The experience had far more depth than I had expected, and despite many years of being a cyclist, I learned a lot.