Got Skills? Riding a Bicycle without Knowing How

I tend to think of myself as having begun cycling when I got into it as an adult. But technically, that is not so. I learned to ride a bike when I was a child, and rode one all through junior high and most of high school. There was a nice post today on ecovelo, where Alan mentioned having "lived on his bike" as a kid, and in a sense it was similar for me. My friends and I did not race each other through wheatfields or pop wheelies, but we did use our bikes to get around our small town. Even once old enough to drive, most of us somehow still stuck with bicycles: It just seemed easier and even kept us off our parents' radar (for example, they could not look at the odometer to determine whether we had gone out when we were told not to).

But during all those years of riding bikes as a child and teenager, I knew absolutely nothing about "technique." At some point I was given a 2-wheel bike, and I used it as a push-bike for a few laps around the park until suddenly I was able to pedal without the bike falling over. To me, that meant that I was pretty much done learning "technique." In the years that followed, I rode with the saddle low, never learned how to start and stop "properly" or to pedal while standing, and was not aware that turning involved leaning and balancing, rather than using the handlebars. Heck, I never even learned how to shift gears, because the shifters on my low-end bike were jammed!

When I think about how it feels to cycle today - and particularly, how it felt when I first started doing it as an adult - I am confused and frustrated by all those younger years spent riding a bike without knowing how to do it properly. It's odd that I did not naturally pick up any skills what so ever during that time. (How can that be? Surely no one is that unathletic?) Moreover, my friends must have been just as clueless, because no one ever made fun of me or told me I was "doing it wrong." And it's frustrating that those skills were so much easier to learn as a child than as an adult - so by not having learned them early, I am at a disadvantage that may take me some effort to overcome.

I first discovered the concept of leaning on turns by reading about it, and after that it took months before I physically became aware of it enough to gain some control over the process. Of course when I did, I was ecstatic - to the amazement of the Co-Habitant who had not realised the extent to which I never learned these things.

As for saddle height, it is an ongoing fiasco: It took over a year of gradually raising it until I was able to have it at more or less the height where it needs to be for good leg extension... But I still cannot mount a bicycle properly and have to do a graceless little lean-and-hoist maneuver to get myself onto that raised saddle. Terrified of falling, I am highly resistant to being taught, and watching videos of others doing it over and over has not helped. At least I am now finally able to pedal while standing: After months of riding fixed gear, I finally got it (at first I could do it only on the fixed gear, then the skill gradually transferred onto freewheel bikes). I have to say, that was not easy for me to "get". In my head I understood what to do, but my body refused to balance.

It seems absurd to me that I can ride a roadbike at 25 mph, handle long climbs and hilly descents, ride a fixed gear racing bike "for fun" - yet still lack some of the most rudimentary cycling skills after almost two years of trying to master them. Will I ever be able to handle a bike like a "real" cyclist? Who knows - maybe I can still learn. Or maybe I should just accept that my early years of "doing it wrong" ruined me for life. Is the way you cycle now different from how you did it as a child? And if you are a parent, at what age did you teach your children to ride a bike and how did they take to it? I wonder how many others there are who feel this way - as if they are riding a bike without knowing how.


  1. I don't mount a bike like the lady in the video does. The way I do it is a little hard to describe, and I can't seem to find a video of the technique. I start on the left side of the bike, with my left foot on the pedal at the bottom of its rotation, my knee bent a little. I then push myself forward with my right foot (crossing it to the outside of my left foot) and then straighten my left leg, stepping my right foot through, which puts me high enough to sit on the saddle and bike like normal. It's rather ladylike, and works great with skirts. Of course, it only really works with a step-through frame.

  2. I first learned how to ride as a child - must have been 5 or 6. My parents didn't do much, gave be a bike and helped me figure out how to stay upright. My next remembering is using some birthday money to buy a steel Raleigh 10-speed at 12 with birthday money. That bicycle is what I really learned on. I was lucky. My junior high school had a coached cycling team, and I joined it as my spring sport. The coachs taught us road cycling skills as well as how to ride in a pace line, how to keep a straight line, how to listen and follow traffic, how to climb effectively, and inparted in us much practical advice. They also helped us fit our bicycles and showed us how to do it.

    I didn't keep up with the cycling after I got my drivers license at 17, but all those skills were still there when I got back into commuting by bike this February at 43.

    There's a tremendous value in getting formal bicycle training. I definately want my daughter to have that experience, and plan on seeing how she can get access to coached training, so she can learn how to navigate streets with confidence. Right now she's four and only gets on a Scuut bike. But my plan is to give her more formal training (after learning and messing around) when she's 7-8 or so.

  3. Melissa - I see that method a lot in Europe and it's even more terrifying! The one thing I can and do do now (which some would say is a very bad habit), is swing my right leg over the loop frame to the left while I am coming to a stop, and then jump off the bike to the left. Of course when I am riding a mixte I have to remember not to do this!

    Skip - That is fantastic that your school had a cycling team! I agree about the coaching, but the thing is that if I join a team as an adult, they sort of assume those skills are already there. So they teach pace lines and other techniques (some of which I am already pretty good at), but not how to mount a bike or pedal standing up! So I would have to get a private coach for that stuff and that's unaffordable. Maybe I can trade bicycle coaching skills for knitted goods or photography or something on one of those trading websites, but somehow I am not optimistic!

  4. My two kids started to bike without the stabilizers at 4. Like me, probably. I think I've gave them only 2 instructions : Gravel is slippery and know the difference between the front and the rear brake (and how to use both).
    Great parenting moment : When you let the bike go, as your kid thinks your still grabing the saddle and then realize is on his own and that he just rode on 2 wheels : "Weeee, look, I know how to ride !"

    I've never read about how to ride my bike, especialy how to lean in corners. Kids pick up this skills naturaly : Once they understand that they need speed to balance, they turn the way it should be (the use of scooters or pedal less bikes are a good training). Riding a bike is extermely simple when you learn it early.
    I think that, ahem, you're maybe over analysing things here...

  5. In the end, we learn by doing. There really is no other way.

    The point is, you're riding.

  6. phillippe - I am definitely over-analysing!
    But that's precisely because these things did not occur to me (or to my body?) naturally. I think everyone is different in terms of what they automatically pick up on their own and what they need to actively learn about. I guess I am just a particularly un-talented cyclist!

    Justine - Yes, but I want to magically be better at it : )

  7. hmmmmm, i had no idea there were right or wrong ways to ride a bike. i'm now about to have my most self-conscious ride to work ever...! will especially think about how i do corners. eek.

  8. I got a Koma Humu this year intending it to be my beaterish spare bike but have been astounded how much fun it is and have been commuting on it when I don't need the xtracycle.
    Funny thing is, with the huge cruiser bars the shop happened to have and stem extender I always put on, it feels incredibly like the bmxish bike I had as a kid. That's the bike I really let loose on, riding on old bumpy lanes and round and round our little street.
    I think a lot of the things you're talking about are things you just try as a fearless kid - see how far you can lean over without falling, can I jump that curb, etc.
    I reckon a big dopey bike with balloon tyres like the Humu would be great and just relax and muck around! Maybe on grass even so it doesn't hurt as much if you fall. Go nuts.

  9. In my mind, the main problem is that as an adult I always stay in my comfort zone while riding, and I have actually lost most of my riding skills. If I do fall I'm seriously unsettled for the rest of the day and prone to avoiding the offending behaviour whereas as a youth I'd just got back on track without thinking about it anymore. In my experience it can be downright dangerous to be self-conscious while riding, you can force the bike to do something outside the physically possible if you try hard enough. There even used to be a BMX-term for this (Geweih).

    The best exercise in my mind is to find a piece of sloped green and start braking, falling and dismounting over the handlebars until it doesn't scare you anymore.

  10. becks - Sorrrry! : ) For what it's worth, the corners thing is really important only on a roadbike....though I looove the feeling of cornering at 17mph on my Gazelle : ))

    Anons (both) - This "falling" you speak of... That's sort of what terrifies me. Even on grass. Even at 2mph. Please, can't I learn without falling?

  11. I can't remember when I learned to ride standing on the pedals, but I have a vague feeling I still had stabilizers on my bike, so must've been about 5. I noticed my daughter started doing it at about 5 1/2. I think it's a combination of learning to ride a bike on hills and watching older kids do it. My daughter was very proud she could ride standing up like her big brother! The next step being able to do a wheelie, something it took me till I was 10 to get the hang of and I had to nick my first bike back off my brother to do it - having said that I could almost get it vertical by standing on the pedals. How, I have no idea now - some things are more important to you as a kid!

    As for the steering with the hips thing. I'd totally forgotten about it until you mentioned it on your blog. I not sure mountain bikes are very good for teaching you this - I never really used that technique on mine. Getting a lightweight steel racing bike when I was 11 taught me - I think the design of the bike just makes it obvious to you, it's certainly not something I consciously learned. It was only when I got back on it after nearly a 20 year gap, that I realised what you were talking about!

    Interestingly I've only recently started doing the jumping off to the left just before coming to a stop thing recently, since I acquired my Raleigh Roadster, even though I'd had a loop frame Gazelle for 2 years. The rear coaster brake means I've developed a scooting technique for setting off which I've never done before. I guess different bikes tell you different things.

    I've only ever ridden about a dozen different bikes in my whole life (and that includes borrowing my brothers bikes and hire ones) so I guess different techniques evolve gradually. I suspect as you have immersed yourself in trying to master lots of bikes in a very short period you are just more aware of what you see as shortcomings which I'm sure with time you will master.

  12. @Velouria, I'd say you could learn without falling but it might happen one day. When it does it is liberating, you realise it isn't so bad and you don't fear it anymore. It is like when you put that first scuff on your bike's paintwork, you enjoy riding it afterwards more because you are no longer as preoccupied with worrying about scuffing it.

    Most of the cycling technique I learned was from messing around on my bike when younger, although a better appreciation of appropriate gear use, cadence, saddle height and setting off came as an adult cyclist.

  13. I don't know. I have fallen exactly once on a bike so far. I was 12 years old and tried to ride it up a steep sidewalk curb at a 45 degree angle, following suit after the neighbor boy did it. He made it up the curb, I did not. Lessons learned: (1)falling is bad, and (2)playing with boys can be hazardous. Seems to me like those were good lessons : )

  14. Did you ever do any kind of tumbling or gymnastics? I HATED it - we were forced at school. I never like monkey bars or anything like that and HATE the feeling of being upside down (why I've never been on a roller coaster.)

    My only two bad falls were on my first proper adult bike - horrible aluminium flat bar road thing. Went over the handlebars at very low speed after hitting a bump I didn't see. Hurt my wrist pretty bad. Other was braking around corner on unseen ice. Banged my hip pretty bad.
    Anyway, I too am now even more afraid of falling but there is the other type where you realise you're falling and bail out, or throw the bike away and land on your feet.
    This is why I like bikes with relaxed geometry. Aggressive geometry puts you halfway over the handlebars. Doesn't take much to complete the journey!
    Part of me says this is something you don't need to worry about. You love bikes, you ride a lot, what's the problem?
    The other says it might be fun for you to confront this. Nothing like discovering a new skill! Even find some safety gear if you're really worried - wrists, elbows, knees, head. And go throw yourself around! You probably won't fall anyway.

  15. Hmm. This is probably an issue once you start to do some serious miles, as you obviously do, but one of the things that used to put me off thinking of myself as a cyclist (I always rode a bike) was this idea that there is a 'proper' way to do it and I was almost certainly doing it wrong. Sure, there are ways of being more efficient or elegant but, really, who cares how you steer or dismount? As long as you're not falling off, just do it the way you want. I think you were lucky that nobody ever told you back then that you were 'doing it wrong' - I'm sure there are tons of nervous new cyclists who were put off the whole thing because someone insisted on putting their seat at the 'right' height before they were ready for it or who got hacked off because some helpful man told them their feet were in the wrong place on the pedals. As long as I can ride free of pain, I'm not going to worry overly about my technique - but then I speak as one who tends to bump into the furniture just walking round the house, so I'm never going to look too elegant whatever I do

  16. Sorry - should have added - the only 'wrong' way to ride a bike is not to ride it at all. So you're doing everything right as far as I'm concerned

  17. Velouria, When you can do this you have arrived:

  18. velouria, i was like you in that i "lived" on my bike as a kid. the only difference, i'd say, was that i was one of those kids poppin' wheelies, hopping curbs, and even playing a game with my friend in which we'd see which one of us could stay airborne longest after wheelie-ing off of a lake-front dock and into 10-foot water! (it was always tricky retrieving the bike back out of the water!)

    also, like you, i never learned "technique". no one told me about proper saddle height, mounting technique, or handlebar use. it was a matter of simply getting on and finding what worked. i never took notice of "proper" cyclists and i never felt embarrassed about how i rode. it just wasn't an issue for me. when something broke or needed adjusting, my only tools were a screwdriver (which i'd use as a tire lever) and an adjustable wrench (which i'd use for everything else). as a kid, i fell off my bike more times than i can count. in teh past four years as a "mature" cyclist, i've fallen twice: once when hit by a motorist, the other very stupidly-- i couldn't release my foot from the toe clip while stopping at an intersection!

    i did my first long ride on my 13th birthday: 80 miles with my best friend through the catskill mountains. we did it on our cheap 10-speeds, with no preparation whatsoever and $20 in our pockets.

    my parents never had any input in my cycling. they never offered advice. they also never corrected me for doing anything "wrong". i think this may have been why i became so confident on my bike. the bike was an extension of my body: i could do figure-eights no-handed, with a bent frame and horribly wobbling, out-of-true wheels.

    then it all stopped when i turned 16. i got into cars, girls and partying, and didn't get back on a bike for 20 years... this was four years ago.

    obviously, i do things differently now, and intellectual understanding of proper techniques and *why* they work is something that i can now appreciate. i wouldn't have given a rat's a** about all that as a teenager. and, i've gotten *most* techniques down, although i don't think i'll ever feel as "one" with my bikes today as i did as a teenager.

    so, i don't think that not having learned the "proper" ways of cycling did any harm or hampered me later in life. i honestly don't know what would have been better: that, or having my parents teach me "proper" techniques. i suspect that the confidence gained by learning everything by myself (the "wrong" ways) outweighs the benefits of being taught things properly from the beginning, had that been the case.

    as a parent of six and four year old girls, i'm conflicted. the older one can balance a bike, but not pedal and balance at the same time. the younger one can't balance at all yet. on the one hand, i want to be able to teach them the "proper" ways of cycling, but on the other hand i don't want to stifle their own sense of personal discovery and the confidence that comes from that. i think that giving kids the message that there's only one right way to do things can cause more damage than good, and i'm generally a big proponent of "free-range" parenting. for now, i'm trying to instill the joy of cycling in them, by having them stoker my tandem. i don't tell them how to stoker, other than to "pedal hard!" when we're climbing. if i start telling them how to do specific things on the bike and correct them on their techniques, i worry they'll lose interest. that would be the worst.

  19. I literally never think about this! It has never occurred to me to think about my technique. I only ride my bike to get around the city, though, and I'm very comfortable and happy.

  20. As a chubby little girl child, the bike was my breakthrough. I could ride better and faster than most and was fortunate to be on a bike at an early age, and then forced onto a new big bike because of a clammoring younger sister wanting my bike. My father put blocks on the pedals so I could reach, did one run beside me so I could get comfortable, then I was off. I lucked out with that bike because I got perfect leg extension very young, learned mounting and dismounting, because no way could I put my feet on the ground. I just loved cycling so much that I lived on the bike and rode over every obstacle I could find. Next bike was a 3 speed with dynamo lighting, frame pump and toolbag with tools (best christmas gift ever, I could now stay out after dark) and I was the only one in my neighborhood who ever raised the saddle height properly, so of course I was faster, my knees did not hit my chin. I do think the mounting, dismounting is easier if you are really comfortable with standing, it does seem linked. Having been on large rides with cyclists of all skill levels, in some cases it does not seem to develop naturally with more riding, as there are cyclists with many miles under them and little skill. Mountain biking for me increased my skill levels, especially since I started back in the early 80's when few women participated and I was always expected to go over and through what the men did (I sucked and still cannot even bunnyhop). The falls also created less fear of falling, as I never was badly hurt or scared, mostly surprised and there was lots of laughing. Fear of falling creates a body tension that makes it so much more likely to happen, don't think about it, be loose and always look where you want to go. The body will follow the eyes. Keep pushing your comfort zone, a little at a time, just as you have been doing. You have already made great strides in a short time. Ride on!

  21. Growing up, none of us knew how to shift or brake properly because we all had single-speed coaster-brake bikes. But being a boy, perhpaps, I enjoyed learning how to push the bike to its limits, resulting in some spectacular crashes with minor scars remaining to this day. So I learned good handling skills as a kid.

    We all learned how to interact with cars pretty well, knowing to ride with traffic and not against it, to brake and check at intersections, make turns from the proper lane, etc. Not that we always did it the proper way, being kids, but we knew how to do it safely.

    When I was a teenager, the "10-speed" revolution occurred and I really got into proper shifting and braking techniques. So that's when I learned that.

  22. oh, as for pedaling standing up-- that's something i never learned as a kid. i *never* got out of the saddle, it just seemed strenuous and jerky to me. now, decades later, i stand frequently and it's as easy as pie.

  23. I learned how to ride as a child on the protected roads of the camp and conference center where I grew up. My bikes were always low-end fixer-uppers because that's what my parents could afford (they were free). As a result, I learned to adapt quickly to whatever bike was available.

    My worst crash was at that time. I went over the handlebars, smacked my head, shoulder and other parts, I'm sure, and was unconscious for a few seconds. I was alone, so no one saw the accident. I've taken several spills since, but it hasn't helped me get over my fear of falling.

    I'm now raising three dudes (ages 6, 9, 12) in a hilly area, and Hot Husband and I made sure we got them bikes that had multiple gears. This was mostly for practical reasons, but also so they would know how and why to shift gears. I can't believe adults don't understand this basic concept. They all started out on push bikes, because that seemed easiest. Figuring out pedaling is pretty easy once you have balance and steering down pat.

    I'm with Justine: so much is just in the doing and practicing. Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers is a great reminder of that. Another book that might help with fit is Bicycling Bliss (no connection to me). Portia Masterson has tips on bike fitting and conditioning exercises that are supposed to improve comfort on the bike. I found the book in my local library.

    Good luck with the learning curve! It's always great to hear what you're doing!

  24. I have been able to mount and dismount "properly" for as long as I can remember, and I hate the feeling of a too low seat.

    Beyond that, however, I do NOT have cycling skills.

    I have never been physically daring, not even as a kid. I can't ride with no hands. I am overly wary of falling - I'll stop rather than hit a ledge at the wrong angle. And I always start with my left foot and the pedal in the same spot.

    I just got back from visiting my sister in the Netherlands, and my lack of skill was an issue when I rode a Dutch bike for the first time. The bike she lent me was a single speed with a coaster brake that was too big for me. (It was too big for her, too, but she has the "I'm not going to bother getting a better bike that might be stolen" attitude.) I eventually got the hang of it, but I had a lot of trouble starting since I couldn't move the pedals into position (this problem was exacerbated by the bike being too big), I was unnerved by the lack of hand brakes, and I was intimidated by the speed of bike traffic (I didn't need to worry about being hit by a car - but what about getting in the way of other bikes?). All this led my sister to comment on how "funny" it is that I am so into cycling (more so than her) but not very good at it. Ha, ha.

    On a happier note, I bought myself 3 Fastrider panniers for 25 euro each instead of the Bicycle Muses's $80 plus $20 shipping!

  25. By the way, I was very surprised by the handling of the Dutch bike (I don't know what make it was, it had no name on it). It didn't feel steady and stable like I expected. The front of the bike (er, handlebars plus fork and wheel) felt very light, making handling almost squirrely (or like it would have been if I had to put any weight on the handlebars). My sister and her partner said that all Dutch bikes felt this way and one just has to get used to it.

  26. Oh how I appreciate this post. I not sure if you know this, but I learned to ride a bike as an adult. As in 2 years ago. (It says a lot about my personality that I have gone from learning a ride a bike to owning several "fancy" ones in a matter of a year or so. What can I say, when I fall in love, I fall hard.)

    Anyway, learning as an adult means I do not have a lot of the skills that you mentioned. I do the tilt and hoist to mount, even though I would desperate love to do the graceful mount that Dottie and Trish demonstrated. Just can't bring myself to do it. I just stand there paralyzed, telling myself, "And go. Go. Now go." So silly.

    I am not sure how I turn. But my guess is that is probably handlebar-centric.

    And the standing while cycling thing. I have only managed to do this on one of my bikes, my cheap single-speed cruiser from Target. Somehow that bike is less intimidating to me so I have more courage to do it on that. The thought of standing up on my Pashley makes me nervous even though it should be the same in theory, right? Maybe it is because the Pashley is so much heavier so if I fall, I know it is going to be hard. Oh, the fear of falling!!

    I have remind myself when I see a kid doing these skills, that are so second nature to them, that they are not being smug. Little show-offs.

    Basically, learning things as an adult is harder. That being said, I am so glad that I got over my fear of riding bikes in the first place. (I really didn't have a choice, my brother-in-law was insistent.) But the extra effort paid off. My life has certainly been changed for the better because of it. Now I just got to take it to the next level and get some of these things I want to learn down.

  27. townmouse - I totally agree. There's even a "right" technique for turning? Pshh... hahaha.

  28. "The best exercise in my mind is to find a piece of sloped green and start braking, falling and dismounting over the handlebars until it doesn't scare you anymore."

    even reading that makes me shudder! I am a happy adult rider but the thought of falling or um..."dismounting over the handlebars" freaks me out. happily I was one of those kids who spent a lot of time on a bike, first a series of little Raleighs--Mountie, Space Rider, etc.--and then graduated at twelve to a sleek black ten speed. I'd forgotten until recently how easy and intuitive it was to ride and controlled as much by the body as by the handlebars. It's all coming back to me now that I'm riding a similar bike. What hasn't come back, sadly, is the utter fearlessness that I had then combined with the love of speed. I think of the steep hills I used to fly down, brake-free and helmetless, sometimes one or no-handed and it gives me the willies.And I'm not quite sure whether to congratulate myself for my adult caution and wisdom (check for traffic! keep the brake on or at least handy! make sure the helmet fits tightly!) or to mourn for my teenaged joie de vivre.

  29. Interesting post. I don't do the kind of intensive road bike riding, especially in a group, where these things matter, and I've never even thought about it. For urban riding, the defensive riding skills are much more important and those I HAVE thought about....avoiding the door zone, how to negotiate intersections; how to take the lane; how to position yourself relative to cars in order to avoid being hit if a car suddenly turns right or left without signalling, etc.

    Coming off the Manhattan Bridge, when I take that route, there's a major loop/curve -- almost hairpin -- at the bottom, and I have become much more aware of "leaning" as I manage that I'm with you on doing something like that on your heavy Dutch bike! I have noticed that my balance has become much, much better over time and with it, my ability to ride in a very straight line at slow speeds, especially in tight traffic. Those are examples of an intuitive development of specific skills.

  30. I also "grew up" on a bike, I remember at 5, leaning an old fat tire cruiser against the house and climbing on, and pushing off. Had to ride standing up straddling the top tube.
    My 15 y.o. son started late, at 13. We always ride together, and he tucks himself in at my elbow. We chat. I thought we would have collided by now, but so far, so good.
    Velouria, there must be something to learning better and faster when you learn young, but I think you can learn something new till the day you die. You're doing fine, aren't you?

  31. I started riding again last spring. I rode quite a bit as a child, and rode a lot in the 90's, but then I hurt my knee (NOT on a bike) and was afraid to ride for a while.

    Since I came back to the bike in the Blog Era :) I've been kinda surprised to see how many women don't seem to understand a lot of things I just take for granted riding a bike. This is NOT a criticism of women's skills! Maybe it's just that I learned young and now a lot of skills are hard-wired in my body. I used to do things like a no-hands slalom back and forth between the dashed white lines on a road near my home, so I learned how to steer with my hips and body. I've also ridden a motorcycle, so I learned about counter-steering there.

    I don't normally ride a loop frame, so I mount the bike the same way I'd mount a horse, swinging my leg over the top back, usually after I've given myself a little push and am moving. I like doing that, and I can still do it at 58, so that makes me happy. :) I do stop the way Dottie does in the video -- one foot off the (right, in my case) pedal, ready to put down as I come to a stop.

    Still, as others have said, I don't think there's one way to ride. You need to be SAFE, primarily, and be able to handle different conditions. If you can do that, I think you're golden.

  32. (For the record, I didn't mean to sound condescending).
    I believe that those kind of skills learnt at a very young age (biking, skiing, skating, ball games, you name it) make for more physicaly gifted adults. Meaning that those "trained" kids (well groomed ?) will learn much more easily new sports / activities as grown ups. Their body will "get it" when couch potatoes kids will struggle when they reach adulthood.
    Parents : Biking is good, in many ways !
    (Does it even make sense ? English is obviously not my native language)

  33. starting and stopping , getting on and off are all awfully awkward for me. When I did that Tri the scariest part was finishing and having to get off. and now as I ride around I keep waiting for people to say " omG you ride like an idiot!"

  34. I'm all for doing it wrong as in

    I can't think of any real differences between how I cycle now versus when I was a kid.

    I have two children. They are 6 and 8. I taught them to ride on two wheels at 3 years old. Starting with a push bike makes a huge difference. No need for training wheels! I recommend it to everyone. My kids picked up cycling very easily. Now, they bicycle to and from school every day 5 miles each way. The 8 year old can do it in 20 minutes no problem. They are both very good in traffic although they prefer quiet side streets. The past couple days, I noticed the 6 year old has started confidently taking curves at very high speeds. I'll have to pay attention to see if she's leaning.

    We are very successful as a car free family in San Diego. How do we get our kids to school, doctor, etc? They pedal their own bikes. Yay!

    Do I have any recommendations for people who want to start cycling? Yes: Don't worry about technique, training, etc. Just go do. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't know any better.

  35. Alexandra - When I first tried a Dutch bike (several actually), I thought they were squirrely too, which is why I decided to buy a Pashley as my first adult bike. The Pashley felt much more stable when starting, and "easier to ride" in the manner in which I was riding bikes back then. I have heard and read about the same reaction from other relative beginners. Oddly, I now try to understand what it is that I felt was so "off" about Dutch bikes and can't; my Gazelle feels just perfect to me whereas my Pashley eventually felt as if I had "outgrown" it. It just goes to show that there are different bikes for different skill levels - even among transportation bikes!

    Kara - No, I did not know that you only leaned how to cycle 2 years ago! That is very cool. For what it's worth, I think your bikes are perfect for learning and advancing. Who cares that they are fancy. (And I love the imagery of little kids smugly showing off : ))

  36. Steer with your eyes. Your body and bike will follow. That is, don't consciously lean into a turn; you will naturally do so if you are spotting the road you are turning into. And if your eyes are on the obstacle ahead instead of the path around it, you will hit it.

  37. somervillain - When I saw a picture of your tiny daughter stoking a tandem (this must be seen - here), I was stunned and a little envious! That kid is going to have cycling skills imprinted in her brain like it's nobody's business. Of course, it does not guarantee that she'll be into cycling when she gets older. But it does give her skills for life if she is.

    One thing I notice, is that when I was growing up, the culture of how much involvement parents had in their kids' activities was drastically different than it is now. My parents were not neglectful and were actually pretty strict, but the amount of time I spent entirely out of their site, running around and exploring railroad tracks and abandoned warehouses with my friends, building a float and testing it in a nearby marina - that seems unfathomable in today's world of playdates and scheduled activities. I have several female friends who have children, and they basically consider it a full time job to plan those children's activities and then transport them to the activities. And then once the kids start school, all the afterschool clubs and sports take over. I am not sure whether there is even much opportunity for today's children to explore and race through fields without some organised, supervised infrastructure. And I'm not saying the old way was good and the new way is bad necessarily, I just wonder what impact it will have on how this generation will learn things.

  38. velouria, i totally hear you on your point about parent involvement. kids were definitely raised more "free-range" than they are now... i know i was! and as a parent now, i find myself "locked" into a style dictated by the culture around me, and it's extra challenging raising kids in the city, where you can't let them roam free at six years old. Our neighbors, who are fourth generation in their home, told us that just 25 years ago, small kids played in the street and looked out for one another daily; they walked each other to school... today if we let our kids "play in the street" or walk to school alone, we're sure to get a knock on the door from child welfare services!

    it would be much easier in the country... when we spend time at our summer house in the catskills, the kids have free range of the place (98 acres). we never have to worry about them, and they can maintain autonomy for hours on end. ah... the city or the country??? the eternal question...

  39. "I spent entirely out of their site, running around and exploring railroad tracks and abandoned warehouses with my friends..."

    That was the best part of my life! Just yesterday I decided to visit one such bridge which was like a shrine to me in middle school. Surprisingly, it has changed little (and even has some of the same graffiti) since I hung out there. Though now I realize it's basically located in the middle of a fancy and boring residential neighborhood -- it seemed wild at the time.

  40. Biking and all the 'techniques' came naturally to me. I was four when I learned how to ride. My dad held onto the back of the bike and let me go. I still remember it as if it was yesterday.

    What I don't remember is something my parents remember as if it was yesterday. Mom said that after I took off, I looked over my shoulder and told my dad, "I don't need you anymore!"

  41. 300 Pound Gorilla:

    wow, that's amazing that your 8 and 6 year olds can bike on the city streets! and i'm doubly impressed that it's in san diego, a city that's rather car-centric (i lived there from 1995-2001... has it changed since then in that regard?).

  42. sooo many people i know who rode bikes as children just dont understand gears or how to use them as adults. which makes me think that when i ever have kids Im going to start them on geared bikes while they are young

    i had a stab at trying to write an easy to understand 'how to' on gears but i just felt that its too hard to put down on paper in simple terms

    if anyone is interested it can be found here

  43. I learned to ride young, at age 7 I already had a moped and rode it well.
    I had developed riding skills early, when I was younger I could hop on to the top
    of a picnic table with my Redline.(even being obese). I also took a lot of spills, none hurt too bad.
    Pain is a teacher sometimes, however practice anything and you will improve,
    my suggestion would be, head out to Sprawl-Mart find the heaviest 20” BMX style bike
    and go to a vacant lot, and just practice, although be prepared to pull some gravel out ;)

  44. Maggie, ha ha That's a great quote!

    somervillain, San Diego is absurdly car centric. People have said to me things like "I didn't even know you could get there by bike. What roads do you use?" Well, not the freeway. Otherwise, I use all the same roads that the cars use.

    I notice that the drivers are much better behaved when I wear a shirt and tie. That really helps mitigate the car centric-ness. I recommend formal wear as a very effective safety feature.

  45. I got my first bike (single speed coaster) when I was about 8, and nobody taught me how to cycle. It was second hand and didn't have any training wheels, so I think I wobbled and fell over quite a bit in the first few days till I got the hang of it. I think I was more confident and skilled then than I am now; I could do tight turns, which make me nervous to a degree these days.
    After I grew out of that bike I didn't get another until I was in my late 20s and my then boyfriend and I decided to take up cycling. I hated not being able to touch the ground with one foot when stationary so naturally had the seat too low on my mountain bike.
    I'm finally learning more skills now, 20 years later, from reading blogs like this, watching videos and reading cycling websites. I realise I'm not a 'good' cyclist and that merely getting on the bike, going, stopping and turning is just the beginning.
    I can occasionally manage to mount my mixte and ride off using the proper method, but it feels weird compared to leaning the bike with one foot on the ground and pushing down the pedal with the other to move off. (Whatever...I've learned to put the saddle at the correct height now!)
    I can stand up and pedal, and can confirm that it's an art to be accomplished on a Pashley :-D.
    And I'm finally getting the hang of steering with my hips and weight; one day I'll manage tight turns without having to stop and shuffle the bike around until I face the right direction :-). Well, it's either that or fall over, and I'm allergic to falling over.
    I do wish I'd had someone to teach me properly when I was a child, and when I see kids under twelve whizzing around insouciantly on their BMXs, far more confident and skilled than I, I hope that they retain their love of cycling into adulthood.

  46. My father did teach us how to ride our bikes and about proper saddle height -- and that it was a saddle not a seat. :) He is a devoted normal-clothes cyclist of many years. When we lived in Europe and New Zealand when I was small, he biked to work in his late 70s 3-piece suit on a road bike with drop bars. I will have to ask him what kind of bicycle it was! All I remember was that the bike was white and he was crazy elegant.

    I think my son will learn pretty organically as he rides on our bobike seat but I do plan to be proactive about the basics, particularly about how to ride on the street safely. Hopefully by the time he's old enough to do that, our streets will be better and safer, too.

  47. what i would love to learn is how to push off with one leg on 1 pedal, then swing the other leg above and around the saddle and place 2nd foot on 2nd pedal, but i am afraid to even try it

    perhaps if i learned in reverse - learning to dismount first by swinging leg back and around, rather than mounting, it would be easier, but i'm afraid to try the dismount as well

  48. I am a (newly) avid cyclist whose technique is less than polished. I'm hoping that will evolve, but luckily cycling is among the sports that can be enjoyed with even a low level of technique.

  49. Velouria, the hardest skill for me to learn was also the stop and start technique and reading your post was almost deja vu because you describe the exact same fears I had. But, trust me you will succeed and get it. The video you posted is the correct technique and it's just really mind over matter and not over thinking it. Practice lots. To stop, stand and bring your left foot all the way down and slowly start braking and stop and set your opposite foot down immediately. When mounting the bike to start, as Dottie shows in the video, reposition the pedal to 9:00 O'clock and rest your foot on the pedal holding the brakes. When you're ready push off with the opposite leg, as you release the brakes and pedal and hopping onto the seat. Practice, practice this technique and think mind over matter. If I can do it, I know you can.


  50. i didn't cycle to get around as a kid. i lived in a very urban area where that wouldn't have been a good way for a kid to get around. as an adult, i really regret not riding during high school and college considering i lived so close to both schools! as an adult, i've learned how to properly mount and dismount. i seem to have lost the ability to stand and pedal which i did easily as a kid. my form is so poor my bike rocks side to side and i hear a lot of straining on my bike frame. i get worn out easily and it seems like a waste of energy since i end up passing most people who do just that.

  51. I've been riding my bike as my main form of transportation for almost 10 years now and I hate how I still feel like an amateur. My bike for the past 5 years now is a touring bike (a trek 520) and I can't ride without hands, I can't ride standing up and I can't get off my bike gracefully (and I like to get on my bike by standing on a curb). Ugh. Still these are minor frustrations. I wish I could be a better cyclist, but whatever, I'm movin'.

  52. I read your post yesterday and I have been thinking about it all day. I just learned how to ride about 1 year ago at age 35, my only regret is that I feel I wasted many years not riding because I was scared. I care about the technique and read and ask my hubby for advise but I still suck at mounting, dismounting and leaning over....I know I will get better and so will you! Don't be so hard on yourself!
    I'm also terrified of falling but I feel better about it, about a month ago I lost my balance in the middle of a busy intersection because a bus was parked in a red zone and I couldn't see traffic coming...anyway, I completely ate it! My purse and one of my shoes went flying, my bike was in the middle of the road and my knees were bleeding. It hurt a little, my heart was racing and I was scared as hell but I jumped back on the bike and rode to work as fast as I could...By the time I was locking my bike I was laughing at how silly I must have looked and was relief because didn't get badly hurt. Like another person said, it was kind of a relief and now I'm glad it happened because I know I will fall again sometime and I hope I can react better, and maybe not lose my shoe!

  53. This is a fascinating topic. My initial reaction to the difficulties that people have starting and stopping gracefully is just confusion. It wouldn't even occur to me to try to do it any other way. But about six weeks ago, my parents were visiting, and we rented a bike for my father to ride so we could all get around together. Oddly, he's only able to mount a bike on the fly -- he stands on the left side, with his left foot on the pedal at its lowest point, pushes off, then swings his right leg over the saddle to mount it. He can't even get his leg over if he tries it with the bike stationary, no matter how far over he tilts it. He's 70 years old, and that's the way he's always done it -- I've always been too chicken to even try that maneuver, myself.

    I ride two bikes nowadays: a fixed-gear, and a bakfiets. On the latter, I actually trained myself to do an alternate dismount, which is basically the same as the loop-frame exit mentioned earlier, though I forced myself to do it on both sides, on the theory that it could be useful to stop the box from tipping over in some circumstances. I use that dismount most of the time now, because I can do it without stopping (I just transition from pedaling to walking). I also learned something new this year from riding the fixed-gear, because I can't just let the freewheel spin with the cranks vertical while approaching a stop.

    Anyway, I have a suggestion for Velouria. It might be easier to learn the "proper" starting technique on a fixed-gear bike, particularly because it's easier to ride it out of the saddle (I've discovered that this year, too). Assuming you want to bother training yourself to do it, I think you should try the start, but just push yourself up onto the forward pedal, and let the bike roll forward, without even putting the other foot on the opposite pedal until you're comfortable with it. Just go once around and step down; there's no way you'll fall doing that, and you'll get accustomed to the motion. Then you can get the other foot on the pedal and ride out of the saddle for the first few rotations. After you've done that, getting into the saddle is no different than returning to it after any other time you stand up on the pedals. It'll be especially easy to do all this on a fixed-gear, because you can let the bike push you up by keeping your weight on the back pedal as it comes around. But I would only bother to do all that if you're not happy with the way you do things now.

    When I'm starting my bike, I think that first step on the pedal isn't like a normal pedal-stroke; it's like the first step climbing a stair -- more about stepping up than moving the bike forward, though it does both of those things. If you're in too low a gear (on a multiple-gear-ratio bike), it won't work well, though. When stopping, I use the brakes to stop the bike completely, but just at the end, I let the forward momentum of my body carry me off the saddle so I can step down. It's much easier than stopping first, then trying to get out of the saddle, and probably safer than standing up on the pedals before braking.

    Where I am, things just got a lot dicier; we had our first good-sized snow storm of the winter yesterday, so now I also have to worry about my foot possibly having no traction when I step down...

  54. Velouria, when I rode a mixte I *did* do the "swing leg over, hop off moving bike" method. I only stopped when I started riding a diamond-framed bicycle.

    I, too, am terrified of falling, partially because it's something I do fairly regularly. Mostly 'cause I did something dumb, but I'm also just a terrible klutz. I keep biking anyway, but some things (wet train tracks) are kinda terrifying to me now.

    I learned a lot about riding as a kid--like how to turn, and how to use friction shifters (I had a Huffy ten-speed when I was eleven or so). But a lot of the starting/stopping stuff I didn't really get until I started really riding as an adult, and the person who loaned me the bike set my saddle high enough. I figured it out fairly quickly, thankfully; and I didn't realize that there was a skill to it until I was reading a description and thought, huh, I do it that way too!

    I never did learn things like bunny hopping or wheelies. I wasn't fond of falling even as a kid, and I was never a daredevil.

    Ironically, I really want to try racing cyclocross. If nothing else, I'll learn to fall a lot! Hopefully I'll increase my riding skills too.

  55. Velouria said...
    "As for saddle height, it is an ongoing fiasco: It took over a year of gradually raising it until I was able to have it at more or less the height where it needs to be for good leg extension... But I still cannot mount a bicycle properly and have to do a graceless little lean-and-hoist maneuver to get myself onto that raised saddle. Terrified of falling......"

    Have you ever considered a "layback" seat post to resolve both your mounting and stride concerns?

    Layback's look odd but they really do work quite well at keeping the pedal stride correct while getting the seat a lot closer to the ground. I use Layback's on all my bikes now since I've had TKR on both knees. Makes my riding much,much easier.


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