Bicycle Training- How To Improve Your Confidence On A Bicycle
I recently had a chance to take a bicycle course put on by IPMBA, the International Police Mountain Bike Association. The course is tailored to Law Enforcement, Security and EMS personnel that rely on a bicycle to perform their duties. A lot of the skills taught at the class were specific to those professions, but there were plenty of skills that apply to the average cyclist.
Whether you ride a mountain bike on the toughest trails, commute daily to work on your bike, or simply use it for the exercise, you would greatly benefit from some additional training. Let's take a look at what a bicycle class has to offer for you as I explain what I learned at mine.
Know The Law
The first important thing to learn about, is your local laws regarding a bicycle. Many people don't know this, but many jurisdictions, such as Colorado, where I am, regard the bicycle as a vehicle. This not only gives you the ability to ride on the roadway, but gives you confidence to know that you have just as much right to be there as someone that is riding a motorcycle, or driving a car. It also means that you have to follow the same rules as a car would. In many places you can get a ticket for running a red light, speeding or other traffic violations that can be committed on a bike.
You will also learn the local laws regarding how motor vehicle drivers are supposed to handle bicycles on the roadway. Colorado, for example, requires that a vehicle leave at least three feet of space when passing a bicycle. If there is not enough room to honor the three feet, they can't pass. This not only helps you as a cyclist, but as a driver as well.
Even a mountain biker would benefit from a class like this. I know of several good mountain bike trails in the Golden, CO area that can be linked together if you use the roadways for a short distance.
The Hardest Part Of Cycling
I have heard it said several times, both with bicycles and motorcycles, that it's easy to go fast. The hardest part of riding a bicycle is going slow. I know the area that I personally felt like I improved the most was my slow speed skills. Have you ever seen a cyclist stop at a red light and wait with traffic, but noticed that he never put his feet down? That is a skill that can help you, not only in traffic, but along a trail as well. Especially if you are using clip in type pedals, you will be much more confident knowing that you can come to a stop, then continue going again without having to unclip or get off of your bike. Though I can't stay stopped for an entire stoplight cycle, I can now come to a stop for a couple seconds, then continue without putting a foot down.
We also had to learn how to make tight circles in a ten foot box. It may not sound tough, but to pass we had to make three circles inside a box about the width of a parking space. After making three circles in one direction we had to do it again the other direction. This, along with other slow speed drills such as an offset serpentine and a series of tight U-turns, will greatly increase your ability to ride slowly along a trail, or around pedestrians and other slow moving traffic.
That has been very helpful for me with both traffic and while riding with my kids. When you are in traffic you can slow down when the light ahead of you turns red, or stop and continue at a stop sign. When riding with your kids, or others, you won't have to worry as much about somebody riding in front of you. My kids often drift in front of me while out riding at the greenbelt, with the skills I learned in the class I can easily slow and if necessary make a tight turn to move out of their way and continue on.
Learning To Stop And Avoid Obstacles
The class also taught you how to stop quickly and properly. We probably have all heard stories of people trying to stop too hard using their front brake and going over the handle bars. It is a definite possibility if you are trying to stop quickly and you use too much front brake. The trick is to shift your weight back over the rear tire as you brake. This redistributes your weight and helps to keep both wheels on the ground for an efficient, safe stop.
Another technique taught by the class was a "rock dodge." It is a quick swerving movement of the front tire, which brings the bike around a small obstacle like a rock, without moving the bike too far out of the line of travel. This makes the maneuver safer to do while near traffic or along a narrow trail.
So whether you are an avid mountain biker, commuter, or just like to take bike rides on the weekends, you will almost certainly benefit from a bicycle school. Check your local bike shops and outdoor stores, such as REI. Many of them offer different levels of training. You can almost certainly find a class that is tailored to your current skill level.
For more of my outfoor writing, check out my blog: www.rmadventure.com