My First Cycling Lesson

When buying my bicycle, I knew I was going to need some professional guidance on riding. Sure, as a youth I rode bikes a lot, but that was a long, long time ago. It’s been at least 15 years since I’ve even been on a bike and I’m not eager to get off on the wrong foot. And even though there are some great bicycling forums available online, I’m a kinesthetic learner, and need to be out doing what I’m being taught.

Fortunately, I live in the Seattle area – one of the best places in the country to live for cycling. It’s the home base for the Cascade Bicycle Club, one of the premier non-profit community bicycling clubs in the United States. It hosts major cycling events as well as group rides of all difficulties numerous times every month, and is heavily into advocacy, lobbying local government on issues pertaining to the cycling community. They’ve been key in developing the greenways, bike lanes, and rails-to-trails paths that make the area so great for cyclists. But they also feature training programs for total beginners, those just getting back on a bike, and people looking to get more comfortable riding in an urban environment. It was the second set (those just getting back on a bike), that I found myself in, and while they didn’t have any of the 6-hour Back to Basics classes available for a couple months, they offered private education that could get me rolling sooner. It was a no-brainer to sign up.

This past Sunday I had my session with William Gerdes, a trainer for the club over at their Magnuson Park headquarters. I got lucky, as the weather was beautiful in Seattle this weekend. With the help of my boyfriend, I took the wheels off Gertie (my ridiculous anthropomorphic name for my new bike) and packed her into the back of my MINI. I must continue to practice this, as when I got over to the location I spent entirely too much time looking like a complete idiot while not being able to get my rear wheel re-seated. Fortunately, William was there to assist and I got some extra practice in.

After the wheel replacement, introductions, and a quick once-over of both my bike and my helmet, he asked me to mount the bike and do a little riding along one of the park streets so he could watch me ride a bit. The verdict? The seat looked a little high for me, and boy, was I fast! He said he was used to new students getting on a bike slowly, starting slow, and staying slow. But after a clumsy mount, I took off and was (relatively) blazing up the street. It felt good knowing that I had a little power under the hood to work with, at least comparatively!

The lesson covered many basics like how to properly mount and dismount my bike, braking techniques, and a little bit about gearing and cadence. I definitely have some work to do on those last two. Gearing is still a bit of a mystery, as I need to develop a feel of what gear I’m in, and what gear I should be in. What I gained most from this lesson was confidence. We rode around the park streets a bit, along with car traffic – something I’m terrified of, and being able to follow and emulate someone else while riding was a big boost to feeling comfortable about what I was doing (riding in comfort is another story – more on that in a future post, I promise!!). We even tackled a small hill, and on the way down I tucked into the drops for the first time. I’m a little fearful of taking downhills at speed but with the benefit of a little training, it was a lot easier to have fun with it.

He recommended I come back for the formal 6-hour course. Even though I would be a bit more advanced than the average participant he thought I could still gain some helpful insight into some topics I’m a little uneasy with at this stage. We talked about some of my shorter and longer term goals. I casually dropped the STP (Seattle to Portland 200-mile event ride which takes place every summer) as a pie-in-the-sky goal several years down the road, and he guesstimated that I would be able to tackle it in 2015. !!!! If I were to be able to do something like that I would be so, so insanely proud of myself! For now, I’m going to focus on maintaining my motivation to learn and continue to get out for short rides whenever the weather cooperates!