I’m 34-and-a-half years-old, and I’ve been shamed into learning to ride a bike by my four-year-old. It is, frankly, about time I did – and now that I’ve had two lessons, I really don't know why I didn't get on with it before. It’s already cleared a few cobwebs.
Previously, I was not a ‘bike’ person. They’re scary, cumbersome, scratch up the walls in the hallway and leave grease all over the sofa cushions. We cheered on the Tour De France riders when they came through East London last year – and that was about the extent of my experience with cycling. I'd often meet friends in pubs and be the only one who'd got there by bus rather than bike.
As toddlers are liable to do, mine kept asking questions – “But Mummy, WHY can’t you ride a bike?" – to which I obviously had no real answer. So when I noticed that my London borough were offering personal instructors through a company called Cycle Confident for gratis, I booked myself in. I was half nervous, and half telling myself, "Why shouldn't I be learning to ride a bike as an adult?"
I met Matt, a festival-sunhat-wearing chap with a messenger bag slung over his shoulders, in an abandoned car park on the wrong side of town. Matt introduced me to my trusty two-wheel steed – a council-owned Brompton.
Now, considering I can’t even ride a bike bolted to the floor in the gym without wobbling, I completely stunned myself on the real thing. By the time the two hour lesson was up I was going left, going right, going straight ahead – I was even able to pull off figures of eight, with the bike roughly going where I intended.
I can’t even ride a bike bolted to the floor in the gym without wobbling
My nerve-racking visions of hitting concrete face-first didn't, thankfully, come to pass. However, I did graze my elbow in a giddy moment of sheer cockiness towards the end of the lesson, when I ran into the only piece of kerb for miles around.
It really is a thrill thundering up and down and around at great speed. I had such a buzzy feeling of achievement for hours afterwards, I went straight out and bought my own bike. A Brompton. It didn't scare me, and it’s nifty and folds up really small.
I’m now two lessons down – I took my daughter along for the second. While I practised controlling the bike's speed and direction, she had her stabilisers removed, which meant she no longer found my wobbliness so hilarious. It is harder than it looks – but also so much easier than you’d think.
Spring is looking a lot more exciting now
My daughter couldn't keep her bike upright for very long, which led to her frustratedly throwing her stabilisers across the car park and then burying her head in her knees in a sulk – which is pretty much how I'd envisioned myself behaving during my lesson.
Giving cycling a chance feels like opening up a whole new chapter. Spring is looking a lot more exciting now. As I type this I'm about to go out and have a spin around the park. Just one week ago, that's not something I would've ever dreamed would be a possibility for me.
Next target? To be good enough to get out into the country for a pub lunch...
Instructor Matthew Douglas’ Tips For Cycling Newbies
1. "Don’t ever tell yourself that you’ll never learn to ride, or that you are somehow unteachable. Lots of people say that to me, and I’ve had success with all of them."
2. "Book a lesson with a professional – your local authority probably provides free training. A professional will be patient and effective."
3. "Cycling is fun, simple and amazingly eye-opening. Try it!"