So you cannot ride a bicycle

A few things no one may have told you

“The cyclist — Dublin, Ireland — Black and white street photography” by Giuseppe Milo (www.pixael.com) is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Learning to ride a bicycle is not exactly like learning to walk. People tell you to just try until you succeed, but falling from a bicycle is more like falling from a horse (or pony) than from your own two-foot height as a toddler. So, after some unsuccessful attempts, you concluded that cycling was not for you. Maybe your problem was just that no one taught you rule number one: before trying to drive a bicycle, you must let the bicycle drive you.

Rule 1. Let the bicycle drive

On a bicycle, turning the handlebars to the right should make you turn right, right?

Wrong! From a straight course, turning the handlebars to the right will mostly make you lean to the left. Centrifugal force comes into play and it won’t let you change course. Push more to the right and you will crash on your left side. In fact, riding is mostly taming the centrifugal force.

To avoid falling, leave decisions to your mount. If the bicycle leans to the left, humor it, gently turn left and it will eventually right itself. If it leans to the right, gently turn right to regain balance. This may not take you where you want, but here the point is just to stay on top. Practice this game until you feel confident, preferably on a large flat area free of obstacles.

If you obey the bicycle’s every whim, you will soon realize that it actually obeys you. Just nudge the bicycle away from your goal and it will obligingly lean toward it. Then just follow the lead…

Once you master these steps, you will be able to cycle even on winding lanes, but don’t ride too close to the sidewalk or obstacles. You will need some minimum room for your initial nudge.

Rule 2. Safety in speed

As a beginner, you may feel more secure riding slowly. But the faster a bicycle runs, the more stable it is. Try to maintain enough speed for stability, typically more than twice walking speed. First learn to brake and dismount until you feel safe at all speeds. Make sure the front brake is not too strong, or you might nose-dive in an emergency. Don’t hesitate at first to wear head, hand, elbow and/or knee protections.

Do not try to ride on grass or sand to soften a possible fall. Choose instead hard, flat ground. Soft ground is difficult, it slows you down and may prevent you from even starting. Well inflated tires will also help you maintain speed with minimal effort.

As a rule, always start your bicycle at relatively low gear (chain around the larger rear crank wheel). Gears on a bicycle tend to drift toward high gear which requires more effort to start and to maintain speed on difficult ground. Starting on low gear will allow you to quickly gain enough speed for stability.

Conclusion

These are just a few basic notions I used with my kids. Everything else is practice, but at least these tips should keep you in the saddle. Once you start, you can find lots of valuable advice on the Internet.

Cycling can be fun, it is both healthy and cheap. Everyone should be able to ride a bicycle.

Anyone can cycle.

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