Teaching adults to ride bikes: Getting started
A few months ago now I began to write about teaching adults how to ride a bicycle. Due to moving to Taiwan and being overwhelmed with material to write about I’ve inadvertently put off continuing the topic.
In my first post I outlined some initial considerations for people to take into account in either learning to ride a bike as an adult, or teaching an adult to ride a bike.
The next step in this series will be on the assumption that you’re keen to learn or are teaching someone to learn. You’ve gone over the initial considerations so where to now?
Today we’ll look at getting started.
Choosing where to learn how to ride
The first step in getting started is deciding where you are going to be learning or teaching an adult to ride. Factors that need to be taken into consideration here are;
Confidence level of the rider: This is going to vary from person to person and will effect where you decide to learn or teach riding. People with lower confidence levels are going to need particularly quiet areas where they can concentrate completely on what they are doing.
Slightly more confident riders can get away learning in slightly more crowded or busy areas.
The terrain: Ideally if you’ve never ridden a bicycle before you want to be practicing on soft grass. You’re not going to be going very fast but worse comes to worse and you stack, landing on grass is much more desirable then bitumen or concrete.
Perfect areas with grass are public parks and recreational reserves. Do check beforehand though whether or not bicycles are permitted in the areas you have in mind. Additionally bear in mind that grassy areas are quite mushy after rain, riding on mushy grass will ruin it.
Alternatively the area might have an automated watering system too so you might have to adjust the time you set out to learn. Typically watering systems are used overnight and at dawn and dusk.
How busy the area is
Any experienced cyclist will tell you that mixing it up with pedestrian traffic is not safe, let alone for the adult learning to ride. Foot traffic should be a large consideration when choosing an appropriate park or reserve to learn in.
Other considerations when choosing a suitable park or reserve are dogs. If there’s a lot of dogs in the area you might run into problems with them wanting to chase you or your student around.
Nothing will turn someone off riding a bike quicker then having a large dog running circles around the bicycle and barking its head off.
Finally use some common sense in assessing the normal use of the area. Learning how to ride a bicycle in the middle of a historical flower display for example is an obvious no-no.
For the beginner I’d strongly advise that, regardless of the confidence level of the rider areas with motor traffic be avoided completely.
At this stage we’re just focusing on getting you or your student riding a bicycle. Road traffic confidence and urban cycling skills come much, much further down the track.
Absolutely compulsory equipment are sealed shoes (no thongs, sandals or slippers) and a bicycle helmet. Regardless of how dorky the rider might think they look don’t let someone get on a bike who’s never ridden before without them.
A helmet is important for obvious reasons (even on the softest of grass) and the shoes are to protect the feet. Bicycle drive trains (the chain, derailleur systems, cranks, chain rings and rear cassette), have lots of pointy bits that in the event of a fall can make nasty work of unprotected feet.
Additional equipment that should be considered are protective gloves for the palms and knee and elbow pads.
Deciding whether to invest in this optional equipment will come down to the confidence of the rider, how easily they bruise and their level of self consciousness.
I remember when I was a kid I refused to wear knee and elbow pads when I was rollerblading. One day I hit a twig and came crashing down. The end result is a scar on the side of my elbow about the size of a twenty cent piece that will never go away.
As for bruising, well I’m sure we’ve all met those people who seem to get them randomly and have no recollection of how. These are the types of people who, when learning how to ride, need to be wearing extra padding.
Be realistic about a learning timeframe
When you start to learn something it’s very easy to get caught up in questions like ‘so how long till I’m doing the Tour de France?’
Be realistic about the time that might need to be invested in learning to ride a bicycle. Factors that come into play will be the fitness level of the rider, whether or not they are a physically active person and how good their motorskills and co-ordination are.
Personally I wouldn’t get hung up on setting timeframes or goals but rather let the learning process occur naturally. Be prepared that at an hour or two a week it could very well take a few months for some riders to be comfortable riding around on a bike.
There also might be times when the rider feels like they need to take a break from practicing. This is fine but don’t let the break extend too long. People’s garages are usually full of equipment from activities they started but never finished.
In my next post in this series I plan to look at what you need to focus on in those first few lessons on riding a bike. I’ll also provide some techniques you can use either by yourself or with your student to help you achieve a basic level of riding.