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Newbies to cycling should consider learn-to-ride programs

New rider suggests starting out on short grass

First of all, I'd like to express my thanks to the many people who wrote in after I introduced trikes as a way for adults who never learned to ride a bike or who find it hard to balance on two-wheelers to get out on the road.

The tricycle clearly struck a chord and it's great to hear that so many readers are keen to try this as an option.

For those who didn't learn to ride as a kid and who still want to get out on a regular bike rather than a trike, what are the next steps?

My first recommendation is to go to a local bike shop or get online and investigate learn-toride programs for new adult riders. When learning a brand-new physical skill like cycling, you can't beat having an experienced instructor who will take you through the basics of balancing, steering, and braking.

In Vancouver, the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition offers an excellent training course that comes highly recommended by participants. (Go to for detailed information.)

The advantages of this program include an individual instructor, meaning the focus of the lesson isn't split between multiple participants. You can learn at your own pace and choose your location. (They do recommend a standard locale and an extra charge of $30 may apply for travel outside the city.) Three hour-long lessons take place over three weeks, giving you plenty of time to practise your new skills between sessions.

The cost is $150 for VACC members and $175 for non-members. If you decide you'd prefer to learn by yourself or with a friend, here are some tips to help you get going.

Fit is first-First of all, make sure the bike is the right size for you. Even experienced riders find over-sized bikes harder to handle. As a beginner, you'll want the seat low enough that you can put both feet flat on the ground to catch yourself if you need to.

Be a head case-Wear protective gear, including a helmet and knee and elbow pads for additional safety and peace of mind.

Leggo your ego-Don't worry about whether or not you look funny, awkward or inexperienced.

As a brand-new rider it's inevitable that you'll feel clumsy and may even take a spill. It's much more important to ensure you're ready to hop back up and carry on when they do.

Location, location-When you're ready to start riding, find a gentle downhill slope and practise coasting downward in a straight line. This will give you a feel for being on a moving bicycle without worrying about steering or pedalling.

New rider Fiona Abbott also has a suggestion from her own experience to help reduce nerves: start out on short grass. Not only does it help reduce the fear of a fall onto hard concrete, it also made it easier for her to control the bike at low speeds. (This is always tricky for beginners-a bit of speed actually makes it far easier to balance and steer, but it's hard to go quickly when you're still new and wobbly and getting your confidence.)

Success by summer-Most importantly, if you've been debating learning to ride for a while, get out there and give it a try. Summer's coming, Vancouver has all kinds of beautiful bike paths on which to practise and gain confidence. You'll learn a skill that will be fun and practical for many years to come.

Kay Cahill is a cyclist and librarian who believes bikes are for life, not just for commuting. You can contact or send a comment to

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