New to cycling: Should I go for organised training or not?

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This topic contains 13 replies, has 12 voices, and was last updated by  andy753 3 years, 5 months ago.

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    Hey all :)

    I really, really love the look of this scheme, so much so that I’ve signed up and got my key. There is, however, one problem: I’ve never ridden a bike before…

    (Well, slight lie – I last rode a bike 15 years ago, when I was 9. With stabilisers. Probably about 2-3 times. And I’ve never ridden without stabilisers.)

    I really want to use the scheme, and get in to casual cycling, so as I see it I have two options, but I’d love people’s opinions as to which is best:

    Firstly, just take out a bike, find a very quiet backstreet with little/no traffic, and just have a go for a few hours (or, more precisely, a few half-hours-with-5m-gaps). Repeat for a few days until I start feeling a bit more confident and venture out of the backstreets. Now, this is beneficial from the point that I’m a poor student, with little money to spend on training :P. Also, I’m a competent (and, I like to think, cyclist-considerate :) ) driver, so I know the rules of the road, as well as a few cycle-specific things like not undercutting at junctions, leaving sufficient room for opening doors etc. However, I fear that if I teach myself in this way, I could well end up being, well, a rubbish cyclist, and a menace to myself and society in general.

    My other option is to look at cycle training, like this. Hopefully that’d help me learn to be a good cyclist, who does things correctly from the start. However I don’t have too much spare cash to spend, and am also the type of person who prefers to learn things in my own time, rather than by the schedule of an instructor.

    So, I need some advice. Is cycle training well worth the money, and I’m a fool for even contemplating learning without it? Or would I be better off just trying to (slowly) teach myself?

    I’ve already got one friend encouraging me to teach myself, and another encouraging me to get training. That’s not even mentioning helmets, where my family is warning me not to so much as look at a bike without a helmet on, and others telling me not to use one…

    Thoughts and opinions very much welcome :)




    If you are going to teach yourself, why not take out a bike at one of the many stations in Hyde Park? It would be a good opportunity to get used to the feel and handling of the bikes. You can then graduate to quiet back streets. Good luck!



    I can’t see the harm in at least one trial session on your own. Hyde Park is a great choice. If you feel comfortable on it then I’d continue with DIY training. If you don’t then pay for some. But I think you’d be silly not to at least try the free option first.



    I’ve cycled in Oxford, Cambridge and the countryside but never on the streets of London. To get used to it, I’ve done a few early morning (out of rush hour) practice rides to places that I’ll want to get to. I’m now feeling confident with traffic around me, although I haven’t braved the rush hour yet.

    ChrisD’s Hyde Park suggestion is brilliant – I wish I’d thought of that.

    PS Please buy a helmet

    PPS Don’t get too pushy when around buses or lorries at the moment – squeezing your way past them at traffic lights can wait until you’re feeling 100% confident.



    As somebody who has beein cycling since more than 30 years it’s hard to judge how easy or difficult it is to learn it on London roads. It really depends on your personal perception of safety, your confidence and courage.

    In general I agree with Chris and would also recommend Hyde Park (or Regents Park) as an area for some test rides. There you can find out how comfortable and safe you’re feeling on a bike. If you do this for several days and do not feel confident you still can go for a professional training.

    The CTC, which is a non-commercial organisation, has a bunch of bike trainers in London: According to LCC’s website you can get free cycle trainings from your local council:

    I’d also recommend to have a loot at some articles about how to cycle safely

    The HGV thing (never never pass a lorry on the left close to a junction) is the most important piece of advice.

    Good luck and have fun!




    If you live within one of the London boroughs, they seem to offer free cycle training, both for the scheme and in general:

    No idea, what you get or how useful it is, as I’ve not done it and it looks like what you get is borough-specific, but might be worth investigating.



    I’m an experienced cyclist, but not on the left (!) I could use some training, especially with regard to road signs, one way streets and so on. I may look into a class through the London boroughs. I think Hyde park is a nice suggestion for getting used to handling the bike.



    @claudia: you’ll get used to cycling on the wrong side of the road much faster than you think. Believe it or not but after living in the UK for only 2 month I was taking a wrong turn in Germany.



    I’m in the same boat as you, the last time I rode a bike was when I was about 7 (now 49) and my parents were so worried about it that they would not allow me to even have a bike as a kid, so unfortunately I never took it up. But since this scheme has started I go and do a couple of rounds of Hyde Park everytime I go down there for a run. I have also signed up for the ‘bikeability’ course with Westminster council so that I can gain some professional tuition which I hope will give me the confidence to go on the open road. I am pretty sure that there are other people like us who are signing up to the scheme with the intention of learning and practising to ride safely and that can only be a good thing – Well done Boris



    I’m not a novice cyclist exactly, but the last time I used a bicycle regularly was as a student in Oxford some 20 years ago. It’s been a bit of a learning curve in London traffic over the last couple of weeks, and I am considering taking up the training offered by my local council.

    Anyway, I can thoroughly recommend the Hyde Park experience – I needed to get from Hyde Park Corner to Queensway at lunchtime today, so took a BorisBike through Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens (16 mins). It was so enjoyable that I shall go back to repeat the experience even when I don’t need to get from A to B.



    Many thanks for all the responses – never thought of trying Hyde Park!

    I think I’ll definitely have a few goes there first, seeing’s it’s more or less free. Hopefully I’ll then gauge whether I’ll be able to grasp the knack, or whether I’ll need professional help :P.



    claudia, as another poster has said; you’ll get used to riding on the left in no time. I took my bike to France last year and had no problems.

    What I do recommend is that you make yourself familiar with the Highway Code. It will help you to read the road signs and you will see from reading it what the differences are here compared with other countries.




    Definitely try out the training: it is free (or at least, very heavily subsidised) and they will train you on the Boris Bikes.

    As the saying goes, once you’ve learnt to ride a bike, you never forget. However if you never learnt to stabilise a bike it can be very tricky to teach yourself. But happily cycle trainers are accustomed to teaching adults from scratch. Westminster Council teaches hundreds of adults a year.

    These days stabilisers are very much frowned upon: children learn on balance bikes without pedals. This allows them to learn the tricky aspect much faster, the transition to pedals once those skills have been acquired is very easy. If you also need to learn the basics then the trainer will probably lower the saddle so that you can use it as a balance bike.

    But that is just the initial skills in balancing. Cycle training is also very important for learning the unique road skills required for cycling. These are very important: they will equip you with the skills to deal with London traffic safely. You will also need to get some good practice in bike handling skills: learning to be steady enough to be able to look over your shoulder without massively changing course, able to ride one-handed while signalling. There are also all sorts of little hints and tips which good cycle training should equip you with: the when, where and hows of braking (ie, when to use the front and back brakes, braking when cornering etc), learning to move your weight around on the bike when emergency braking and a multitude of other skills.

    Cycling is great fun and a very efficient and sensible way of getting around London, but it is requires very specific and advanced skills. Everyone can benefit from cycle training: even very confident cyclists will find that they benefit from it. Here, for instance, is the story from an experienced racing cyclists and prominent barrister getting cycle training.

    Finally: the helmet issue. Please don’t think that wearing a helmet is the only thing that will keep you safe. Good skills and a reliable, safe bike are the primary safety measures you can take. If you feel a helmet helps with confidence, wear one, but the benefits of cycle helmets are, IMHO, greatly overstated.

    Good luck, and enjoy!



    Yes, I think some basic skills training would be sensible. The CTC used to offer some basic courses on this – road awareness etc. Alternatively, try cycling on grass in your local park – if you fall off, you won’t really hurt yourself.

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