Wheels or no wheels

It’s a well known fact that I’m an expert at getting around using my two legs and public transport, and that I’m not a fan of things with wheels – I don’t drive, and I’m only prepared to do cycling so long as I have 3 wheels. I have a variety of excuses reasons for this. I don’t like going fast and being out of control (I don’t like skiing for the same reason). For cars, I don’t trust other drivers and I don’t want to destroy the planet! For cycling, I don’t trust drivers. For both I don’t want to die or be maimed in a road accident!

Fortunately the town I recently moved to has many miles of off road cycle paths, so I felt brave enough to try cycling. I last was confident on a bike when I was about 9, and although I have tried it a few times since then it has been a disaster. So I bought a tricycle, which I figured would solve the various problems that I was afraid of. I figured it would be more stable and I was not going to fall off when I came to a stop. I wasn’t really interested in going fast, or looking cool, so a trike was fine. I also thought it would be handy for carrying things with a big rear basket.

The first problem is the weight of the bike, it’s nearly impossible to push, and with only 3 gears it is almost impossible to get up some hills without getting off! Also it’s very wide and I often have to get off it in order to wheel it through a gap to get onto the cycle paths.

The key thing was stability, but I discovered that actually a trike is not at all stable. Also it wasn’t as easy as I expected to steer, and I spent most of the first few weeks on it crashing in bushes. When my confidence was better I ended up having several crashes due to the instability, including flipping the trike over my head and overturning and smashing my phone! I quickly learnt to brake before bends otherwise I was going to overturn the trike every time. The flip was due to the ineffectiveness of the brakes – I broke on a hill in order to avoid running over a gang of Yorkshire terriers, the brakes didn’t really do anything, so I put my foot down to try and slow. I came to an immediate stop, went over the front and the trike followed over my head. That was both painful and embarrassing! But it does has the advantage at very low speed that it is stable, so coming up to a junction I don’t have to unclip from the pedals and get off. A fear I do have with the 2 wheeled variety is falling over into the road when trying to stop.

I’ve been happy enough with the trike, having learnt to not go round corners fast. But I only really like using it on routes where there are no people with children or pets to run over. I’ve no choice but to wait for people to move out of the way because of the width of the trike, and some people do get verbally abusive that you dare to ride a cycle of any sort near them.

My husband is very big on cycling and aspires to own many ponsy and expensive bikes, and is keen for me to graduate to a ‘big girls’ bike. So now I am attempting to learn how to ride on 2 wheels again. I have tried this unsuccessfully twice since I stopped riding a bike the first time. On the first occasion I managed to stay upright and pedal into a lamppost. The second time I couldn’t keep the bike upright, i would go too fast too quickly, panic, and fall over. Repeatedly and on concrete. I didn’t make progress, just lost so much confidence I never wanted to try again!

Having gone through the painful experience of learning to ride the trike, I had some confidence that given enough time I can learn to ride a normal bike, even though I am much more scared of that than the 3 wheeler. With my husband as a trustworthy teacher I had my first 2 wheeler lesson yesterday. Three very smart moves – lower the seat so I can reach the ground, remove the pedals so they don’t get in the way, and practice on grass. The aim for the first lesson is just to use the bike as a scooter and learn how to use the breaks and how to stop in a controlled fashion. The lesson started much as it did the last time I tried to ride a bike. The bike tipped to the side as it moved and I fell off. Rinse, repeat. Sometimes it stayed upright and then I would tend to go left, panic when getting close to a hedge, and brake too hard. The bike would tip and I’d fall off. Repeat several times. Eventually though I did start stay upright, learnt to be more gentle on the brakes, and come to a controlled stop without falling off. The biggest surprise for me was that I could stop the bike without putting my feet down or falling off. I had thought that I would fall over as soon as the bike stopped, I didn’t realise that I cold actually stay upright whilst stopped, without my feet on the ground. That alone has improved my confidence, the fear that I will fall in the road at junctions has lessened!

Today I’m expecting to do lesson 2 and 3 – steering, gears, and pedalling. The fact that my pedals are clip-in will certainly be an additional challenge!

Specific details of the lesson can be found here on Phil’s blog.

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