Learning to ride a bike as an adult in London

With summer seemingly here (on and off at least) there have definitely been more people out on the roads on bikes, which is great! The idea of becoming a cyclist as an adult can be daunting at the best of times, and in London it can seem even worse. The problem with being an adult is you don’t bounce back quite as easily when you fall! Balance is also a little harder to learn.

I have been through this process a few times with my lovely husband. He did not ride a bike as a kid and therefore has been going through a protracted learning phase as an adult. Protracted due to not really cycling for long periods and therefore regressing a little each time.

Now my talk of cycle touring has him reinvested in becoming comfortable on a bike. A few years ago, Andreas wrote a piece about the things he learned when he became a cycle commuter. It has some great advice about the accessories you will need and the types of bikes to look at. Hopefully these tips, from experience, can add to the previous post and help people out.

Don’t feel pressure to start on the road

Pretty much regardless of where you live in London (or many other cities), you will be within somewhat easy walking distance of a park or other traffic free area. There is no need to just get on the road outside your door. Cycling off-road and away from traffic can let you focus on basic bike handling skills first, so you feel confident cycling slowly and relatively fast, as well as going in straight line, checking behind you and signalling.

Cycling across Walthamstow Marshes

If you did not learn to ride as a child, or have not ridden since your last growth spurt, you might feel a little wobbly on the bike. It will be much easier to learn to control the bike without stressing about cars. Instead, you can use natural markers such as the edge of a path to ensure you are pulling off in a straight line.

Take an understanding and helpful buddy

Most things seem better if you have someone to laugh mistakes off with, or tell you how well you are doing. When you are starting out riding you can feel very self conscious, so having a friend along for the ride (preferably someone who can already cycle confidently) really helps. They can talk you through what to do if you get into difficulty, pick you up when you fall and carry the first aid kit. 

Cycling buddy

Your buddy can also share an ice-cream with you.

You will also improve quicker if you cycle with someone who can politely point out what you could do differently and how to be more efficient in your technique. If you do take to the roads early on, a buddy in front can help you navigate tricky junctions and ensure you are in the correct place on the road.

Set yourself a fun goal

If there is no point to something other than being able to say you can do it, learning can get old pretty quick. Having some sort of tangible goal can really help you motivate yourself. This will be particularly necessary when your progression seems to plateau. You will pick up basics pretty quickly and then you will begin to feel more confident but the little fine tuning of skills is slower and less obvious and can be frustrating.

Bike in a tent

The actual goal is up to you, obviously but should be something that normally motivates you. For me it would be material because I am a bit of a gear freak. It could also be a holiday, specific trip, group ride, a fitness specific goal, whatever. My husbands specific goal is to be able to ride well enough to go on a cycle tour with me in the autumn.

Pick a reasonable bike

Andreas has gone over this one a bit, but I feel it is important to reiterate something. Learn on the bike that fits you and is well maintained. Cycling is just so much harder when the equipment isn’t right. A bike that is the wrong size will be hard to control and uncomfortable. It can also be dangerous. Likewise, slogging along on under-inflated tyres with a rusty chain is just no fun for anyone.

Hybrid bikeEastway baaw

It is also very useful to stick to the same bike throughout the process. This way you are learning the mechanics of riding without the complication of a different set up. When you are confident  you can handle a bike properly, then you can start switching up bikes. Doing it before that is just making your life harder than it needs to be.

If you want to cycle around town and for general fitness, then a hybrid is a great type of bike. This is actually a very broad category and generally contains something for most riding styles. This article from last year provides a good overview to the different bike types and their uses. Ultimately there is no ‘right bike’ for London – you should ride whatever suits you best and you feel most comfortable on.

Take lessons

If you want to get up to speed quickly and or are hoping to become a full time cycle commuter then is it definitely worth looking into cycle training. You can get free one-2-one training sessions through Cycle Confident or TFL These sessions teach you how to ride on the roads and how to develop your hazard perception and avoidance techniques. They are even beneficial to people who have been cycling their whole life – Andreas and I have both taken them recently.

Do you have any tips for new cyclists? Share your knowledge in the comments below!

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5 Responses to Learning to ride a bike as an adult in London

  1. Phil 07/06/2016 at 11:05 pm #

    I teach adults to ride a bike here in Newcastle upon Tyne at Recyke y’bike.
    For absolute beginners we drop the seat down so riders can put feet flat on the ground and remove the pedals so they concentrate only on balance. Just like an adult balance bike. Works a treat with 100% success.
    Phil

    • David Knowles 11/06/2016 at 4:46 pm #

      More people should ride the Electra bike range.A lot of their bikes enable you to have full extension of the leg,but you are also able to have your feet firmly on the ground.That is why their ladies Townie bicycle is the best selling bike in the USA!

  2. Ted 10/06/2016 at 4:39 pm #

    Your adapting the bike for learner riders is such an excellent technique. Great teaching idea!

  3. Peter K 19/06/2016 at 8:16 am #

    I teach adults in London.
    I find many beginners want to make the bike go straight.
    The bike needs to wobble to balance.

    Once they get more relaxed and stop fighting it the bike does the balancing (this is the origin of the “you won’t forget once you’ve learnt to ride a bike” bit)

  4. kesani devadas 07/08/2016 at 5:19 am #

    Thank you for this article! I have been going for lessons via my Borough in London and while me teacher is really patient, encouraging and good, I am still struggling to learn to balance. From your article it seems like I’m doing 2 things incorrectly – not using the same bike to practice (we generally use the for – hire bikes}. I’ve also been going every other weekend and as a result, regress from one session to another. I’m quite tough on myself and think I’m putting too much pressure on myself “get it”. Do you have any further advice for me please?

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