Whether you’re a new or experienced cyclist, CyclingSavvy classes can teach you confidence

May 22, 2017 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

Originally published in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

CyclingSavvy instructors help guide participants at the parking lot bike handling skills session.

With more drivers, and more distracted drivers than ever, riding a bicycle in traffic can be frightening. So here’s my plug: getting around town on a bike is possible in almost any setting, especially with good safety training. And there’s no better resource for building the confidence and skills of riders – both experienced and less-experienced – than CyclingSavvy, a three-part national course that’s offered in southern Maine during the warmer months.

I knew it was for me as soon as I read this on the website before my first class a few years ago:

I run into plenty of people, including experienced cyclists, who like to bike but only in locations that are almost or completely separated from cars, say mountain biking on rugged off-road trails, the early Sunday morning spandex crew racing along back roads before anyone else is up, or riders of all ages – seniors and their friends, families with children and young hipsters – who stick to a local bike path.

“Some people think of bicycling on roads as a kind of ‘war’ between cyclists and motorists. This is driven by stories of conflict that we all hear, and sometimes tell, both as cyclists and motorists, and it’s reinforced by media stories – leading to fear and alienation,” John Brooking, a nationally trained CyclingSavvy instructor who lives in Westbrook, told me recently.

CyclingSavvy can help cyclists overcome their fear of riding in traffic, so that they can be comfortable riding to all the vibrant places in their communities that require taking roads and streets to reach. For me, these are the ordinary but essential places like my daughter’s school, a meetup at a coffee shop across town, the park, the homes of friends, the hardware store, our Quaker meeting, Portland’s monthly First Friday Art Walks.

“At CyclingSavvy, we prefer the metaphor of riding in traffic as ‘a dance’ the bicyclist must lead,” Brooking said. “Driving any kind of vehicle in traffic involves negotiation, ideally according to consistent rules that everyone follows. Bicycling is basically safe, even in traffic; imagine how many crashes don’t happen every day despite bad bicyclist behavior. With legal and predictable cyclist behavior and communicating with motorists, it’s even safer.”

Dianne Ballon, a sound artist who lives in Portland, can attest to the effectiveness of the course. “What I absolutely loved was the confidence CyclingSavvy gave me to ride in the city with lots of cars,” she said.

Ballon sold her bike when she moved from the Belgrade Lakes region to the city in 2012, thinking there was no way she could ride on busy urban streets. She missed riding though, so decided to check out CyclingSavvy.

Ballon said she appreciated the classroom session that used science and geometry to explain safe and legal ways to operate a bike in traffic and enjoyed the bike-handling skills session held in an empty parking lot. “I loved learning how to maneuver my own body and bike and think fast and handle things like potholes in the road,” Ballon said.

The third and final session, aimed at putting everything together, is called, a little tongue-in-cheek, the Tour de Portland. Instructors lead students on a bike tour of the city’s streets that intentionally includes challenges that typically intimidate cyclists, such as intersections, interchanges and bridges. The instructors and students ride as a group, stopping to look at each new stretch. After discussing the best strategy for safe, easy passage, the students ride through individually, then regroup with an instructor on the other side to review their experience.

“There was one point where we came to a really busy intersection,” Ballon said, “and I didn’t have the courage at the time to take the lane and make the turn myself. So one of the instructors came with me. That’s the beauty of it: they are thoughtful and will work with you so that you gain the confidence to be able to do this on your own.”

If you’re already biking on city streets without having taken the class, how much more can you really learn? After I finished my first session, I was amazed at how much it turned out I didn’t know, even though I’d taken another safety class some years before and I commute regularly by bike.

Portland resident Craig Bramley participated in the course with his two daughters, ages 16 and 12, at the beginning of last summer. “I was comfortable riding in traffic, and I also mountain bike, which is good bike-handling training,” Bramley said, “but the class definitely empowered me to take control of my own safety where I hadn’t before.”

All three Bramleys completed the parking lot practice session. “It was great for the girls,” Bramley said. “Clear instruction and an ability to work up to a higher level as the class progressed. They’ll use those techniques for a lifetime.”

Bramley and his older daughter also took the classroom portion. “As a high school student, she really got a sense for how cars and bikes should interact on the road, with clearer explanations of complex situations than I could come up with as a parent,” Bramley said.

After they’d finished the classes, Bramley and his older daughter rode together many times over the summer. “I was a lot more comfortable riding with her on the street, because we had done this,” he said. “She was, too.”

Not a cyclist? CyclingSavvy is useful for motorists, too. “As a driver I am much more aware of bicyclists now,” Ballon said, “and understand better what they are doing to operate legally and safely.” (And keep in mind that most cyclists also drive cars.)

That understanding goes both ways. “I work in Lewiston looking over Canal Street, which is one-way, and see cyclists riding against traffic,” Bramley said. “It’s terrifying.”

Everyone I interviewed for this story recommended that anyone who rides a bike should take the course. I’ve been doing my CyclingSavvy classes in installments and haven’t yet completed the city tour ride. Each session I’ve done has only improved my riding and made me feel safer out on the road. Now is my chance to graduate – I hope to see you in class.

LEARNING TO BE A SAVVY CYCLER

PEOPLE come from all across New England to take these classes. It’s worth the trip.

JUNE 3: Truths & Techniques classroom session, 9 a.m.-noon, 34 Preble St., Portland. Train Your Bike parking lot session, 1-4 p.m., 150 Waterman St., South Portland.

JUNE 4: Tour, 1-4:30 p.m., 150 Waterman St., South Portland.

YOU MUST complete the classroom and parking lot sessions before you can take the final on-road session. The Train Your Bike and Tour classes require that you have both a bike and a helmet.

TO REGISTER go to “Northern New England” at cyclingsavvy.org.

 

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Entry filed under: Active Transportation, Safe Routes to School, Transportation Demand Management.

April 29, June 3 & 4: Your Chance to Feel Confident Riding a Bike in Traffic!

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