My employer (a well known ambulance service) has started offering free cycling lessons to staff, provided by our local friendly cycle responders. Obviously I snapped up a place on the “Confident Cyclist” course. Nothing makes you feel more confident about getting on a contraption than having a medically qualified person chasing you around.
I was rather excited to get on a nee naw bike, which is a customised Specialized mountain bike (it is painted green and yellow but doesn’t have an actual siren unfortunately). I’m told these things are a bugger to ride once they have all the kit on because they are so heavy but without the kit it was actually very comfortable and felt quite similar to my own chunky hybrid (which is a Scott Sub Comfort). The main difference was that you changed gears by pressing a button. I liked this better than the twisty thing on my bike.
Mr Bicycle Paramedic tried to get me to ride the nee naw contraption up and down the ambulance garage but it was a bit of a tight space and I got a bit of performance anxiety so we went out on the roads instead. I did not tell him about my triathlon ambitions because a) I thought he would boggle at the fact that someone absolutely terrified of bicycles was willingly paying to ride one at high speed in public view b) I won’t be doing a triathlon for at least seven months and need to concentrate on the goal of actually using the bike as a mode of transport and not just riding in circles round Tottenham Marshes.
We did about fifty-nine thousand laps of some quiet Waterloo back streets, during which I practiced my left signal (fine) and my right signal (a bit wobbly). Both contraption riding and swimming have taught me that I am not as ambidextrous as I used to think I was. I can write legibly with my left hand and never know which hand is which anyway, but I now realise that my right side is a lot stronger and better coordinated for big movements than my left. Anyway Mr Bicycle Paramedic was quite positive about my cycling! He said I was “fine once I got moving”, “good at positioning” and “not as wobbly as other people with your levels of anxiety”. He gave me some useful tips about my dealings with motorists. I learnt that I am inadvertently letting them walk all over me by getting out of their way or slowing down when they approach, anticipating the worst, and instead I should stand my ground and not give them room to pass me if it was too tight. Same with pedestrians who walk out in the road – do not stop pedalling and do not brake, instead go straight at them and they will move. (Obviously I will not try this if they have headphones on and are engrossed in Pokemon Go.)
For the final part of the session we went up the cycle lane to Blackfriars Bridge and back. Although it’s completely segregated from traffic, it is very busy with bikes and kamikaze pedestrians and crosses a few junctions so this was quite nerve-wracking but actually it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was quite exciting being on the actual bridge, looking out over the Thames, actually cycling in Central London! The worst bit was crossing The Cut – the traffic lights said that I could go but there was so much traffic pointed at me in all directions and I wanted to look all around and be absolutely sure that nothing was coming at me but of course that wasn’t practical and I just had to put my faith in the traffic light and plunge ahead. I didn’t die. I was amazed at how quickly the other cyclists reacted at the lights and how close they all got to each other when stopped. I stopped well back! I wonder if I will ever get to be one of those confident cyclists who don’t even think about these things?
We got back to Waterloo in one piece although I did draw the line at cycling across Waterloo Road. Maybe that will be my target next time. I am allowed as many lessons as I need, although the next might not be for a while as there won’t be any over the winter – apparently not all cyclists are idiots in vests who enjoy cycling in the ice and snow. Come to think of it I don’t think me, snow and a contraption is a great combination, even with a qualified paramedic present.