Aasma Day discovers it’s never too late to learn new skills when she takes part in an adult cycle course for absolute beginners.
The saying goes that you never forget how to ride a bike.
Which is all very well if you actually knew how to ride one in the first place – which I definitely didn’t.
It’s easy for people to say you need to get back in the saddle, but if you’ve never perched on a bicycle saddle, it can be a daunting prospect once you’ve entered adulthood.
I managed to bypass the whole of childhood without learning to ride one. And after a while, you reach the stage where the moment passes and you resign yourself to the fact that there are some things in life that you will never master.
Or so I thought.
I never owned a bike when I was younger so missed out completely on learning to ride one before whizzing up and down the pavement terrorising pedestrians.
On a few occasions, I attempted to ride bikes belonging to friends, but not being able to balance terrified me and I quickly jumped straight back off.
Being a bikeless adult who has no idea how to ride one honestly never bothered me – but my husband and children have spent the last few years trying to persuade me to learn so I can join them on family bike jaunts.
“Uh uh” said I. “No way am I learning to ride a bike at my age!”
I was convinced that children have this amazing reckless ability where fear of falling doesn’t bother them and that as an adult with plenty of fear factor, I would find it impossible to learn how to ride a bike.
I also didn’t fancy walking around with scabby knees – an endearing look when you’re five – but not so attractive when you’re 37.
So adamant was I that I wasn’t going to learn to cycle, I even wrote a column for the paper vaunting all the reasons why learning to ride a bike was just not a good idea for me and how I was surviving perfectly well without this skill thank you very much.
And that’s when the trouble started.
Lancashire County Council read my column and contacted me telling me that they offer free cycle training to adults working with their partner organisation Go Velo.
After telling me that the training was suitable for all levels of cyclists – including absolute beginners like me – the council told me that the training could be carried out on either a one-to-one basis or in a small group and invited me to try out the training.
My husband and children thought it was a great idea and so did my bosses who I think were secretly hoping for video footage and photographs of me falling off a bike and landing flat on my face.
And so it was that rather unwillingly and apprehensively, I turned up to Garstang County Primary School to meet my cycling tutor for my first lesson in the playground.
Any fears I met melted away upon meeting my instructor Philip Riley, who instantly put me at my ease and didn’t make me feel stupid at all for not knowing how to do something that comes so naturally to most people.
And right from the start, he was extremely encouraging and convinced me that I would be able to cycle.
Philip, 69, who lives in Forton, near Garstang, is a retired barrister and is married to Fiona and has three children and two grandchildren.
He says: “I have always been involved in cycling and joined Garstang Cycling Club about 13 years ago and am the current chairman of the club.
“I wanted to use my retirement usefully and I did the Cycling Instructor Course with British Cycling in 2010.
“I started with Go Velo about two years ago working with Bikeability in schools and I now work with adults.
“I just enjoy the satisfaction of getting people out on the road, teaching them how to cycle and building up their confidence and seeing them improve. It is about decreasing the miles they do by car and increasing their cycling miles.
“The youngest ages I have taught to ride a bike are children aged around five or six and the eldest was a 68-year-old woman.
“Both sets of people have never ridden a bike before and it was about teaching them balance before developing their skills and giving them the confidence to go out on the road.”
Knowing I wasn’t the oldest cycling beginner Philip had taught made me feel a bit better and after explaining the mechanics of a bike and the safety checks necessary before mounting one, Philip took off the pedals of the bike he provided for me to learn on and had me practicing how to “glide” up and down the pavement to learn the art of balancing. Although this bemused me at first as when I was younger, I had seen friends learn to ride bikes after first using stabiliser wheels and then gradually being weaned off them.
But after spending my first lesson gliding up and down the playground, I soon realised the “balance bike” style of learning was a lot better as instead of giving you a false sense of security, it builds up your balance gradually.
After my first two-hour lesson, I realised that riding a bike makes you hurt!
After using muscles that had probably hadn’t been used before in my life, I was stiff and achy all over the following morning and spent the next few days walking like John Wayne.
However, things were a lot better after my second lesson and this time, I didn’t feel any adverse after effects. After seeing a huge improvement in my balance and gliding skills, Philip decided to put the pedals back on the bike and encourage me to have a go pedalling it.
After a few false starts, I was off and I found myself incredulously thinking: “I’m actually doing it! I’m riding a bike!”
It was an exhilarating feeling and it was wonderful to be able to do something I had honestly thought I just did not have the balance for.
Since then, Philip has been building on my cycling skills and has taught me how to turn corners, stop smoothly at required points, change gears and learn how to signal and look out for other road users.
He has been an excellent teacher and I am very grateful to him, Go Velo and Lancashire County Council. Philip says: “It is nice to see the smiles on people’s faces when they succeed in mastering cycling.”
Kindly, he adds: “Aasma was a very enthusiastic, keen and determined pupil and I enjoyed teaching her.”
My next hurdle is to leave the safe confines of the playground kindly loaned to learner cyclists by Garstang County Primary School and overcome my fear of getting out on the road. But for now, I am thrilled to actually be able to ride a bike and have even bought one to keep practicing on - although I don’t think I’ll be doing the Guild Wheel just yet.
I have learnt one very important lesson though.
You’re never too old to learn to ride a bike.
GO VELO is contracted by Lancashire County Council to offer training to adults and six hours of lessons are free.
There are training courses for those who want to learn to ride a bike; those who want to develop confidence on a bike; confident cyclists who want to learn further skills and cycle maintenance.
Courses are open to everyone who lives, works or attends education and training in Lancashire, aged 15 and above.
The following areas are within the Lancashire area: Lancaster, Wyre, Ribble Valley, Pendle, Preston, Fylde, Burnley, Hyndburn, Rossendale, South Ribble, Chorley, West Lancashire.
Visit: www.govelo.co.uk/adult-cycle-training-lancashire or call: 01282 787386