As any of my regular readers will know I like to join in with an organised bike ride. I do not have a bike of my own anymore so cannot go out a cycle ride by myself. These rides I have joined in with through The Active Travel Hub in Ayr are run by paid staff but often rides can rely on volunteers to both head up the group and/or for somebody to go at the back.
There are a lot of initiatives out there currently to get people fitter and one of the ways this can be done is through cycling. Many employers do bike to work schemes and you can sign up and get a bike tax free through your wages.
We live rural and do not have any local cycle paths but there had been plans in place to link us with the next two rural villages over but this has been delayed currently. Currently any children doing Bikeability in the local schools has to go onto 60mph country roads. I had seen a shout over the Summer last year for people who might be interested in becoming a volunteer cycle ride leader to work with local groups both adult and youth groups and accompany them on rides. This scheme is done through the South Ayrshire Council’s Community Learning and Development Team and the bikes were funded by Ayrshire LEADER, who are a rural funding body. Part of this initiative has bought eight bikes for each of the three local rural villages and the plan is to get groups out cycling and becoming healthier. Cycling. like walking, has many positive impacts both mental and physical. The more people we can get out cycling the bigger our argument for the cycle paths.
So having signed up for this scheme and the training that goes along with it last week I found myself on the cycle ride leader training course. This course was organised and evaluated through Cycling Scotland . I have done a maintenance class with them late last year.
So what did the day consist of?
The day was outlined first and then we all got to introduce ourselves and say where we were from and why we had came. A lot of the people knew each other through their work. The were only two volunteers the rest were there through their work.
We had been asked to download the essential cycling skills app and work our way through it. It got me thinking about things I had never given much thought to before. I have cycled for as long as I can remember and I do recall doing my cycling proficiency at school but that was a looooonnnnngggg time ago. I grew up cycling on roads both is busy cities as well as traffic free RAF bases. My children all grew up cycling, even my epileptic daughter had her own bike.
So we discussed the app and how we found it, I did find the later end of it did not load correctly and the diagrams did not always come up but that is a known glitch.
So our next stage was looking at the bikes we were going to be using, and doing what is called an M check on them.. When we are working with a group we will get the cyclist to check over their own bike, we then have a quick check, and then if they are happy they sign paper work to say they are happy with it. This is placing the onus on the owner with us doing a quick check just to be sure. We can at this point if need be blow up a tyre, or adjust a brake or adjust their seat height.
We then took our bikes and went out into the car park and this lesson was about us assessing how well and how confidently the service users can use a bike. This part of the lesson could take weeks in reality to work through depending on the ability level of our pupils.
This part of the lesson is not only about the cycling ability but also the ability to listen to instructions and comply with them. We need to be confident that when out on the road in amongst traffic that we will be listened to to be confident that they will be safe on the road.
We played games, we cycled through cones, and ran over cones, we raced to see who could come last which requires good control of the bike and helps with balance. I won the game similar to musical chairs except we had to cycle to a cone when the instruction was given, last person to reach a cone was out. They then got to remove a cone and shout the instruction. Again this was following instructions, bike control while watching what was happening (and which cone was being removed), all good skills to have on the road. We also cycled round and had to high 5 the instructor as we went past, this lets us see people can indicate safely.
We then went for a short cycle round the village for the instructor to teach us a few skills for on the road that helps keep a group safe. One such skill is "doubling up".We were numbered 1,2,1,2 and when the instruction to double uo is given the two's go to the outside and the ones stay in. I am sure you have been stuck behind a group of cyclists where they are riding two abreast. This is not just to be awkward and stop you getting past. By doubling up approaching brows of hills and upcoming bends it is preventing you from overtaking, If the group were in single file and you attempted to overtake you can well cause an accident. When the road level out there is a shout of singles from the leader in front and the ones stay where they are and the twos slip back in between them. The idea is to have as many instructors as no twos so they are protecting the children.
The other idea we were taught was "snaking". You always have two main leaders one front and one back, they are in charge and give the instructions. Snaking is used for busier junctions where you are crossing from a side road onto a main road. You have worked out in your planning stage where these points are on your route. The front leader indicates to turn right and the rest who are in single file signal and move across to the correct position. At this point the back leader moves up the inside of them and stops at the junction. This person is responsible for ensuring everybody gets across the main road safely by waving them out when you have a gap. Hopefully once the first members of the group are out there will be a place they can stop at the side of the road until everybody is out. They should be using the universal slowing down sign to indicate their intentions to other road users. I really like these ideas.
Planing the ride
So we went back and had a working lunch. We had to plan our big ride for after lunch. It was not overly big as rides go 6.7 miles but it let us put into practise what we had learnt in the morning. We were split into groups of two and each given a section of the ride to lead. I was a back leader for the last part.
We had to write out a plan on where we were going, what hazards we could perceive and how we would deal with them. Our section required us to do snaking, but I knew there was a lay by opposite the junction and the group would pull in there. The route we were cycling was on 60 mph roads and we will never be doing this with children as this training course only allows us 30mph and cycle paths with the possibility if need be of crossing over by walking bikes across a faster road.
Sadly the route they took us was very steep for the first nearly two mile section. I knew at this point I would seriously struggle as I am not overly fit. I did think about calling it a day at that point and walking away from the day but I decided no if I was going to fail the course then I would fail it because I could not do it.
I was right, some of it was very steep and I got off the bike and pushed, I was not the only one. We learnt other techniques here, stopping the group to have a chat, this allows people to get their breath back and allows you to engage with the user group. Arrived at the top of the hill totally knackered, but I did arrive at the top of the hill, and managed the rest of the ups and downs with some puffing at panting but no more stopping. I did managed to do the 6.7 mile route.
I know I had held the group up and did wonder about my ability to be a leader. But it was not a route I am happy to cycle on and certainly not a road I would feel happy taking groups of children on but that was a testing route chosen specifically for us adults as a learning curve.The simple answer to this one is if they were ever looking for volunteers to cycle this route I would not be putting my name forward for it.
So what did I think of the course?
Have to say I enjoyed the course, I learnt a lot from it, including the fact that I am not fit, which I know anyway, but more importantly road positioning, reading a road and doubling up when necessary, learnt how to double up and drop back to single and how to get a group out safely onto a busy road. Feel at nearly sixty years old it is maybe time to invest in an electric bike.
I do enjoy the rides I do with the women's group much more than I enjoyed this ride, but the ride with them is more a leisurely wander chatting as we go which is as social as it is physical and much less steep and hilly.
So I did think I can go a few different ways with this; a) give it up entirely and cycle no more b) stick to the less stressful routes or c) get a bike and get out there and get fitter. I might even consider an electric bike.
Maybe time I invested in a bike and found somewhere to keep it in Ayr and go out on it regularly.Or get one for the shed and cycle the back road seeing how far I get around here and build up my stamina and distance. I know when I first used a bike in and around Ayr about .ten years ago, first time in about twenty years I had cycled, there were certain parts I could not get up without stopping more than once but every time I got a bit further until eventually I made it without stopping. But I turn sixty this year.
Putting the training into practise
So since the training day I have been along to volunteer with a group of children. We had an experienced leader who was hilarious and the kids really liked him. The children we had varied in age from seven to eleven. They all could cycle quite well but none of them had their own bikes so this is where a scheme like this comes in, getting them out.
The route we took with these children was just a short route, we were out for approx 45 minutes. probably no more than half a mile away from the centre at any time.
We did a square round a very quiet street, then we walked them across the main road and up a farm path. Two of the girls said they would never make it, but as there was always a leader behind them then nobody got left behind. They all made the uphill and some struggled a bit more on the downhill section as it was rutted from where the tractors have gone down the road in the mud when it was wet. One girl ended up with a foot in a puddle when one of the others in front of her had stopped suddenly as he was going to fall off.
We then took them into a wooded area to have a look, and let them stop for a breather and some off bike time. Most of them chose to take off their helmets and scramble up and down a steep hill, some using a fallen tree to pull themselves up on and others just enjoying the challenge of the climb.
The Leader showed them a bit here he use to cycle down, a steep slope approx 12 feet high that seemed much higher when you sat on your bike up there. The other two leaders showed them the best method for coming down the slope and allowed them to make up their own mind if they wanted to do it. Two of the six children braved it with one girl going twice as she really enjoyed it. All part of the learning curve to challenge themselves and see what they can achieve.
|a dog wanders through the pile of bikes we were using.|
They decided next time they might come this way first as there is a path to where this section joins to the village so safe for them. Instructions were not on the road. They talked about bringing some chocolate and mallows the next time for the kids and a means to melt the chocolate.
These children got out for an afternoon of fun, enough cycling they enjoyed it with stops every couple of hundred yards for a catch up with the back markers and a breather and a chat and laughs. They all said they enjoyed themselves and can't wait for the next one.