Teaching Urban Cycling Techniques: Day 1

Day’s Verse:
I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.

Job 19:25

Bike HandleYesterday I co-taught the first half of my first-ever Traffic Skills 101 class. Cascade Bicycle Club calls it Urban Cycling Techniques. To prepare, I diligently reviewed the materials I received during my instructor training and last weekend I practiced the bike handling skills we’d teach this weekend.

Not that I didn’t need to do all that; the review did help keep the material fresh in my mind. But my co-teacher, Ellen Aagaard, runs such a laid-back, easygoing class that if I needed to refer to my notes or the book, that wasn’t really a problem. I liked how Ellen ran the class as a discussion, soliciting most of the information and ideas from the students. I’ve learned quite a bit having watched her interaction with the students. She listens respectfully and makes it clear that the students’ ideas are very important. The class ran over by an hour (!), and a couple people had to leave before then, but everybody stayed engaged and interested, even though it was after lunch and the after-lunch sleepies set in.

Yesterday we spent most of the day in the classroom. After introductions where students talked about their experience and what they want to get from the class, we talked about bike fit and parts of the bike. Then we moved outside to do the ABC Quick Check (despite having said to bring “a bike in working order that you’re familiar with,” people brought bikes they’d just bought the week before, bikes with brakes so badly damaged as to require replacing, etc. I suspect this is normal). Because some of the students’ bikes required adjusting or quick fixes, we split up: Ellen took care of those little emergencies, and I led the rest of the class to the parking lot, set up the course, and started going over starting and stopping. Unfortunately, the parking lot we agreed to meet at happened to also have a marching band practicing there — something Ellen had never had happen before. Once Ellen and the rest of the class met up with us, we picked up the course and moved to another parking lot farther away from the marching band. This weekend also happens to be the annual FlorAbundance plant sale for the Arboretum Foundation, which means that there’s a lot more traffic and a lot fewer open parking lots than usual at Magnuson Park.

That aside, we found a parking lot that was sparsely populated enough that I only had to kick one driver out. He parked in the middle of the course. I felt that Ellen and I worked together really well particularly outside; while she instructed, I set up; then while I demonstrated and led off the practice, she observed the students’ technique. I think we kept dead time to a minimum, although setting up/taking down the course and transitions did kill more time than I would like. On the way back, one of the students dropped her chain as we rode up a little hill, so I stopped with her and we talked about why chains fall off and how to shift. Then we walked back down the hill and rode up again, this time in the right gear. The student was amazed at how much easier it was to ride up a hill in the right gear. She’s an urban planner doing pedestrian and bike infrastructure, but had hardly ridden a bike in all these years. I hope the class gives her a different perspective on riding and what infrastructure supports safe cycling.

Anyway, everybody got cold standing around in the wind, so we decided to stay inside the rest of the day. We talked about bike gear — a topic that always interests people — and then moved on to the real meat of the class: Rights and responsibilities of cyclists; how to ride safely, courteously, and legally on the road; lane positioning and where to put yourself in different situations; all the stuff that’s different between riding a bicycle and driving a car. Generally if you ride your bike the same way you’d drive your car, you’ll do the right thing, but you have to make different decisions at some times because you’re so much smaller than a car. That was the part that went way over time. People wanted to talk about personal scenarios: “I have this one intersection…” or “What if…”

Today we’re doing the avoidance techniques — the avoidance weave, the rock dodge, and the quick stop; instant turn is off the menu, since these are such new, shaky students — followed by an in-classroom discussion of what causes crashes and crash avoidance, and then the road ride, where students practice everything they learned. At least, that’s the plan. As I learned yesterday, anything could happen. We’ll be flexible and make sure the students get the most out of it, no matter what we do.

The weather calls for partly sunny skies, light winds, and temperatures around 60°F, but right now it’s 47°F and quite cloudy. I may wear my jacket just in case.

All in all, yesterday was a wonderful redeeming experience after the fateful LCI Seminar I helped co-teach back in February, and it makes me think that maybe I do want to teach more of these classes now and then.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.