Fear, be gone!

Student practicing the quick stop

At the end of September I took Cascade’s Urban Cycling Techniques class at Magnuson Park. As a new employee and novice bike commuter, I thought it would help to learn the skills necessary to ride safely and confidently on my city’s streets and bike paths.

Plus, I’ll admit it: I was getting scared. In my first month on the job at Cascade, I’ve heard stories about wipeouts, near misses, full-on crashes and other bicycling mishaps. Here I am, charged with the task of writing about all things bicycle, and part of me was suddenly hesitant to jump on my own set o’ wheels.

Within moments of the start of class, I learned that I was not alone. As students introduced themselves around the table, safety and confidence came up again and again as reasons for enrolling in Urban Cycling Techniques. (It is perhaps no surprise that all but one of us were women, a demographic that generally reports safety as a major barrier to bicycling.)

Aurilee recently started bike commuting and finds it scary.

Theresa, who lives in downtown Seattle, said she wants to learn to get around her neighborhood “without getting killed.”

And Lori, who was rear-ended by a car when bicycling four years ago, wants to build the confidence to climb back in the saddle.

We urban cyclists were in the right place!

The goal of Urban Cycling Techniques is to teach bicyclists to interact positively and safely with urban traffic, so we can ride through intersections, coexist with cars and otherwise assertively negotiate the city jungle. The class—I have to say—was a fun, encouraging and informative way to learn the basics.

There was a classroom portion, in which we:

  • * Watched instructive (and goofy) movies.
  • * Boned up on basic riding principles, traffic laws, new traffic infrastructure, gears and more.
  • * Used miniature bikes, jeeps and vans to practice decision-making on the road (represented by intersections drawn on big pieces of white paper).
  • * Learned how to stay safe and avoid crashes.
  • * Ate cookies.

Then there were activities outside, including:

  • * Safety drills in the parking lot: the rock dodge, instant turn (tricky, but a good challenge) and quick stop, among others.
  • * A long ride through town, practicing left turns, lane positioning and signaling.

The outdoor exercises challenged my comfort level, for sure, but there’s something about facing your fears and practicing new skills that’s very empowering.

Confidently making a left turn

And one part of class reassured me immensely.

Instructors Ellen and Katie led us through an exercise to demonstrate the causes of bike crashes. The culminating message was this: when cyclists learn and employ safe bicycling techniques, they can control and therefore steer clear of 80 percent of all crashes! In our very uncertain world, that’s A LOT that we can control.

So there it is: One weekend of cycle education plus one comforting statistic, and I’m feeling—no, I actually AM—safer on my bike already.

I wholeheartedly recommend Urban Cycling Techniques for anyone seeking to feel confident on the road while maximizing the fun and freedom your bike affords you. Check it out.

Urban Cycling Techniques is held, generally, once a month in Seattle—with occasional classes outside the city. See our calendar for more information and to register. (Cascade members get a discount!) And let us know if you’d be interested in Urban Cycling Techniques coming to Bellevue, Burien, Redmond, Tacoma or the Kitsap peninsula—just call Robin at (206) 446-7457.