With the excitement in our house over Pat’s ride yesterday, some readers may have also spotted the fact that I wasn’t there until it ended, when I drove out to the ride site to pick her up. The fact was, I had another engagement. I was taking the on-bike part of Road 1.
Road 1 is the basic cycling skills development course offered by the League of American Bicyclists. Last month, I took the four-hour classroom part of the course. But the on-bike session was cancelled, because the instructors had conflicts. Yesterday, however, we got out there.
We met near a small cafe on Austin’s East Side. In all, the group numbered two League Certified Instructors, and a third came with his wife, who was taking the course. One young woman of about college age, one middle-aged woman who was a beginning commuter, a middle-aged man who rode a titanium Colnago, and me.
After some preliminary discussion about what would happen, we hopped on the bikes and rode to a nearby elementary school parking lot. The drills we did ran from simple to challenging. We rode between rows of half tennis balls, keeping the bike on a stable course. We “scanned” back, looking for an instructor holding one, both or no arms in the air, and called out what we saw — without letting our bikes swerve to the left. We slalomed (“swooped” they called it) our bikes through a tight course to get the feel for steering by leaning one way or the other. “Ride the way a kid would ride,” one instructor said. It works. We made quick stops with just the rear brake, both brakes, and with our butts hanging off the back of the saddle. We practiced “instant right turns” — the kind of maneuver a biker would have to make if a car suddenly did a right turn in front of him. It went well, although the commuter was less confident about her bike handling ability than the rest of us.
Then it was out on the road. The lead instructor had come up with a route through neighborhoods and downtown Austin. Each of us took turns as the lead rider, with one of the instructors right behind. They were actually “grading” us throughout the ride. We were evaluated on such things as correct lane position, signaling, stopping at stop signs (I got dinged because I didn’t leave my saddle at one stop), etc. The ride was a good mix of quiet residential streets, frontage roads along freeways, crowded downtown thorofares, and poorly maintained streets through industrial areas. One lead rider was stopped at a light, in the left lane, ready to make a left turn onto the freeway access. A car on her right jumped ahead when the light changed and did a left turn, cutting her off. She had to do the same kind of quick stop we had just practiced in the parking lot. The commuter lady was afraid to get into the left lane for left turns, and rode through downtown doing “box left” turns — where the rider stays in the right lane, crosses the intersection, then stops, lifts the bike to face left, and proceeds when the stoplight turns green. At one point, we had to negotiate railroad tracks that crossed the street on a tight diagonal, by turning our bikes to cross the tracks at right angles. (These are the same railroad tracks, by the way, where Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Austin broke his leg last week when he tried to cross them on his bike.)
Then it was back to the cafe starting point, where we had to change our “flat” rear tires. Messy work, and although I had brought an old towel to wipe my hands with, it was in the car a block away, so I was unable to use it. The session capped off with the instructors giving us some verbal feedback — they’ll mail detailed critiques later — and we went our separate ways.
So, what’s my assessment of Road 1? I think every new biker should take it — or something like it. It’s all about building skills, and that’s always valuable. On the downside, it was pretty long (8 a.m.-1 p.m.), although since I was watching the clock in order to leave to pick up Pat from her ride in time, I may have been more sensitive to the length. Our ride through town covered maybe five miles, at speeds of no more than 10 mph — and that was hit only a few times. I learned how to “bunny hop” the bike, but more importantly, I did have a great opportunity to practice important riding skills, and I do believe the experience boosted my confidence in certain biking situations.
No pictures from the session, unfortunately. I brought my camera, but the battery had died. This video from YouTube gives a pretty good idea of the kind of parking lot drills we did Saturday.