Alicia's story - teaching an adult to ride a bike

Julie teaching Alicia to ride a bike
Alicia rides unaided for the very first time.
Is it ever too late to learn to ride a bike? Definitely not, as Alicia recently found out when she asked Cycling UK Cycle Instructor Julie Rand for help. Alicia has wanted to learn to cycle for nearly 30 years.

Now a grandmother, with a daughter and grandchildren living in Copenhagen, she decided it was now or never....

Barriers to cycling

So, why had she not learnt to ride before? Like many women around the world, it was down to lack of opportunity and encouragement. She had grown up as one of 13 brothers and sisters in Colombia, South America. There simply wasn't the money or time for cycling. Not only that, cycling was not thought to be a suitable activity for girls, so there were cultural barriers as well. 

After marrying her British husband and moving to the UK some decades ago, Alicia had tried to learn to ride so she could accompany her husband - a cyclist himself - and her daughter on bike rides, instead of always being left behind. However, her husband's attempts to teach her had ended in failure and damaged her confidence further. But she at least had a bike of her own - and her desire to master riding it was as strong as ever.

Getting started

Cycling UK Cycle Instructor Julie Rand has lots of experience teaching both children and adults, so after a reassuring chat with Alicia it was time to get started.

As with teaching a child to ride, the easiest way is to break the process down into several basic steps and getting the trainee to master each one before moving on to the next - that way confidence is built up slowly and surely. However, children tend to pick up balancing fairly quickly whereas an adult learner may have had a crash as a child that put them off cycling, or they may have already tried and failed to ride unaided. It is essential that progress is made at the learner's own pace, no matter how slow that might be. 

First of all, before Alicia went anywhere near the bike, Julie checked that her clothing was suitable and that her trainer laces wouldn't get caught in the chain. She chose not to wear a helmet but had she done so, Julie would have checked that it fitted and was adjusted correctly - and most importantly, that she knew how to do that herself.

Next, we looked at her bike and I showed her how to perform an 'M' check to make sure the tyres, the brakes, the chain and the frame were all in good working order. As the bike was new and had hardly been ridden, it passed with flying colours. 

Next, we made sure that the bike fitted her well and she could reach the brake levers comfortably. We decided to put the saddle down as low as it could go so she could put both feet firmly on the ground - this helps novices feel more confident, although it should be raised again later on when they are pedalling unaided. It also helps with learning to get on and off by swinging the leg over the saddle whilst holding the brake levers on, which means the bike doesn't wobble or fall over.

Next, Julie made sure Alicia herself was well and had no physical or psychological problems that could interfere with the training. "I'm very nervous", she confessed, but Julie explained that she would be fine.

Scooting and stopping                                                                                                             

Then it was time to find a quiet spot in the large car park and get Alicia to start scooting the bike. But before that, Julie made sure she knew how to stop by showing her how to squeeze the brake levers gently - both at the same time. Julie didn't bother to take the pedals off as she could tell straight away that she had good natural balance and it wouldn't be long before she could start pedalling. 

After a few goes at 'walking' the bike up and down like a hobby horse, Alicia began to be able to pick her feet up off the ground and go a little further each time. The gently sloping gradient of the car park helped but Julie occasionally nudged the bike from behind, as the slower you go, the harder it is to balance a bike!

It was the end of the first lesson - as it's important to stop before the rider is tired or getting frustrated.

Perfecting pedalling

The next day, we continued with scooting and stopping practice - Alicia was feeling much more confident than the day before and excited to be almost riding a bike. Soon, it felt time to start adding pedalling into the equation. Firstly, Julie showed Alicia how to 'set the pedal' by bringing the right hand pedal up with her foot so it was in line with the down tube. Many adults - and children - find this very hard as they forget to balance on their left leg at the same time! After much determined practice, Alicia finally got the hang of it.

Then they worked on pushing off and bringing the left foot on to the other pedal - Julie held on to the back of the saddle. Again, adults can often find this difficult as they may lack co-ordination. Julie made sure Alicia was sitting on the back of the saddle, sitting upright and looking straight ahead to maintain her centre of gravity as she pedalled forwards. After a few false starts, finally Julie let go of the saddle and watched as Alicia rode a few metres on her own - she was amazed when she turned round and saw how far away her instructor was from her.

I am very happy - you have changed my life!

Alicia Morales

Alicia had done it! "I am very happy - you have changed my life!," she exclaimed. "No," Julie pointed out: "I just helped - it's your achievement and you should be very proud of yourself!"

Moving on

Over the next few days, Julie and Alicia worked together to practise the skills Alicia had learnt. Only once did she fall gently to the ground. Finally Alicia could cycle the length of the car park on her own and was ready to go away and try cycling in a traffic-free area without Julie. Once Alicia is fully confident at that, they will move on to turning and steering before finally tackling indicating, and looking behind so she can then have a go at riding on the road.
Soon Julie hopes Alicia achieve her aim of cycling with her grandchildren in Denmark! 

More information 

Watch Julie's step-by-step video:  How to teach an adult to ride a bike quickly:

Or read the guide: How to teach an adult to ride a bike

Alternatively, look at our list of National Standard cycle instructors to find one local to you. 

Watch Alicia and Julie in action