You’re never too old to learn how to ride a bike

Simon Clark learning how to ride a bike

Cycling is a great way to keep active, and what better time to take to the open road than in spring? For Simon Clark, it wasn’t quite as simple as that, though. Ruth Ganthony finds out how Heart Matters inspired him to learn to cycle as an adult.

You never forget how to ride a bike, or so the saying goes. But Simon Clark, from Market Harborough in Leicestershire, didn’t even get that far. “When I was small I had a bike but I ran into a wall, and that’s what put me off,” recalls Simon. “I didn’t get on a bike again for 40-odd years.”

Embarrassed at not being able to cycle, IT consultant Simon avoided situations where it might arise. But having a young family, it was difficult to keep up the pretence. “There were many occasions when the children were small and they wanted to go out on a bike ride and I couldn’t participate,” he says. “I felt a bit low about that, a bit depressed.”

Everything changed though when Simon, 49, read the May/June 2013 issue of Heart Matters. The writer of our star letter that month asked for advice about where adults can go to learn to ride a bike.

In response, we gave a link to the Government’s Bikeability website. Branded as ‘Cycling Proficiency for the 21st century’, it has a section on cycling skills for adults. “I didn’t realise that there were these people out there giving lessons,” says Simon. “I read the letter and thought it was something that I could do.”

I never thought I’d be able to ride a bike

Inspired to take action, Simon went through the Bikeability website to arrange a one-to-one lesson with a certified instructor in nearby Oakham. “Rob and I had a chat on the phone, then he took me out to a car park on the edge of Rutland Water reservoir, and off we went.”

Part-time Bikeability instructor and teacher Rob Williams talked Simon through the basics. “It wasn’t scary, as Rob explained exactly what would happen. We went through brakes and how to slow down, so I knew I was in control.”

The first step was a grassy slope – Simon started off on a bike with no pedals so that he could focus on getting his balance right. “Rob held the back of the bike and ran with me. Then he let go,” he says.

Once Simon had mastered coasting on his own, they put pedals on and Rob showed him how to launch off. Simon says: “I was quite elated.”

Practise makes perfect

Feeling confident that he could balance, start, stop and ride around corners, Simon went out solo to practice. “I had lots of false starts, but haven’t fallen off yet,” he says.

Simon Clark riding a bikeEnthused by Simon’s success, the whole family went out to buy new bikes. Now the Clarks go out every few weeks, cycling eight to ten miles at a time. “I still have the wobbles when I start,” says Simon, “but I can keep up with my wife and sons, no problem.”

Cycling is a fantastic way to get your recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, and Simon says he feels much fitter since taking it up.

“I had a pulmonary embolism in my left leg, which is why I wanted to do something,” he explains. “I’d been sitting at a desk all day and not moving, so it was about upping my overall exercise levels.” Simon is also a cricket umpire and enjoys going out hiking with his wife Susan and sons Gareth, 24, and Daniel, 19.

Simon’s next goal is to learn to swim. “I must have been a difficult child!” he jokes, but his ultimate challenge is to do a sponsored bike ride. “I’d like to raise money for the BHF, but I need to improve my road safety skills and up the fitness level first.”

I still have the wobbles when I start, but I can keep up with my wife and sons

Simon has been a member of Heart Matters for five years, after picking up a copy of the magazine at the doctors surgery when he had his embolism. “Now we support the BHF shop and give donations,” he says.

Looking back at his achievement, Simon says he feels over the moon and encourages others to get active, too. “You can make a million excuses why you can’t do something,” he says. “I never thought I’d be able to ride a bike, and even consider learning to swim. I’ve got half way now and I’m going to go the full way.” 

The cycle instructor’s story

Rob WilliamsRob Williams, 53, has always been a keen cyclist along with his wife and two boys, and has been a cycling instructor for ten years. He also teaches at a school. Part of his cycling training is carried out at school, through a cycling skills programme, and the other part is through private coaching, which is how he met Simon.

“Adults come to you because they want to learn,” says Rob. “Simon listened and built his confidence up. In one session, we were able to get him balancing properly, riding around in circles and doing figures of eight. It’s really rewarding to watch.” 

Rob has noticed a lot more adults coming to him for training over the past few years. “Mostly, it’s for road safety and confidence building,” he says.

“Helping people to realise that they can take up as much room on the road as a car. Showing them that by riding correctly and wearing the right gear, you reduce your risks and make yourself more visible.”

By riding correctly and wearing the right gear, you reduce your risks and make yourself more visible

Rob also promotes the health benefits of cycling and practises what he preaches with his commute to work. “My school is about five miles away. That’s ten miles a day; and 50 miles a week that I cycle,” he says. “I’m getting fit on the way to work and clearing my head on the way back!”

Having taught all ages and abilities, Rob says cycling is a great activity to build up fitness levels. “When I first started cycling years ago it was a struggle just to cycle around the block,” he says. “Now I can do 100 miles in a day, no problem.”

He says as long as Simon carries on practising, he’ll soon improve and get fitter. “Even if it’s just an hour a week, it’s better than doing nothing.” Rob recommends increasing the distance gradually and to just “keep spinning!”

Rob recommends anyone who feels inspired to take up cycling to seek advice from a Bikeability-qualified instructor and to make sure their bike fits them properly. “We help people to adjust all their settings to fit properly,” he says. “Look at the Bikeability website and find your nearest instructor.”

Learn to cycle

Visit the Cycling Skills for Adults section of the Bikeability website for information on finding a course near you. You can find out about any costs involved and the format of the training when you discuss your needs with an instructor – it doesn’t matter if you’re a complete novice, want to brush up your road safety skills or learn how to carry out a simple bike check.

If you live, work or study in London, you are entitled to free or subsidised cycle training for adults. Visit your local borough’s website for more details or book through the cycling area of the Transport for London website. You can also search for local schemes around the UK.

Having a mobility problem doesn’t have to be a barrier either, visit the CTC website to get support with cycling with a disability.

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