My Perspective On Traffic Skills 101 – Bicycle Training Course
Raise your hand. How many of you ride a bike without ever learning how to ride a bike? I’m not talking about that moment when you discover your balance on a two-wheeler and the training wheels come off. I’m talking about actually learning the skills and rules that will actually keep you safe on the road.
Like most of you, I was given little to no training on a bike. My parents sent me to a traffic safety course when I was a kid, but that was just to teach me basic knowledge of stop signs, yield signs, crosswalks and traffic lights. If anything, we learned how to make hand signals. I remember years of my childhood, carelessly riding around the neighborhood without helmets and barely watching out for traffic. It’s amazing that I’m still alive.
As I got older, most of my road travel was by car. My road knowledge came from driver’s ed and years of experience while navigating through rush hour traffic. Even so, I felt that riding my bike around town required a new level of training.
I’ve been wanting to take the League of American Bicyclists, Traffic Skills 101 course (hosted by BikeDFW) for a while, but was never able to make the time. Last weekend, I was finally able to attend.
The local class has been modified so that the first part of the course is done online. That portion had to be completed and passed, prior to meeting up for the bike skills training. The online course is relatively easy, as long as you pay attention to the materials. It consists of 4 chapters that cover everything from Bicycle Parts, Bicycle Selection, Adjusting Your Bicycle, Clothing & Equipment, Pre-Ride Safety Check, Tools, Tires, Gears, Adjusting Derailleurs, Adjusting Brakes, Bicycle Handling Basics, Bicycling in Traffic, Emergency Maneuvers, Crash Avoidance, Road Hazards, Riding Enjoyment, Energy Maintenance, Trail Etiquette, to Educating Motorists. The online course can be finished in a couple of hours (more or less, depending on if you are watching TV at the same time).
The classroom portion of the course took a good part of a Sunday, where I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was this going to be a reprise of my slightly useless childhood traffic safety course, or was this going to he a hardcore drill that would toss me in the middle of a major road with hundreds of cars speeding around me? I soon learned that this part of the class was divided into two sections. The morning was set aside for the parking lot drills, while the afternoon was left for the road portion.
After a nice morning of breakfast, introductions and a quick review of the online course, we went out to do our first lesson – the ABC Quick Check. Here we learned how we should be inspecting our bikes to ensure a safe ride to our destinations. This is something that should be practiced every time you go out for a ride. Steve A from DFWPointToPoint, who was there as an instructor, pointed out that a quick release always seems to work itself loose and you should never assume it’s locked. Sure enough, mine were loose.
Next, we rode out to our first destination, a parking lot down the street so that we could learn and practice some basic handling and safety skills. There, we divided up into two smaller groups, where two instructors, each, took us through several drills. Our instructors, Renee and Brad, taught us quite a bit, including starting and stopping, scanning, signaling, rock dodge, quick stops and instant turns all while maintaining good control of our bikes. Quite frankly, I thought this would be the easiest part of the class. To my surprise, I found the drills to be somewhat challenging – especially the instant turns.
Once we had completed all of the parking lot drills, the instructors took us out on the streets to familiarize us with the route of the bicycling in traffic portion of the course. After that, we took a break for lunch.
After lunch, the instructors separated us into even smaller groups. Each group rode a few loops of the street course with an instructor following close behind – offering up instruction, tips and feedback as we utilized the skills we had learned earlier at the parking lot. The route covered several lane changes, obstacles and challenges all while riding in moderate to heavy traffic. Riders had to think ahead, observe all the traffic laws, communicate with drivers (via eye contact and hand signals), be predictable, handle hazard avoidance and deal with lane position – all while keeping their cool and maintaining control of their bikes.
I was most apprehensive about the road portion of the class. Although I ride on the streets, they’re usually back roads with low traffic, so I wasn’t sure what to expect getting on this busier route. Again, to my surprise, I found that it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. The online course and the parking lot drills helped build my courage for bicycling in traffic. My fellow rider, Steve and instructor, Brad also helped me ride confidently when it was my turn to lead the group.
It was a good day of quality training that made me a better bicyclist, while undoing many years of bad riding habits.
Overall, I felt that the Traffic Skills 101 course is well worth it, and everybody who rides should take this class. Even if you find yourself a confident road rider, it’s always nice having some knowledge and a few skills to take on the ride with you.