Ride Leader Diary - Part 1 - Basic Training
Rider Leader rookie Eddie Allen embarks on a new chapter of his cycling career, as he takes his first steps on the road to becoming a British Cycling qualified Ride Leader.
Part 1 - Basic Training
I've ‘taken' from cycling all my life and recently I've started to think it was about time to gave something back to the pastime that has given me so much over the years. Not being what you'd call a ‘sporty' cyclist, the coaching route never really appealed to me. I felt that my interests lay in getting new people into cycling, as an enjoyable leisure pursuit and a healthy, environmentally sound way of getting around.
At the same time, British Cycling and Sky announced their Skyride programme, which includes not only five flagship city rides in Manchester, Hounslow, Leicester, Glasgow and London, but a whole host of Skyride Local rides taking place around the four cities throughout the summer and autumn.
Immediately the Skyride Local concept really appealed to me - group rides led by qualified leaders, with three levels of difficulty, catering for everyone from families with young children to more experienced riders looking for a great day out on the bike, but for whom the demands of club riding was a bridge too far. As a rider, I fall squarely into that category. I like to discover new places to ride, at a pace that allows me to talk, think and take in the scenery.
However, leading groups of riders is a whole new ballgame for me. I'd done some informal group riding with friends and colleagues before, but never where I'd assumed responsibility for other riders. This was all about to change as I rocked up for my Ride Leader course, which was held just outside Manchester.
I walked into the room and was greeted by around 20 friendly if slightly apprehensive faces - my fellow students for the day. Two British Cycling tutors were on hand, busily distributing course materials and setting up presentations.
We did a quick ‘meet-and-greet' with our fellow candidates - and found that they came from a wide variety of backgrounds, with equally diverse reasons for coming on the course. The candidates ranged from lifelong cyclists with no previous qualifications or experience (apart from their enthusiasm and road-savvy) to people with Bikeability training, coaching qualifications and mountain bike leadership awards, who were adding yet another string to their cycling bows.
Many were there with the sole purpose of becoming Skyride Local Ride Leaders - others already worked for local authorities but lacked a formal leadership qualification. Others led regular weekend groups on a semi formal basis but wanted to learn more about the craft of leading groups of riders safely, whilst making it a fun, positive experience.
We began by learning more about the Skyride programme, before looking in some detail at the responsibilities of Ride Leaders - including Duty of Care, Child Protection and Risk Assessment. Many people might yawn and switch off at this point - but it's important stuff, and was brought to life by the tutor, who explained ‘The Legal Stuff' in a way which was relevant to the task in hand.
Next we looked at the basics of cyclecraft, in a classroom exercise where we discussed how we would tackle a variety of junctions safely. It was a real eye-opener to see how my many ‘common sense' or ‘intuitive' cycling behaviours were actually putting me in danger. What I gained from the session was that my current riding style was too ‘passive' and that I needed to be more assertive and ‘take the lane' when leading groups...
So, a lesson learned. And after lunch, we all got a chance to put this cyclecraft theory into practice. We started by practising a fundamental Leadership skill - shepherding our riders into a tight and compact unit - an invaluable tactic, especially when negotiating junctions. Once we were riding as a unit, we split into two groups of ten and were each given the chance to be ride leaders. And true to form, I was given the weighty responsibility of donning one of the Dayglo Bibs of Power first!
Our group had two leaders, or to be more precise, a leader and a follower, each with a specific set of leadership jobs to do. For a couple of hours, we explored the local area, taking turns as ride leaders, negotiating all manner of junctions, roundabouts and traffic lights, until we were confident and slick.
Having done all kinds of riding, from mountain bike racing to sportive riding to city commuting, I had made the mistake of thinking that ‘pootling about' with a bunch of riders would be a yawn. But I was wrong. The buzz you get from taking your lane and ‘being traffic' rather than a somewhat marginalised solo cyclist is just fantastic.
At first it was a little disconcerting, riding further out into the lane than I ever ride solo, ensuring that I'm covering and protecting my fellow riders. But once I got used to this change of philosophy it was positively liberating. And the reaction of drivers who encountered our group was equally surprising. Of course we got the odd few impatient souls, who exercised their frustrations through their horns and accelerator pedals, but in the main, most drivers were patient, courteous and mildly amused at the sight of a bunch of adults apparently ‘learning to ride bikes'.
All too soon, the practical session was over and we returned to the classroom where we told that we'd all successfully passed the course. Our tutors had accompanied us on our practical sessions and had been observing our efforts. As newly qualified Ride Leaders, we were now free to sign up to deliver Skyride Local rides and I for one was feeling rather proud!
Of course, not all Skyride Local rides are on the road - many use parks, traffic free trails, canal towpaths and gentle bridleways. However, we were all qualified to lead rides both on and off road, and I can't wait for the next step - putting by learning into practice and helping to lead my first Skyride Local. Bring it on!!
For more info on becoming a Ride Leader go here.