Cycling proficiency for all ages

Over the weekend and today it was noticeable that the good weather brought out many people who didn’t look totally at home on their bikes.

It’s a very Good Thing that people are discovering the childlike pleasures of spinning along in a warm breeze on two wheels.

The trouble was, the older guys were not wearing helmets and wobbling a bit (wheels, not middle, although middles were wobbling too) and I spotted some people – including a family – way off piste and out of their comfort zone cycling with difficulty in the bumpy, rubbish-strewn verge beside a dual carriageway with cars flashing by at 80mph. It was going to be quite difficult to cross with small children on trikes.

In my last blog, I mentioned the delightful and unexpected way that the big bicycle wheel of life has turned full circle. Parents teach kids to cycle and those kids, much much later, teach their parents the tricks of the new technology; clipless pedals, suspension forks and how to adjust disc brakes. I didn’t put it as succinctly as that. It was a blog, which means I can ramble disconnectedly at will.

So I’ve had a further think and I’ve come to the conclusion that the old Cycling Proficiency Test isn’t really adequate these days. We need a series of courses and tests to equip people of all ages for the two-wheeled challenges out there.

Under fives are capable of far more than they are given credit for. Children aren’t usually considered for cycling training until they are nine years old. I’ve seen a six year old climbing an old spoil heap on a teeny scrambler bike so I’m sure he could have handled a Raleigh Burner nicely.

Over sixties are capable of more too. Maybe they didn’t have the opportunity to commute to work during their career but in retirement, they are lured by the fresh air, the birdsong and the ability to buy a top of the range Boardman racing bike because they are on the kind of big fat pensions that won’t happen to the rest of us. But cycling is more than a little hairy if you’re doing it for the first time since you were eleven and things have changed beyond recognition from the days when you used to cycle to school hitching a lift by hanging on to the back of the coal lorry.

Just in case RoSPA and the Department of Transport is interested, I’ve drafted a series of goals that could and should be achieved during cycle training courses for specific age groups.

Children under 5:

Ride two wheeled bicycles without stabilisers. Stop before colliding with anything. Get up off the ground without crying. Avoid sulking and refusing to ride bike any more. Accept sweet. Remount bike. Ride down a small hill without putting your feet down in terror or pooping your pants.

Ride on path without colliding with your nan or chasing the cat.

Make your bike go where you want it to and ride on grass without falling into a hidden ditch and crying.

Children 5 – 10

Ride your bike using your gears and look all around you without wobbling.

Learn to cycle in fast bursts to escape your parents, who will be taken by surprise and be unable to keep up.

Ride off-road with parents, turn off trail without warning and hurtle down dangerous descent. Parents will not follow but hold their faces in their hands with anguished expression such as Munch’s The Scream. Repeat when other dangerous descents present themselves.

Cycle while holding and eating an ice-cream. Attempt first wheelie while on glucose high.

Practice riding your friends off the road. Skill is transferable to car driving later in life.

Ride your bike along the top of a wall. Bite lip and resist crying when your mum is bathing the gravel rash later with neat TCP.

Young people aged 10 – 18

Acquire cool, tricked out mountainbike at earliest opportunity plus expensive sunglasses, knee pads and downhilling gear. Ride bike downhill in three minutes and stand around for hours at popular cycling spots drinking Red Bull with your mates, chatting and wearing full protective helmets marginally smaller than space helmets.

Ride through towns with friends, weaving very slowly through hordes of shoppers and pedestrians eating burger, smoking fag and texting mates on phone.

Become competent riding berms, table tops, drop offs and if possible convert the back garden to practice area by piling earth up against the corner of the fences to act as a berm. Dig bomb hole behind the hydrangeas, kick hole in fence, blame neighbour’s dog.

Practice hopping your bike on to the picnic table and bouncing down on to the lawn without getting splinters in your legs or breaking a toe.

Inexperienced cyclists, aged 40 – 70

Acquire the most expensive bicycle you can lay your hands on. Buy lycra and cycling shoes costing up to £500 or alternatively, wear a tweed shooting jacket and brown brogues.

Ride bicycle without wobbling or colliding with anything. Get up off the ground and recover bike from ditch with dignity (ie no crying, no swearing).

Avoid sulking and refusing to ride bike any more. Think of cold lager in the fridge at home. Remount bike. Ride down a small hill without putting your feet down in terror or pooping your pants (unless you are wearing TenaMan or TenaLady, in which case it’s ok).

Learn to look all around you without wobbling into the car hemming you in to the kerb in stationery traffic.

Use arms to indicate which way you intend to turn and hand signal to indicate what you think of the lorry driver who has just turned his truck across your path forcing you to slam on the brakes.

Swap your flat pedals for clipless pedals. Resist crying when you fall over on the bike for the tenth time and later try to keep in mind that your new replacement hip will probably last a lot longer than the old one.


Some Common Mistakes:


1  Cycling too close together. Note the pained expressions. These selfish  cyclists don’t look comfortable and they are thoughtlessly taking up all of the road.


2     Not paying attention to the road ahead.  This fellow is likely to come a cropper. And his constant turning around is making his fellow cyclists lose concentration and wobble.

3       Shoe Envy. Even if your riding mate has got better shoes, and quite possibly better legs, it’s hazardous to ogle them when riding on the road.


About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
This entry was posted in Cycling and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Cycling proficiency for all ages

  1. Sophiescott196 says:

    A most useful set of guidelines. I cannot see why RoSPA would not want to adopt them immediately 😀

  2. janh1 says:

    Thank you Sophie. I’m nothing if not practical. 😉

  3. trythedu says:

    Cheers for #3! I was chastised by another rider after passing him with, “If you’re going to pass me, you should at least wear proper bike shoes!” (I was wearing running shoes in toe clips at the time).

  4. janh1 says:

    😀 Me too! New Balance. They give you a nice bounce when you’re riding out of the saddle.

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