By Gregory Shaffer
This article is a part of our Bike About Town column which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.
With rising gas prices, ever-expanding bike lanes and fun outdoor events like Sunday Streets, it’s no surprise that more people are bicycling in San Francisco. But what if you’re an adult who wants to bike but never learned how? Where do you turn when you are way past the age of training wheels?
Fear not: In a city as bicycle-friendly as San Francisco, it’s never too late to learn.
All participants are required to first take Intro to Safe Cycling, a classroom session covering the basics from how to choose a bike that fits your body, to picking and fitting a helmet, to learning the rules of the road. Then they’re ready to learn to roll.
Adult Learn to Ride classes take place at the Waller practice area in Golden Gate Park, where students have plenty of comfortable room to maneuver. The day I attended, five instructors were lined up to ensure plenty of individual attention, with each instructor helping a maximum of five students.
Lead instructor Bert Hill, who has taught hundreds of people about safe bicycling over the past nine years, says adults’ reasons for taking the classes range from growing up in urban environments without practice areas to memories of childhood bike spills that discouraged them for decades.
Edna Barron, a Haight resident who grew up in Texas, says she took a tumble on her tricycle as a child that resulted in stitches, making her parents reluctant to encourage her to ride again. Now in her mid-20s, Barron has put that memory behind her and says she’s much more confident after taking the classroom session.
“I’m looking forward to that moment that I know I can ride,” Barron said. “And I want to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge.”
The classes use the Balance First method to ease in would-be riders. Students start on bikes with the pedals removed and the seats low enough to place both feet firmly on the ground. Then they “walk” the bike across the asphalt, pushing with their feet while gliding as far as they can between strides. This allows them to focus on finding their natural balance and center of gravity without pedals in the way. Eventually students add one of the pedals and glide with one foot resting on the pedal, then, when they’re ready, two pedals.
While Hill emphasizes that the learning curve is different for everyone, he says most people are pedaling by the end of their first class. Barron was confidently pedaling on her own toward the end of class and even encouraging other students.
“The moment was amazing,” she said. “I wanted to show everyone from my life and say, ‘Look at me!’ ”
The next Adult Learn to Ride class will be Aug. 21, with additional dates through mid-October.
For more information, go to www.sfbike.org/edu3.
Bike About Town is presented by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a 12,000-member nonprofit dedicated to creating safer streets and more livable communities by promoting the bicycle for everyday transportation. For more biking resources, go to www.sfbike.org.