Get on your bike courtesy of a qualified instructor. Kevin Berry reports
Hands up those of you who were prepared for the cycling proficiency test by someone who didn't ever ride a bike.
Just as I thought. Almost all of you. You were probably handed your certificate and in the next breath warned never to venture out on to the roads because of the traffic dangers.
Well, all that is about to change. The Cyclists' Touring Club has been preparing a National Standard for Cycle Trainers qualification, and four centres have been designated to teach and assess anyone wanting to be a trainer.
The new trainers will be teaching cyclists of all ages. They will be working in schools, with adults who want to cycle to work and with community groups. I am in York, one of the UK's best examples of a cycle-friendly city, to see the first group of student-trainers aiming for the new qualification. Other centres are in Bristol, London and Manchester.
The students are on their bikes and are negotiating a formidable obstacle known locally as the Magic Roundabout. Cyclists have priority here, but it looks fiendishly complicated and the car drivers are all in a hurry. The students approach in pairs under the shrewd gaze of Mieke Jackson, one of York's training co-ordinators. One rider is acting as a learner, the other as a trainer.
"We're breaking down what they have to do into component parts," Mieke says. "The trainers will talk learners through it and then walk through it.
There is more than one way to negotiate this roundabout and they are all OK. It depends on the type of cyclist and the skill base they have."
The students are a mixed bunch, as are their machines. They share a love of cycling and a determination to spread the word that it can be safe and beneficial.
"I work at a hospital where there are upwards of 2,500 people but only six bikes are used for commuting," says Peter Church, from King's Lynn in Norfolk. "I'm hoping to set up some training initiatives at the hospital and also at a local school with the 14 to 16-year-olds. This course teaches the best way to impart knowledge and helps shake off any bad habits we might have picked up."
The students are in York for a week. Their time is split between the classroom and the road but most of what they do is practical. A measure of how much the qualification is valued is that Simon Young is here. Simon is from the Lake District and is a professional mountain bike guide and instructor. He runs Lifecycle Solutions, a company specialising in cycle tours and instruction. He wants to offer a recognised standard of training for road cyclists and so widen the scope of his company.
"I plan to lead cycle-touring groups who want to ride on the road," he explains. "This qualification will formalise my road experience and complement my mountain bike qualifications. When I take on staff in the future, I will be looking to see if they have this qualification."
Kieran Flynn, who is observing for the CTC, says there is strong evidence that trained cyclists make better car drivers. More cyclists on the road will make the roads safer simply because drivers will be used to seeing them.
David Baillie is a housing officer and a keen cyclist. When he goes back to Sheffield, he hopes to train adults in a cycle-to-work scheme. "Knowing something and being able to teach it are two different things," he says. "I don't have a teaching background, so I need to know teaching techniques."
Diana Bakewell, from Nottingham, is coming up to early retirement from her job in the Environment Agency. Being a cycle trainer represents a new career path for her, and her enthusiasm is infectious. She says all the student-trainers have voluntarily agreed to try to get 50 people cycling, or to return to cycling, during their first year as qualified trainers. The trainers will be listed on a central register available to companies and local authorities.
They will be monitored by the CTC, and there will be opportunities for short refresher courses, Reports of accidents while training will be logged to show the media and the public that cycling can be a safe travel choice.
At the end of the week, some of the students are told they have not reached the required standard. A tough thing to face after a week of hard work, but a measure of the changes taking place in cycle training. This qualification is clearly no easy ride.