Today , I made my first active commute to and from work by bike.
The fact that you are reading this proves that I survived. I won’t lie. I was nervous. I have been a reluctant cyclist.
I bought my bike several weeks ago and the furthest I have been is my local park. I am not confident on the roads or even on my bike and my interview with Paul Wright of Cycling Scotland for CamGlen Radio did nothing to allay my fears. My knee pain is not improving.
I needed something to give me a shot of confidence.
So, on Bank Holiday Monday, I enlisted the support of Ali Clarkson. This name might be unfamiliar to you, but he is a renowned and highly respected street trials rider.
Your first question might be what is street trials?
Street trials is a form of cycling that encourages riders to develop close control of their bikes and to use urban design to showcase said skills.
Ali demonstrates below how perfectly good and open gates are shunned in favour of just jumping over fences. Someone has watched Steve McQueen in the Great Escape too many times.
Your next question might be why on earth would a nervous and admittedly inexperienced cyclist consider street trials as a way to improve my bike handling skills and increase my confidence as a cyclist?
Well, as Ali explained, street trials is a great way to learn how to stabilise yourself on a bike and to learn how to use your body and your weight to manoeuvre your bike.
Weight is something that I currently have in abundance and I had worried that it would curtail my entrance to the world of street trials, but Ali revealed that neither age nor weight prevented someone from taking up the sport. He cited 20 stone riders who possessed great technical skills and this gave me hope.
Ali had brought along one of his spare trial bikes and he explained how he had designed it for “Inspired” bikes and how it was built to be responsive, durable and light. He explained that the brakes were super responsive and later, I would discover this for myself.
I had watched all of Ali’s videos on his Facebook and YouTube pages and part of me was slightly anxious about what Ali had in store for me. Thankfully he suggested that we forego the jumping off of ledges and first focus on learning what he believed were the fundamentals of street trials.
Street Trails 101: The Track Stand and the Bunny Hop.
The track stand is standing stationary in your tracks.
The key is to turn your front wheel, twist your body and lean in the opposite direction. Ali can hold a track stand for what seems like an eternity (he was once asked to withdraw from a track stand competition after holding position for an hour. Seemingly, other people wanted a chance to win), while I struggled to maintain my balance and my composure.
Although I increased my track stand by a millisecond on each attempt, I reckon I will need to practice this regularly and I will.
Being able to execute a track stand will enable me to both show off and move off quicker at traffic lights and help me manoeuvre around obstacles without losing momentum or potentially my life. Yes, I am still a tad anxious about cycling in the city centre.
Next up, Ali introduced me to the trick at the core of his many fabulous moves.
The Bunny Hop.
As a child, I tried in vain to lift both of my wheels off the ground and never , ever accomplished it. With Ali’s guidance I would hop that bunny. The trick to this trick and many other tricks is to break the move into components and then bring them together in one flawless flow.
Firstly , I practised lifting my front wheel up and then I learned to lift the back wheel, by slightly scooping my pedal up before combining these two movements to complete a bunny hop.
If this sounds harder than Ali Clarkson makes it look below, then that is because it is!
While Ali can leap over a traffic bollard and change direction, I became overwhelmed with my ability to clear a twig. I will now be able to confidently traverse through parks and lift my bike over wayward worms and stray snails that cross my path.. Street trial exponent and wildlife protector.
As I had “mastered” the bunny hop, Ali declared that we would perfect the Endo.
For the uninformed, this is applying your front break and tipping yourself over the end of your handlebars.
Ideally, you are then supposed to drop your back tyre and then pedal off. What you are not supposed to do, is this “Don’t try this at home video”:
Not deterred by eating some gravel, I kept practising and after ten “one more attempts”, we finally captured this technically, if not visually, great example of me performing an Endo.
Again, I was bunny hopping with joy.
My first experience of street trials left me wanting more and more importantly , it made me face my fear of cycling. A bike is a tool. We ultimately control it and through practice, we can make it do amazing things or simply make it take us from A to B.
I’ll continue to practice, although once again it was nice to see that my naturally born talent was recognised by another sporting great.