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I’ve been cycling in the capital for two-and-half years now, just one of a rising number of Londoners opting to get to work via self-propulsion. There is now more than double the number of cyclists on London roads than ten years ago. According to my questionable maths skills and extrapolating from a TfL report released four years ago, there are currently over 600,000 journeys created by pedal power everyday in the capital. The government aims for this number to hit one million by 2026.

This rise is presumably down to a number of contributing factors including growing emphasis on healthier lifestyles; a spot of belt tightening in face of recession and high public transport costs; the Barclays Cycle Hire; and the Bike to Work scheme.  The government and, of course, Boris have actively supported this rise and shown a commitment to the increasing the safety for those that make the switch to the two-wheeled velocipedes: There are growing numbers of cycle lanes; ‘Cycle Superhighways’; cross-media awareness campaigns; and private free cycle training in your local Borough.

I wonder how many of you cyclists knew about that last one.

Always a sucker for anything preceded by the word ‘free’, I thought I’d try it out. I took along L, a fellow bike enthusiast. Just to clarify this is not L in the photo above; it’s from the TfL website, but it’s not far off.

We met our Cycle Trainer, David, near L’s office in Kennington at 6pm on a frosty February evening after work. David liked to be called David, not Dave, he informed us, but we could call him Dave if we found it easier.

Whilst dwelling on David’s benevolence, we watched him perform routine checks on our bikes. “You wouldn’t believe it”, he said jovially, “But sometimes people come along without bikes altogether!”

Who’d have thought?

David wasn’t wearing a helmet, which struck us as odd, but that was about the only seemingly non-safety aware thing he did all evening. He told us there was no evidence of wearing a helmet being safer than not wearing one and we could check the facts at cyclehelmet.org.

He checked our bikes for sturdiness of handlebars, efficient brakes and, crucially, that we had no dangly bits.

“Now”, he said, happy with the vehicles, “Give me your left hands”. We dutifully presented our left hands. “Good. A lot of people get that wrong”.

Next, we practiced indicating round the back streets of Kennington. Then, we stared over our right shoulders to imaginary drivers in imaginary vehicles. I got good marks on my staring.

It seemed like ages until we finally started tracking out the commute home. We had another stop to strategise over the troublesome Vauxhall roundabout.

David really enjoyed a good rhetorical question: “You wouldn’t want to get run down by a juggernaut, would you?” Pause. He made sure we gave him an answer.

“Um, no.”

“Exactly”.

Enlightened, we continued.

We stopped again on the north side of the river and pulled our bikes up onto the pavement to discuss appropriate distances to allow between your bike and parked cars.

Now, say after me, he proclaimed with one finger in the air, almost like a cub scout making his promise: “The width of the door, and a little bit more.”

“The width of the door, and a little bit more”, we repeated.

“Brilliant.” He confirmed, “Now say it again.”

Not just a cycle trainer, David turned out to be a tour guide too. “See that hotel there?” Pause.

“Yes”.

“That’s where that MP who head-butted that bloke stayed. I’ve got one word for that. Alcohol.” He said, “A few beers, or what have you, and people start acting their shoe-size.”

For some reason I looked at his shoes. He wasn’t a tall gentleman; they must have been about a UK 6 or 7. Poor guy, I thought; his school playground must have been terrifying – if they were head-butting each other aged six, then what were they doing aged 13? Car-bombing? I shuddered to think.

After two hours we arrived home.

“Now, that went well I thought.” David summarised, “L, I think you’re very good, but Ed, you’re a bit cavalier, I’m afraid.”

I was worried I was going to get a detention, but the punishment was far worse; he asked when we’d like our next lesson. We said we’d be in touch.

by Edward Lines

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