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Monthly Archives: October 2010

“So You Think You Know How to Ride a Bike?”

The above was the title chosen by Patty Vinyard, who was Executive Director of the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation until last month.

Martin Pion & Patty Vinyard during a bike education ride lunch break at the Whistle Stop, Ferguson, on June 18, 2006

Patty wrote a glowing report in the organization’s publication, The Cue Sheet, of a bike ed. course I conducted which she attended back in 2006 (please see below). Recently, Patty reiterated her support for the bike ed. courses I was offering exclusively to Bike Fed. members this year when she sent me an e-mail in which she wrote:

Date:  August 6, 2010 3:26:28 PM CDT

Hi Martin,

I ride my bike confidently just about anywhere because you taught me how to do it.

Use that as a quote in your promotions if you want and attribute it to me. It’s true and I’ll stand behind it.

Patty has now taken a job with Big Shark Bicycle Co., and I hope the skills she learned and practiced continue to be helpful in her new career.

Here’s Patty’s 2006 article from The Cue Sheet:

Class members from our June 18 on bike session: Bob Foster, (assisting LCI), Martin Pion (instructor), Kevin Pierce (Vinyard), Patty Vinyard, Mark Karnowski, Jackson Pierce (Vinyard), Alex Karabell, Gabe Karabell, Karen Karabell, and Dan Kleypas. (click photo repeatedly to enlarge)

So You Think You Know How to Ride a Bike?
by Patty Vinyard

When I signed up for Martin Pion’s BIKERight bicycling education course I really didn’t know what to expect. After all, I learned how to ride a bike when I was about five.

         Thanks to the City of Ferguson, aided by a grant from the Federal Highways Administration, Martin Pion is currently offering an expanded version of the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) Road I course free to anyone in the St. Louis metropolitan area. I decided to sign up and see what it was about.

         So what’s to learn other than balancing while pedaling, right? Plenty. There are many misconceptions about cycling that Martin laid to rest with his first presentation. For instance, the more you travel by bicycle the fewer accidents per mile you are likely to have. In other words, you can reduce risk through experience, but the quickest way to achieve that proficiency and knowledge is through an organized course like this one.

         A major fear is being hit by a car from behind but in reality most cyclist crashes involve no other vehicle but are caused by things like road surface hazards. Where motor vehicles are involved, car-bike crashes are mainly due to turning or crossing movements. Sidewalk or wrong-way cycling is also a major contributor.

         The Effective Cycling video we watched illustrated accident avoidance techniques and lane positioning at intersections. Martin showed us safety equipment and tools that he carries when he rides and even gave each of us free mini toe clips for our pedals, which improve safety and efficiency.

July 8 on-bike session with (left to right) Jeff Jackson (assisting), Bob Foster (assisting LCI), Glenda Wuertenberg, Al Mahnken, Mickey Smith, Christy Jackson, and Karen Karabell. Road I certificates were awarded to Mickey, Christy (holding certificates) and Karen. All participants received free safety vests.
Photo by Martin Pion (click photo to enlarge)

         After the classroom sessions we had two four-hour sessions of on-bike instruction, starting on a large parking lot in Ferguson. We got instruction on bike fit and the ABCQuick Check, and practiced the basics as well as advanced bike handling techniques. These included the preferred way to start and stop (and I thought I knew that!), scanning behind while riding in a straight line, rock dodge, quick stop, and the instant turn. We had a slow riding race – the last person over the finish line wins. All skills you need for safe cycling.

         Then it was off to ride in the lovely tree-lined streets of Ferguson, assisted by Bob Foster or Russ Willis, Bike Fed. board members and newly-minted LAB Cycling Instructors.

         They were watching us put into practice our new knowledge, providing feedback as we rode. We practiced the cyclist’s U-turn and multiple left turns – first on quiet streets, then on busier roads. While out riding on the sometimes hilly landscape I finally figured out, with Martin’s help, how to use my gears.

         My friend, Karen Karabell, Bike Fed Chair, took the class with me and had this to say: “Tell everyone you know to run, don’t walk, to sign up for Martin Pion’s free bicycle safety classes. I consider myself an experienced cyclist who is careful about sharing the road and following its rules for use. But I’ve learned new things, and the confidence boost is immeasurable. Martin is a fan of John Forester, who says, “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”

         I am now a fan of Forester, too, but I’m an even bigger fan of Martin Pion. Thanks to Martin, now I really know a great deal more about how to ride a bike.

From left to right above: Gwyn Harvey, Karen Karabell (LAB Cycling Instructor assisting), Dr. “Kit” Jenkins, Eli Karabell, Harold Karabell, Kathy Greminger, Evan Haas, LAB instructor Martin Pion, John Maxwell and Ferguson Councilman Dwayne James

The above photo was taken after the lunch break at the Whistle Stop in downtown Ferguson. The large class of eight students meant I needed an assistant following the last student during the on-road ride and I’m very grateful to Karen Karabell for stepping in to help at short notice.

Historical note: The building is the restored former Ferguson train station which now serves food and frozen custard, as well as housing a museum detailing the city’s early days, with photos of some of its numerous Century Homes.

Initial presentation at Martin Pion's home
Photo courtesy Harold Karabell

The class initially gathered at my home on Manor Lane, Ferguson, roughly a mile north of the Whistle Stop, for a number of preliminaries, including bike adjustments and running through the pre-ride ABC Quick Check, to ensure that participant’s bikes were in basic working order, i.e. tires inflated to correct pressure, brakes working, crank arms tight on spindle, and quick releases secured.

Parking lot practice before the ride <BR><em>Photo courtesy Harold Karabell</em>

Parking lot practice before the ride
Photo courtesy Harold Karabell

We also practiced the preferred start-stop technique and emergency braking on my quiet cul-de-sac before setting off for the large parking lot opposite January-Wabash Park to practice bike handling techniques, including the shoulder scan to check for following traffic, and the “rock dodge,” which is a very useful crash avoidance technique for avoiding rocks and potholes.

We then set off on a route through the quiet residential back roads of Ferguson to learn the “cyclist’s U-turn” and practice priority drills at two intersections, one being a two-way stop and the other, on a busier road, being a four-way stop.

A stop on the return for instruction
Photo courtesy Harold Karabell

The original route I mapped out, including a longish downtown section, proved to be too ambitious for a 4-hour course, and had to be shortened significantly, although it still included practice at the busy Florissant Rd./Airport-Hereford Rd. junction, and lane control in downtown Ferguson.

In fact, after returning to my home at the end of the ride, class participants agreed on a 30 minute extension in order to include a puncture repair demonstration to conclude the course.

I concluded that in order to adequately cover the original route and other basics the course should be a minimum of 6 hours.

A number of students were good enough to provide anonymous written feedback after the course. Here are their responses:

1. The information covered was understandable and useful:

Cyclist Development/Bicycle Maintenance/Bicycle Gearing/Traffic Skills/Road Riding Environments

Most gave the above a 5 or a 6 out of 6 (Excellent). The exceptions were:

Bicycle Maintenance: 4 out of 6 gave it a “4”
Bicycle Gearing: 1 out of 6 gave it a “4”

2. The instructor was knowledgeable and helpful:

Demonstrations/Classroom topics/Maintenance/On-road instruction/Answering my questions

Most gave the above a 5 or a 6 out of 6 (Excellent). The exception was:

Bicycle Maintenance: 2 out of 6 gave it a “4”

3. Do you feel more confident about riding in traffic than before taking this course?

All chose “Yes.”

4. Do you plan to bicycle more in the future than you did before taking this course?

All chose “Yes.”

5. Was the total number of course hours: Too long ___ Too short _2_ About right _4_

The totals are entered above.

The next two questions were about the Student Notebook, which wasn’t used in this short course with no formal classroom time.

8. Would you recommend this course to a friend?

The six who responded wrote “Yes” and most added comments:

“Great intro to on-road cycling.”
“More confidence in cycling.”
“Outstanding advice for on-road riding!”
“Useful, helpful info; good method to improve bike riding skills; excellent riding experience.”

9. What did you find the most useful and helpful about this course?

“Confidence about how to relate to lanes – whether to share or take control.”
“Street instruction.”
“4-left turn/U turn exercise.”
“More confidence in cycling.”
“5′ rule for the “door zone;” emergency move to avoid potholes.” “Various riding exercises.”

10. How could the course be made better?

“I was completely satisfied.”
“More in-depth discussion on lane control vs. lane sharing.”
“Less time spent on ABC Quick Check at the beginning would allow for more on-road time. At least 2 bathroom stops are recommended as well!”
“Stick to class time parameters; include handouts; suggest pen/paper for note taking; have all items for demo or example assembled and at the ready.”

This last was a valid criticism: I kept thinking of additional things to discuss and would pop into my garage to get items and return with them. This was definitely not consistent with good preparation.

My thanks to all those who participated in the course and for your helpful feedback. Thanks also to Harold Karabell for urging me to offer this shorter course via the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation. And a special “Thank you!” to LCI Karen Karabell for her invaluable help at very short notice.