While most Connecticutians were navigating the crowded grocery stores, topping off their gas-guzzlers, or filling their bathtubs with water early on that Saturday morning in anticipation of Hurricane Irene, others set out for a bicycle education class arranged specifically for members of the media. Given that I typically walk or bike to events that I cover when wearing my media hat, I thought it appropriate to attend.
Real Art Ways hosted the event, which was coordinated and taught by Bike Walk Connecticut instructors who received certification from the League of American Bicyclists. Coffee and bagels made the dreary morning more manageable as we settled in for a video that demonstrated street cycling techniques. This was followed by a Powerpoint presentation mainly concerned with “taking the lane,” something that new road cyclists tend to not know they can do, not understand the best way to do so, or are completely terrified of trying. The main point of this lesson: bicyclists should behave like motorists in terms of which lanes to use. Making a left turn? Get in the left turn lane.
For me, a lot of this was review, so I asked questions about more complicated maneuvers. I envisioned how I might run errands in the West Farms sprawl region and asked what apparently amounts to survival techniques. The answer they gave was one that should have been glaringly obvious: use the back entrance. But, having only ever driven through that area, New Britain Avenue seemed like the only option. Instead, they suggested cutting down side streets and finding other ways that sidestep the chaos of the main drag.
After a quick ABC (air, brakes, crank/chain/cassette) check demonstration, we were led outside to an obstacle course set up in the Real Art Ways parking lot. For those who have been down there, you may be wondering why anything had to be added to the lot. It is already riddled with enormous potholes because the property owner (which is not Real Art Ways) neglects the lot. So, we were given a kind of double-whammy obstacle course of potholes and tennis balls cut in half; we were expected to ride between or around the latter. The instructors also taught us the correct way to start riding. Initially I rolled my eyes at this because I was thinking, “well, I managed to ride here, so obviously I started riding my bicycle just fine.” But the pedal position matters somewhat when starting from a stop at an intersection. Who knew? From there, we practiced shifting and braking maneuvers.
As it became time to hit the streets, the rain came down even heavier. Although not a huge fan of riding in the rain, I was happy that the outdoor portion of the class continued because for everyday bike riders, rain is something that happens and that one should know how to deal with safely. We encountered many of the annoying and confusing circumstances that the instructors promised: poorly marked lanes, railroad tracks, trash in the street, and left-hand turns in somewhat intimidating intersections. Nothing here was new except for the part where someone behind me was commenting on what I might have been doing wrong, and then, the other part that involved leading the pack. No pressure.
The outcome: nobody got sideswiped or lost. Not even one driver cussed us out. It rained heavier still as we headed home, but conditions were nothing like they would be early the next morning when most of the state lost power and rivers overflowed.
Upcoming gentle(r) rides in the city include the Real Ride and Discover Hartford Parks Tour, both in October. If you want to get more comfortable on your bicycle before joining in one of these group rides, contact Bike Walk CT to see what upcoming classes they have to offer.