Riding with confidence can mean racing safe.
when i first started cycling, i was 5. i had a cute little tricycle, complete with ribbons, a basket and a bell. Every evening dad would take me to the park and set me free. there, i will ride alongside him and occasionally, my menacing elder brothers. as i grew older, i graduated to cycling around the neighbourhood, this time dad would either cycle or jog with me.
very standard image, right?
that's what i thought until i spoke to him in later years.
see, being so young, i have blurred and selective memories about my early riding days. but i always remembered one feeling: safe.
i always felt safe. never felt that i needed to worry. never even knew i should worry.
while all these years i thought i was just born daring, i recently realised i wasn't. i was brought up that way.. thanks to my parents (and it's actually a humbling experience when you realise your parents actually know more tricks than you do!)
when my parents decided that i should learn how to cycle, their objective was:
1. get her interested
2. make her brave
so this was exactly what my dad did:
1. catching senn's eye
my dad bought me a pretty tricycle. it wasn't a standard three wheeler, more like a mini bike, with two wheels and hooked on training wheels. honestly, i can't remember the full details but i remembered wanting to ride it because it was pretty. the basket in the front was a huge blast with me. i would carry all sorts of nonsense in it and pretend that i was delivering stuff. and it had a bell!! i was sold!
while i don't remember my very first ride, i do remember park rides and what a racket my training wheels made on the uneven pedestrian path.
mission accomplished: senn is interested.
2. introducing senn to evil knievel
i can't remember how long i had training wheels on, but i know it felt forever. and it was great. i hardly fell, i could ride faster, and i had no worries about heavy traffic (read: naughty brothers weaving around me) because when i feel like i was going to bump into something, i just stop. when the coast was clear, i just continued.
it wasn't until i was 7 and have long outgrown my 'tricycle' that my dad said time to switch bikes. i thought "what a cool idea... i want a prettier one!"
no such luck...
being tight for money, i got my brother's old bike :(
it was an ugly, rusting dark red bike. heavy and not attractive at all! and did i say, it had no training wheels??
i was sad. but had already enjoyed cycling so much i figured "rough it out till your birthday comes".
and this conversation i remember:
dad: ok senn! this is your bike now. come try it
senn: but it's ugly
dad: never mind... still got two wheels..try first... come!
senn: but it's too big!
dad: good for you. then you'll grow faster.. come!
(right about now i was feeling like a puppy being called by the master!)
senn: but i'll fall! no wheel-wheel (read: training wheels. had no idea at that time there was actually a name for it)
dad: but you haven't been using them for more than 1 year! faster la... come!
i have never been able to describe how i felt at that point in time until m. night shyamalan directed sixth sense..
know the last twist towards the end when bruce willis found out he was actually dead?
memories of my trusty wheel-wheels.. they were there! they stopped my from falling! i would stop and they were there to help balance! they were! i swear!
think dad saw the confusion in my face.
he took out my tricycle and said "see?"
true enough. my wheel-wheels were at least 2 inches above ground. over the span of a year and a half my dad had slowly adjusted it higher from ground level to above ground without me knowing. when i dismount, the bike stood, leaning until the training wheels touched the ground. but when i rode, it was just the two wheels.
i later found out that he did the same thing with my swimming floats. i started out at 5 with fully inflated arm floats. every 2 to 3 weeks, he will inflate it a little less. by about 7 months, i really didn't need them anymore but wore them till my parents enrolled me with a swim coach at the age of 6.
how i have been conned!
it wasn't until i was 15 did the whole episode of giving your kid a false sense a security came out. i had met a classmate that enjoyed riding and decided to try it with her with my brother's 5-speed, heavy as hell road bike.
feeling cheated all this while, i asked my dad point blank: why did you trick me about the training wheels and the arm floats?
his answer was simple and one that i admit has done wonders for me.
"to build confidence"
it's strange how a small gesture like tricking your kid into thinking she's safe can build her confidence. but it's very true. when i thought i had my training wheels, my mind was at ease. i didn't worry too much about falling and focused more on things like maintaining momentum and riding straight. i wasn't afraid to look left or right while riding because i didn't have to concentrate too much on what's directly in front of me that i neglect my surroundings (read: up to no good brothers trying to race pass me). i wasn't nervous and learned sub-consciously how to manage distance like how long it will take to stop if i went at what speed.
confidence is one thing you will need to ride.
forget how lousy your bike is.
forget how slow you ride.
confidence on the bike is not something we are born with. it is something we train ourselves to do. just like driving. and it's best to build your confidence while you are training on your bike.
as we're all too old to be fooled by "false securities", here are some tips that can help you build confidence while riding.
1. stop strangling your handlebar
a very normal thing to do when you ride on the roads for the very first time. you've never felt traffic zooming pass you before and you're worried about potholes ahead.
clenching your handlebars or getting "white knuckles" automatically tightens your entire body. you become rigid and will not be able to think fast or make sudden movements to avoid a mishap.
instead, start of with a sturdy bike. with sturdy wheels like open pros.
while we haven't addressed your initial fears of road riding, the fact that your first bike is hardly anything to shout about and your wheels are strong gives you peace of mind to 'trash it' a little. think a trusty 4x4 vs a shiny new speedster.
2. be one with the bike
think of your bike as an extension of yourself. as if you were born with wheels and riding really is like walking to you.
how does this help?
simple, think of the things you would do while walking on a busy street and apply that while you are riding.
on a busy street, you would walk as far to the edge as possible but making sure you have room left before going off road. you would also not fix your line of sight to just what's in front of you. you would look left, right, occasionally behind you to ensure your surrounding is safe.
if there's a pothole in front of you, you would either walk around it or jump over it. but either way you will still check what's coming behind you. same goes when you're on a bike. i used to be afraid of doing so because the bike swerves to the direction of my head. arif taught me to straighten my shoulders and touch my chin to my shoulder when wanting to look back. this ensures that your bike remains straight as you check your surroundings.
if traffic doesn't allow you to go around the pothole, just ride through it if it isn't crater sized. you'll hear a loud thud. at this point, if you have been strangling your handlebars, you will most probably lose balance and fall. but if you hold your handlebar correctly, the only damage is a loud thud, a possible flat, and wrist vibration. a good hold is one when it's firm enough to keep the handlebar straight, but light enough for your handlebar to move to the natural groove of the pit. this takes time and a sturdy set of wheels to master. but very useful to ensure you don't ride into traffic just to avoid a pothole.
and never ever squeeze the brakes hard as you enter the pothole (something you're more likely to do if you do not relax that death grip on the handlebar). you will most definitely fly forward.
3. ride decisively
many people think that bikes, being smaller, has less 'voice' on the road. not true.
but if you are timid on the bike, you will appear to have a smaller 'voice' and may be subject to being bullied.
if you want a louder 'voice' on the road, imagine that you are driving BUT with a little more caution because you are less visible on a bike.
we drive with confidence, we signal when we want to change lanes (by default we should!) and we learn that hesitating is far more dangerous than being decisive.
ride with a clear direction. no sudden moves.
we lost a dear rider last year on one of the sunday rides at putrajaya. those who know the route, will tell you that it's actually quite a puzzle how she got hit by a small kancil of a car from behind. for starters, it's a bright sunday morning. the particular stretch of road is relatively low in traffic. and it's a five lane highway.
i wasn't there when it happened but was told that the car hit her when the road started to divide into an intersection with an overhead. she had wanted to go straight, the car had wanted to keep left.
a) moron of a driver should have been a little more patient when changing lanes.
b) she was a new rider and possibly panicked with the raging car behind her and made a sudden move thinking that she was getting out of his way.
while it would be unfair of me to say that had she stood her ground, she would not have gotten hit, (hell, simon cross is an excellent rider and he got hit!) i do feel that you need to build confidence on your bike by riding decisively. and when you ride decisively, you become less unpredictable to the zooming cars behind or around you. they can be morons and choose to cut in front or be patient and wait behind you but bottom line, they can at least sense what your next move is.
and that... means you have a voice to be reckoned with on the road.
keep practising these tips. ask your more experience riding buddies how you ride and what they think you should try out to be more confident (because strangely, experienced riders themselves find it scary to ride with riders that have low confidence or are timid and indecisive)
once you've built enough confidence on actual road riding, races would be less intimidating. especially since they would often close the roads to traffic and you would have policemen/marshals to help ensure safety.