Beginners and balancing

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Beginners and balancing

Postby annief » 1 Jun 2008, 2:16pm

I read a recent thread about teaching complete beginners and I wonder if I could raise the subject again. I've got a middle aged female complete beginner, she's a bit stiff, a bit overweight and quite nervous and appears unable to balance at all. Her keen, cyclist boyfriend has taken her out on his tandem and maybe frightened her a bit and she's had a couple of falls, she told me.
She appears unable to balance for more than a moment here and there and I have been reduced to ploughing up and down supporting her with a hand on the bars and a hand around her hips. I think she's gripping the bars so tightly that she is over-steering but whatever I do I can't persuade her to relax her arms for more than a few moments at a time. I guess she may be quite frightened inside.
I've done all the NS bit about learning to stop in control first, I've tried a flat, grassy field, I've tried coasting on a small hill, I've tried all the techniques I can think of to get her to relax but after a couple of pedal strokes she's veering wildly off to one side or the other.
Is it possible that some people just can't balance? Surely not, but I don't know what to do next. I've got an 'adult' scooter and I was wondering if some time spent on that would give her a feeling of how balancing on two wheels feels? I'd be grateful for any thoughts.

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Postby keepontriking » 1 Jun 2008, 3:18pm

If she is veering off to one side then she may not have mastered the stop yet. Ensure she pulls up the brakes and stops BEFORE putting her feet down - and discourage her from looking down.
Demonstate this yourself so it is fully understood.
Also try and get her to focus her mind on something straight ahead such as a tree or a park seat.

It might also be that she is not getting a good push off to maintain momentum.
Try encouragement by saying "Ready, Steady, Go!" and make her think of setting off in a race.
Sometimes all that is required is a little 'oomph'.

Good luck

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Postby bikeboy » 1 Jun 2008, 4:16pm

You could try taking it right back to the very basics (if you haven't already). Getting her to hold the saddle and push the bike forward allowing her to see how when the bike lilts to one side you have to correct it by slight movements. You can also return to your grassy area with a slight slope, take off the pedals and get her to scoot towards you, it could take some time but start off with a 5 metre scoot and gradually build it up. Once the balance comes in the pedals can go back on. Like the previous advice, get her to focus on a point in the distance, so many new riders look at what their wheels are doing rather than whats ahead of them, remind her the bike will go where the eyes are looking. Other than that its just a case of try and try again, lots and lots of praise and I'm sure you will crack it in no time at all. The very best of luck.

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Postby Fonant » 1 Jun 2008, 8:47pm

This idea is based on how our 2.75-year-old twins learned to ride their bikes, with absolutely no instruction from us at all. Molly took to it like a duck to water, whereas Tom was very nervous and wary for the first few goes. They are both now quite happy balancing for quite long distances, where there's a downhill gradient, and can scoot along at about 10mph with ease.


Take off the pedals, and put the saddle down low. Get her to walk with the bike between her legs so she gets used to the steering - she'll soon learn to steer in such a way that the bike doesn't start to "fall over" under her, but she won't be putting any weight on the bike. The worst that can happen is that the bike gets in the way and trips her up, but this doesn't happen much and isn't nasty even if she does fall over.

Then she can start sitting on the saddle gently so it takes some weight and she's starting to scoot. After a bit she'll naturally feel the bike supporting her, and she'll learn to steer in order to balance. All the time she should feel confident because she has both feet close to the ground for support.

Only once she's fully confident in her balancing should you put the pedals back on, and then she'll just have to learn how to give a good push to get going.

Good luck!
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Postby lauriematt » 2 Jun 2008, 6:13pm

Fonant wrote:


wheres the brakes??? :lol: :lol:

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Postby pjclinch » 3 Jun 2008, 12:44pm

Where are the brakes? the brakes are on the ends of their legs...

That's about the only downside of scooter bikes; the kids can get over-used to stopping with feet and need to un-learn that to progress to other forms of braking. But that's a lot easier than learning balance

To the OP, there are some people who just can't do balance, but I think most problem cases are an inability to relax. I see that a fair bit with folk who are experienced cyclists failing to get anywhere with a recumbent, because they can't relax and steer by leaning the bike. With your pupil it may be worth trying to work on the degree to which steering, directional stability and leaning are all intertwined. If you are starting to veer off to one side then the way to stop that is to steer/lean to the other. I think a scooter may be a good way to approach this as it may be less threatening, it's easier to get on and off and it maintains the fundamentals of leaning and steering for maneuver.

The suggestion above about where to look is useful too: in practice people tend to go where they are looking. If a beginner wants to avoid something they tend to concentrate on it, and are drawn magnetically to it! Similarly, if you veer off and to the left you tend to look left, and that feeds back and you keep on veering... It's a lot easier to go in a broadly straight line if you're looking at a "target" further away.

If all else fails, point her to tricycles. As stated above, some people can't do bikes, whether for physical or psychological reasons, but that doesn't mean you have to give up cycling. If she worries she'll look like an invalid point out that the End to End record has been held for some years now by Andy Wilkinison riding a Windcheetah recumbent trike.


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Postby Fonant » 3 Jun 2008, 7:10pm

lauriematt wrote:wheres the brakes??? :lol: :lol:

There are no brakes, they stop with their feet. Not amazingly efficient, but plenty good enough for the speeds they do (up to about 10mph). You do have to watch out for steep hills, but they learn to slow down from speed quite quickly.

The whole point is that the "bike" is as simple as possible, so there's nothing to learn. We didn't have to tell them anything about how to ride them: they were given the bikes, they stood over them (presumably copying other cyclists they'd seen) and off they walked. Very quickly, i.e. within a few minutes, they'd learned to steer the way they were walking to keep the bike upright between their legs. A few goes later and they realised they could sit on the saddle, and without any effort or difficulty they're balancing.
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Postby tina » 5 Sep 2008, 8:59am

Here is a trick I use quite often.

Stand in front of bike holding handlebars firmly!
Get client to sit on saddle with feet on pedals and hands on bars, and trust you to hold them up.

Now get them to look at your face.

Then very gently rock the bike from side to side.

They should (eventually) trust you enough to stay with feet on pedals and start to move their body with the bike. If they have reasonable balance the head will stay still and the body move.

Explain that this is how the bike will move when they are cycling and that it is supposed to do it!!!

Good luck!
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Re: Beginners and balancing

Postby Punk_shore » 3 Mar 2009, 1:59pm

:o here's a bit further back in the process for you. It starts with the situation which the pupil likely dreads most.

Lay the bike down on the ground, chain-side up. Ask the pupil to pick the handlebars up and see what happens. Then ask him/her to lay the bike down on the opposite side, noting what happens to the pedals & drivetrain.

Now ask him/her to pick the bike up by the saddle, bring it upright then take hold of the handlebars with one hand (the other hand still holding the saddle). Ask the pupil to return the bike to its original side i.e. chain-side up. Then supervise the pupil trying pushing the whole bike through a pedestrian doorway-sized opening. Use brakes as required at any stage.

The benefit of this technique is that the pupil can feel the weight of the bike and relate it more readily to a pedestrian situation. The pupil will feel more confident because the instructor hasn't touched the bike him/herself during these exercises. 8)

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Re: Beginners and balancing

Postby Bikecat » 4 Mar 2009, 4:42pm

Hi Annie
My experience is to keep trying! Lots of encouraging praise. A wide flat tarmac area and just keep on at it. I've had people like you describe and there is only one person who never learnt and that was due to a very low self esteem issue. I have taught probably 100 beginners and with some you just have to keep on doing the up and down. Sometimes it can take three lessons. I assume you are guiding her to steer towards any leaning the bike does and to keep her weight central. Don't at this stage expect her to have unstiff arms! they will loosen as she gets a bit better and gains confidence. The main thing is to praise any thing that goes well and keep checking in with her about different things she's feeling (eg if she has achieved a moment or two of balance 'could you feel anything different?'). Good luck!

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Re: Beginners and balancing

Postby worthers » 5 Mar 2009, 10:43am

annief wrote:I think she's gripping the bars so tightly that she is over-steering but whatever I do I can't persuade her to relax her arms for more than a few moments at a time. I guess she may be quite frightened inside. any thoughts.
Just a thought - have you tried using a different handlebar set up? I taught a guy who felt very uncomfortable with flat style bars; I noticed that he was really uncomfortable with putting any weight on/trust in them. So as a wee test I changed them for an upright bar set, and; wow! What a difference! Perhaps it was just a placebo effect, but something definitely changed!

P.S. Never underestimate the placebo effect when teaching beginners! 8)

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Re: Beginners and balancing

Postby rbrian » 21 Mar 2009, 4:08pm

Do they make stabilisers big enough for adult bikes? They were successful in teaching me to ride a bike when I was a kid. They allow a limited amount of leaning, enough that you can learn to ride along without letting them touch the ground, just providing a safety net if you do topple. This should build confidence, I think, and after my stabilisers were taken off at the age of 4 I never looked back.
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