Lessons are a shortcut to becoming a capable, confident cycle commuter, however rusty your cycling skills.
You never forget how to ride a bike. Of course, not everyone learned. Even if you did, there's a big difference between knowing how to balance, steer and brake, and being confident enough to ride on roads with traffic. For that, an ability to physically ride a bike isn't enough. You need to be able to use skills like road positioning and negotiation.
As you'll see from those links, you can learn a lot about cycle commuting skills from the Cyclescheme website. Another excellent resource is the book Cyclecraft. Many of us learn better by doing rather than reading about it, especially when the skills are wholly new. The quickest way to learn-by-doing isn't by picking it up as you go along but by finding an instructor.
If you're a cyclist of a certain age, you'll remember the Cycling Proficiency Test you did at school. You might still have the badge, along with memories of riding around cones in the playground. It was superseded in 2005 by the National Standards for Cycle Training, branded Bikeability.
Visit the Bikeability website and you'll see images of kids on bikes. But while Bikeability is 'Cycling Proficiency for the 21st century', it's not exclusively aimed at children. (Those activity sheets are strictly optional.) Some training still takes place in traffic-free environments such as playgrounds, just as Cycling Proficiency did. Its focus, however, is on giving participants the skills to cycle on today's roads, and its syllabus is just as relevant for adults.
The National Standards for Cycling Training were developed by over 20 organisations, including British Cycling, Cycling UK, Sustrans, the Department for Transport, and Cycle Training UK.
What you'll learn
The National Standards are divided into three levels, ranging from basic cycling skills in a traffic-free environment (Level 1) through to making journeys on busy roads (Level 3). These are the kinds of tasks you're taught at each level. They're cumulative – Level 2 assumes you can already do everything in Level 1. (Note that this list isn't comprehensive.)
Level 1: bike control in a traffic-free setting
• Perform a simple bike check.
• Start off, pedal, and stop safely.
• Manoeuvre around objects.
• Use the gears, if the bike has them.
• Look around while maintaining control of the bike.
• Signal left and right.
• Share space with pedestrians and other cyclists.
Level 2: cycle on single-lane roads and use junctions
• Start and finish an on-road journey.
• Let other road users know what you're intending to do.
• Recognise typical hazards.
• Pass parked vehicles and side roads.
• Know where to ride on the road.
• Make left and right turns.
• Show a basic understanding of the Highway Code.
Level 3: cycle on busy, multi-lane roads, and use complex junctions
• Understand route planning.
• Understand advanced road positioning.
• Negotiate roundabouts and junctions with traffic lights.
• Know how and when to filter in traffic.
• Understand driver blind spots.
• React to hazardous road surfaces.
• Use multi-lane roads.
How you learn it
Children learning Bikeability will start at Level 1. As an adult, it's unlikely you'll have to go back to the playground and start there. You can jump in at any point. Your instructor will assess your bike handling first, and then work with you to see what you need to learn.
Bikeability training is detailed, since it has to cover a wide variety of scenarios. Yet for existing cyclists it's not like learning to drive, where you start from a baseline of nothing. Consequently, you won't have weeks of training ahead of you. If you're a competent cyclist who just needs to brush up 'traffic skills', the training session might focus almost exclusively on Level 3 and take only a couple of hours.
The training can be tailored specifically to you and your training needs. If there's a particular skill you're lacking, you can work intensively on that. If there's a particular route you want to feel comfortable riding, your instructor can work with you on that.
Finding an instructor
Bikeability cycle training takes place all across the country. To find an instructor in your area, visit the Bikeability website and enter your local authority in the search box. It will show local authority cycle training as well as sole-trader instructors who have registered with the scheme. Alternatively, visit your local authority website directly and search for 'cycle training' or 'cycling'.
If you come across a cycle instructor by a different route – word of mouth, for example, or through the instructor's own website – just ask them if they're an accredited National Standards instructor. If they are, great; if not, use your judgment. Good instruction ultimately depends on the person giving the instruction.
The cost of a cycle training session will depend where you are and whether or not it is subsidised by your local authority. Fees range from nothing at all up to £30-£40 per hour. It's often cheaper to receive cycle training in a group, but a one-to-one session can teach you more in the same amount of time as it can be tailored specifically to you.