Friday 10 December 2021

Diary of a Cycling Instructor (Week 5th July — 9th July)

Taking ownership of your learning is the only way to enjoy the challenge


Not a lamp, but a sky-tickling, Victorian-era, rusty stinkpipe

Week Monday 5th July — Friday 9th July 2021

“Back, forward, back” might sound like the slogan of a government that’s dilly-dallied over Covid, but the phrase is actually part of cycling training’s lingo. It’s what a rider does before executing a U-turn.

It takes time for our young charges to adopt our language, let alone our practices, but it’s ever so interesting to see the intention there, on their anxious-looking faces. Many of these kids have been cycling for years, and yet, the concepts we introduce, the techniques we discuss and the tips we give them, carry a magic that spellbinds them. Well, most of the time and most of them.

thers are just as happy riding their BMXs in the local park, hands off the handlebars, bums off their seats.

elivering cycling training in a school exposes you to some “colourful” language. The type many people can’t conceive teachers and school staff ever using. Nevertheless, this exposure validates their humanity in my eyes. As someone who was in the same environment for eleven years, I’ve got utmost respect for anyone who throws their lot in with educators. Even if that means putting up with the “f” word bandied about gratuitously.

ore than cycling, it is language training what we deliver sometimes. We live in a world of cars, not traffic and masculinised drivers (he/him/his). Since I started working as a cycling instructor my intention has been to revolutionise the way we see the road. That’s why I employ the term “road users”, not cars, “they” instead of “he” or even the longer-sounding “he or she”. The mythical creature we’ve created to explain that when pulling in on the left side of the road (as it should be. After all, we drive and cycle on the left in the UK), we must look over our left shoulder, is “pizza delivery person”.

Let the anti-woke brigade call me politically correct. If they’re handing out badges, I want mine.

what moment of the learning process do you let go? Never mind if you are an English language teacher or cycling instructor, like me. An adult learner (as I have been) or a child. And when mistakes are made, do we look back and say, we could have done more? Or is it more about our learners taking ownership of the material they’re given?

Once we leave the safe confines of the school and start our on-road training, there’s very little we can do when our young trainees make the wrong choice. Even when the training is playground-based, there’s not a lot we can assist them with. Especially when they’re in the top tier of the school, Years 5 and 6. We cannot ride their bicycles for them. And I wouldn’t, given the chance.

The most beautiful part of learning is when the challenge doesn’t become easier, but more appealing. Damn, you actually start enjoying the challenge, the getting-out-of-your-comfort-zone feeling. That’s the moment that’ll stick with us.

t’s not that I don’t mind that that Deliveroo rider cut in in front of me, or that he jumped a red, or that he zigzagged so perilously around pedestrians on the pavement later. I do mind that. But what I mind above all, is that he stayed on the same gear going up Holloway Road, Highgate-bound. Mate, change to a bloody lower gear! That way you won’t have to get off your seat.


  1. Ah yes, the language the kiddos use. The less shocked you are by it, the less they need to attempt to shock you, or some such.

  2. This activity might be more akin to coaching than to teaching, I think, but in many ways they are the same thing with two different words to describe them.

  3. I very much enjoyed reading this essay. Gracias!

  4. Learning is an incredible gift - and I thank the educators. Whatever their field...

  5. I like the photo of the stink pipe. Lot's of interesting thoughts in today's piece.

  6. Hi ACIL - an interesting take on language and our ability to communicate - it's good the kids have the opportunity to grow in many ways and I'm sure they'll absorb a lot from you, as well as adhere to many of your principles. It's the scooters that worry me now, and the electric cars ... I use my ears so much when I'm in the streets. Cheers Hilary

  7. "The most beautiful part of learning is when the challenge doesn’t become easier, but more appealing." It's like when you look forward to getting lost and the adrenaline rush accompanied with that great rush of joy when you find out where you are. Unplanned, spontaneous; by chance taking the wrong left when you should have taken a right but you keep going anyway because you already know what's behind you. "Damn, you actually start enjoying the challenge, the getting-out-of-your-comfort-zone feeling." Success, prosperity, comfort-zones...double edged swords. It might be better to teach kids how to fail rather than how to succeed. The mark of an athlete is knowing how to fall so as not to get hurt.

  8. wow I read and see you got much out of beeing a Cycling Instructor:) Interesting!



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