Three weeks in, I think I’ve more or less got the hang of manoeuvring in traffic without being a liability. The bit I’ve found hardest to get used to is stopping and starting, mainly because below about 5kph my balance gets a little dicey. I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the subject here, in case anyone else starting out finds them useful. Given that I still have that nagging fear that instead of moving graceful away from the lights I’ll spear wildly right into oncoming traffic, I hope I can highlight some of the things I’m consciously thinking about that more experienced ‘benters (that’s probably not a word) are doing as second nature.
A note. This is not aimed at that magical stage where you transition from scooting along on your feet to actually being able to balance this bizarre contraption whilst pedalling. You’re far better off spending some quality time with someone who does it for a living (plug for Laid Back again). So, we’ll assume you’re happily trundling along…
- Look ahead! If you spot a red light coming up and can slow down enough for it to cycle through to green before you arrive, you can avoid the whole process.
- Look in mirror, then move into the middle of the lane. This avoids a car squeezing down your right hand side whilst you’re stopped. Having several tonnes of expensive, easily scratched metal inches away makes the whole starting off process much more tense.
- Change down a fistful of gears. Spinny starts are what we’re after, and unless you’ve got a sexy internal hub gear at the back it’s best to do this in advance.
- Unclip your weaker foot (left for me)
- Slow down, and reach a graceful stop using your weaker foot as a support. Frantically skimming said foot along the ground as you wobble along is more exciting, but gets expensive in footwear. Stop further back from the car in front that you would on an upright, otherwise all you can see is bumper.
- Once stopped, I’ve found the comfiest position is with the supporting leg out at a reasonable angle.
- Assume a nonchalant position whilst waiting to move off.
- Whilst we’re waiting, cycle that pedal round so your clipped in foot can get in a good shove to move you forward. For me this seems to be about an eighth of a rotation towards me off the vertical
- Completely zone out the car behind you.
- As the car in front moves off, give it a few moments to make sure they’re actually committed to going forwards. Most of my argh moments have come from moving confidently towards the suddenly stationary back of the car in front, and having to reset everything. The extra space we left in step 5 above helps.
- Focussing ahead, a firm, smooth rotation of the cranks gets us going. Being clipping in really helps, as it gives a bit more time to get the left foot back towards the pedals. Try and disconnect your upper body from this – pulling on one side of the handlebars as you push the pedal away brings you uncomfortably close to Mr Bus.
- Start spinning and moving up through the gears. When up to a fairly safe speed, consider moving back a bit more to the left.
- Ta Da!
As soon as I find out how, I’ll share the voodoo art of the ‘start followed by immediate tight left turn’…