Learning to Ride May Be Better with Singular Attention
Bike Takeaway: Group bike class not for you? There are resources for people who prefer individual instruction to learn to ride a bike.
One of the common barriers to getting more people to ride bikes is that some people don’t know how, or they haven’t ridden a bike in a very long time. Whether you’re learning to ride for the first time or trying to get more confident riding on the streets, many people find strength and safety in numbers. To support these new or new(ish) riders, BikeArlington and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association partner to offer classes and ride events throughout the year.
But for some people, having individual instruction is their preferred learning method, with a 1:1 student-teacher ratio. Luckily, there are resources for learning one-on-one too. We talked to several local League Cycling Instructors (LCIs), who are bike educators certified through the League of American Bicyclists, to learn why group classes aren’t for everyone.
“My students want the individual instruction because it suits their time frame, they don’t have to wait for a class,” said Kelley Westenhoff, a Reston-based LCI who teaches throughout northern Virginia. She added that when people also hire her to teach their kids, it is all about scheduling. “There aren’t enough youth learn to ride classes in the area, and the ones that do exist fill quickly,” she said.
Jason Horowitz, an Arlington LCI who teaches as the DC Cycling Sensei, stated, “Scheduling conflicts with group classes are a big reason people come to me or lack of group classes available at certain times of the year.” One of his recent students needed to learn quickly in a compressed period. He recalled, “Areeba Hasan had a specific goal to learn to ride and get ready for a planned group ride in Italy—and only three weeks to get ready. And I’m happy to report that she rode about 14 miles before she left.”
Hasan said she thought the individual instruction was the only way she could learn in time for her trip. “I’ve tried to learn how to cycle with friends and it’s never worked,” she said. “And I figured I’m 27 now, and I’m about to go on a trip to Italy, and we’re going to be bike along the Amalfi Coast, and I really, really want to learn. So I figured the best way would be to learn with someone who was familiar with bikes, so that’s why I decided to do this one-on-one.”
In addition to time constraints, many instructors say adult students often don’t want to make mistakes in front of other students.
“The biggest challenges most people face in learning how to ride a bike are psychological,” said Justin Isbell, an Arlington LCI, who also goes by Judd Lumberjack on line. “Adults are sometimes embarrassed that they never learned how to ride a bike. Learning how to ride for the first time is all about balance and developing the trust that a moving bike is stable. It can be really challenging to move from thinking about balancing to having your brain and your body do it automatically.”
Westenhoff agrees. “Many people don’t like big group activities,” she said. “I think the fear of not getting it and feeling stupid is more in a group for some of them.” She noted many adults are carrying baggage from bad experiences with bike lessons. “S sometimes not having had a happy experience with whoever was trying to teach them, usually a parent who didn’t have patience,” One-on-one instruction can remove some of these psychological barriers.
Cultural and Language Differences
Edgar Gil Rico, another Arlington LCI, also offers instruction in Spanish, which removes the language barrier for Spanish speaking people seeking to learn.
“I have a mix of students, some of them like the fact that the class can be in Spanish, either because it is their mother language or because they know some and want to practice,” he said. “Most of my students are from somewhere else outside of the U.S. It is easy to make the cultural connections, and we always end up comparing bicycling laws/habits here with other countries.”
Westenhoff says she also has many students who have cultural barriers that kept them from learning. “Many of my students are women who grew up in a different culture where there was little emphasis placed on them learning to bike. It was not considered an essential skill,” she said. “When they get here and see their kids take to it, they want to learn as well. Their delight in learning how to do it is infectious.”
Get Started Biking
All of the instructors interviewed work with kids and adults, and their rates generally start at $50 an hour. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association also maintains a list of LCIs who offer individual instruction. Each lists their individual areas of expertise. Search the list to find one that suits you.