Is riding a bike really just like riding a bike?

Lynsey after the City Cycling Skills course in Preston Park
Lynsey after the City Cycling Skills course in Preston Park

I clearly remember the day in 1985 my mum decided to take a stand against the many childhood fads and crazes I had lost interest in.

She emptied the cobweb-encrusted contents of the garage into the back of her Austin Montego and hot-footed it to the nearest boot fair to sell the lot – my shiny, purple bicycle included.

Lynsey back in the saddle after 32 years

Lynsey back in the saddle after 32 years

It is fair to say I wasn’t a keen cyclist from the off, having only ridden my bike twice in a whole year since Santa left it for me when I was ten. I was more likely to be seen whizzing up and down the driveway in my roller-boots pretending I was in the cast of Starlight Express.

But I’m a big girl now. A big girl with a five-year-old son who can now ride his bike without stabilisers.

It was time for me to get back in the saddle.

It has been 32 years since I owned that purple beauty and over a decade since I took my ex’s bike for a spin on Hove seafront – a spin that soon ended in disaster as the sweatshirt tied round my waist got caught in my back wheel and threw me across the promenade.

But is riding a bike really like riding a bike?

I didn’t trust myself to stay upright on anything with two wheels, so it was time to call in the experts.

Cycle coach Alison Lewis, 53, of Hove, offers private lessons and is a voluntary Breeze Champion with British Cycling, leading free, women-only rides each month.

The initiative was set up just over five years ago when research carried by British Cycling showed three times more men than women cycle regularly.

Alison said: “Women wanted rides that go at their pace. Sometimes what happens with women and their husband or male partner is he’ll speed off up the hill, he’ll then wait for her so will have had a rest, then as soon as his wife or female partner joins him, he speeds off again.”

British Cycling contacted its female members looking for Breeze Champions to lead all-female rides once a month in return for free training. Alison took them up on their offer and now demand for her rides is high.

“We lead rides from ten miles up,” said Alison. “We ride at the pace of the slowest rider so everyone feels included and welcome.

“The more competent riders go in the middle of the group and keep an eye on anyone who may be struggling.”

Alison was exactly the person I needed to help me on my quest to become the next Victoria Pendleton. Well, maybe not quite Pendleton, but at the very least confident enough to ride along the seafront with my five-year-old.

I booked a private lesson with her and, after a brief stop to hire my bike and helmet, we headed to Hove Park to see if I’d remembered anything at all.

I was actually very nervous and had several anxiety dreams in the run-up to that morning involving me falling off a Penny Farthing on the M25.

Luckily, Alison started the lesson by taking me through the all-important safety elements of cycling, from what I was wearing down to checking the components of the bike itself.

It turns out I had remembered quite a lot from my childhood and, after a wobbly start, I was soon doing figure-eights around the basketball court. It really was quite exhilarating, even at my slow speed.

Alison was the perfect teacher – thorough, patient and extremely knowledgeable.

Feeling braver, but not quite ready for the wider cycling world, I discovered Brighton and Hove City Council offers free cycle training for adults aged over 14 at three different levels.

I registered for the beginner’s level and decided take the plunge and buy a second-hand bike.

On the day of my City Cycling Skills session, held in Preston Park, I was pleasantly surprised to discover my free lesson was a one-to-one.

I was dreading being part of a group and either feeling completely out of my depth, or bored to tears, but it was just me.

The lesson started in much the same way as my private hour with Alison had, covering the safety aspects and getting me ready to pedal.

I confessed to my trainer I’d recently been re-acquainted with a saddle, so she moved things along and we practiced looking behind, signalling and how to position myself on the road so I could be clearly seen by car drivers and truckers alike.

An hour-and-a-half later we parted company with me feeling even more confident, although my trainer was probably ready for a lie-down due to the number of small dogs and children I’d narrowly missed along the way.

So here I am. A fully grown cyclist with my own bike and everything.

I took a leap of faith and cycled to work today. It’s only a mile from my house but it felt wonderful.

If this resonates with you on any level, I urge you to give it a go. Not only can I now go out on family bike rides, but I’ll be making far fewer unnecessary short journeys in my car and getting fit to boot.

And with a new Boris Bike style share scheme due to hit Brighton later this summer, what better time is there to get back in the saddle?

For private coaching, or to enquire about Breeze women-only rides, contact Alison Lewis here:

Details on the council’s City Cycling Skills sessions can be found here.