Instructors, clubs and courses offer programs to train you to bike safely

  • League Certified Instructors and Elmhurst Bicycle Club volunteers assist at Villa Park's Back to School Bike Ride on Aug. 14 at St. Alexander School.

    League Certified Instructors and Elmhurst Bicycle Club volunteers assist at Villa Park's Back to School Bike Ride on Aug. 14 at St. Alexander School. Courtesy of Kelli Morgan/Elmhurst Bicycle Club

 
By Ralph Banasiak
Along for the Ride
Updated 11/14/2021 9:10 AM

No matter what, "play it safe" is wise advice. For biking, plenty of safety training exists, much of it free, either instructor-led, virtual, online resources or, my favorite, oral tradition.

I earned my ride leader stripes years ago in the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) Smart Cycling class. A league certified instructor (LCI) taught this combo online/on-bike class, pumping my cycling confidence in traffic and helping me shepherd less experienced riders.

 

Others share similar insights.

Sergeant John Sellers, University of Illinois Chicago Campus Police, emphasizes lane positioning.

"A lot of Chicago riders run into trouble due to poor lane positioning in traffic, even going straight forward. Curbside of a vehicle turning right they can get caught."

Certified Safety Instructors

Besides taking Smart Cycling, Sellers completed September's LCI seminar coordinated by Chicago's SAFE Ambassadors (Streets Are For Everybody), a Chicago Department of Transportation initiative.

Newly trained league certified instructors Sept. 25 on the top floor of the UIC covered parking garage in Chicago.
Newly trained league certified instructors Sept. 25 on the top floor of the UIC covered parking garage in Chicago. - Courtesy of Larry Mysz

Program manager Shameka Turner also attended, arranging it with LCI National Coach Larry Mysz.

"I wanted all Ambassadors certified, including myself, part of ensuring integrity of the program and staff who teach Chicagoans how to ride a bike," Turner said.

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More than increasing confidence, she continues, "Smart Cycling made me a better motorist. I'm more aware and alert while driving."

There are more than 50 Illinois LCIs listed on LAB's website, with another 11 added after the September course. To organize classes, bike clubs or other groups, contact an LCI.

Beginning in 2014, Bike Palatine Club started sponsoring Smart Cycling every other year, with another planned in 2022.

LCIs instruct several classes: Bicycling Skills 123 Youth, Bicycle Friendly Driver and Group Riding, among others, and assist other safety training. An LCI since 2015, Armaline Mirretti, Elmhurst Bicycle Club Advocacy co-chair, conducted Smart Cycling last April, planning another session next spring.

She and LCI Kim Messina, also Advocacy co-chair, volunteered at summer bike safety rodeos hosted by park districts in Skokie and Justice.

Alison Dewey, LAB's director of education, reports about 35 seminars occur yearly. Aspiring LCIs seeking information and scheduled seminars can visit bikeleague.org/content/become-instructor.

Ride Illinois Safely

"Learn to Ride a Bike" students at their Ride Safely Illinois class May 15 at Beaubien Woods, coordinated by the We Keep You Rollin' Bike & Wellness group.
"Learn to Ride a Bike" students at their Ride Safely Illinois class May 15 at Beaubien Woods, coordinated by the We Keep You Rollin' Bike & Wellness group. - Courtesy of Dave Simmons/Ride Illinois
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Harnessing the skills of more LCIs, Ride Illinois, the statewide, nonprofit bike advocacy organization, launched its new safety program in July. Ride Illinois Safely offers 11 courses in-person and/or online. Executive Director Dave Simmons works "with LCIs because they're familiar with the curriculum, are certified and insured."

Topics include Cycling for Transportation, Bike Safety Tips for Older Adults, Riding in a Group, and Bike Safety Tips for Parents, plus courses for youth. As you'd guess, "Learn to Ride," taught on wheels, focuses on balancing, stopping, gear-shifting, etc.

Fifteen courses were already held.

"Some via Zoom can still be taught in the colder months," Simmons adds.

He hopes to attract ride-share drivers, offering monthly Bicycle Friendly Driver courses beginning in November.

"Each course fee differs based on participant numbers," Simmons said. "Some funding is available, ensuring cost isn't a barrier to bike education. We aim to fulfill all requests, regardless if the individual or organization has the funds to pay."

CyclingSavvy

Nonprofit American Bicycling Education Association offers safety classes and instructional materials through its CyclingSavvy content. Online offerings include Essentials Short Course, Club Rider Essentials and Basic and Mastery courses.

Other materials are available, including Bicycling Street Smarts, CyclingSavvy Edition, adapted from author and LCI John S. Allen's "Bicycling Street Smarts: Riding Confidently, Legally, and Safely."

CyclingSavvy also offers an in-person course, which includes classroom instruction, bike-handling session and on-road, experiential practice involving discussion, analysis and individual demonstration of handling traffic features.

However, Todd Nelson, CyclingSavvy instructor since 2012 and McHenry County Bicycle Advocate's vice president, said, "In-person training course isn't currently available in Chicago's metropolitan area."

Bike clubs, veteran cyclists

Free resources on bike club websites are easily accessible. Elmhurst Bicycle Club Safety Tips displays an extensive list of practical suggestions, some authored by club members, others linked to external sources.

Evanston Bicycle Club's Guidelines for Safe Group Riding is helpful if you've never cycled in large groups. Arlington Heights Bicycle Club Cycling Safety & Health is a mini-encyclopedia.

Excellent safety tips are also found on the Bicycle Club of Lake County Ride Safety page. For visual learners, LAB's 18 Smart Videos cover various topics in short segments.

Don't forget everyday informal training -- "old-timer" wisdom. Veteran ride leaders -- another reason to join a club -- freely dispense pearls, startling some rookies' riding instincts:

• Downshift before stopping. In a lower gear, you're less likely to weave when starting to pedal.

• Cycle near the road edge, but no curb cuddling. Having room to maneuver sideways is handy.

• Stopped on a curve/street corner, move downroad from the turn. Motorists rounding the bend need time to react if you are stopped.

Sharing the road

Speaking of safety, 45,096 students completed Bike Safety Quizzes during the 2020-21 school year: Almost 28,000 driver's ed students (Motorist Quiz), over 5,500 high school PE students (Adult Cyclist Quiz) and over 11,500 elementary students (Child Cyclist Quiz). Nearly 90 schools requested the new Spanish quiz versions.

Participating schools receive $2 for each completed quiz through a mini-grant that Ride Illinois administers. Funds originate with an Illinois Department of Transportation Injury Prevention grant backed by federal dollars for bicycle and pedestrian safety campaigns.

It was renewed again this school year -- new goal: 50,000.

Almost 7,000 others completed one of four free quizzes available to the biking public, 15% over the previous year. Over 150,000 quizzes have been completed since the 2013 Bike Safety Quiz rollout.

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at alongfortheridemail@gmail.com.

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