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Learning to ride with NHCAT

by Samantha Haiken

Fin reattaches the bike pedals after learning to ride without them

NHCAT has taught Learn to Ride classes at the Farmington Canal Trail free of charge since the

organization’s founding! NHCAT uses the Learn to Ride technique of the League of American

Bicyclists, which begins by removing the pedals from a bicycle, lowering the seat, and having

the participant glide down a gentle decline to get the hang of balancing on two wheels. Once

they’re ready, instructor puts the pedals back on the bike and then has the participant practice

gaining momentum by pushing on the pedals. Usually within an hour, the newly-minted cyclist

pedals off!

Recently, Karen Jenkins, a member of the NHCAT Board and a League Cycling Instructor, taught

Finbarr, or Fin, a high school student who spent this summer in New Haven. I chatted with Fin

after his lessons to find out what the Learn to Ride experience was like for him. He reported

that he liked that his instructor removed the pedals from the bike because that made it easier

for him to stop the bike’s momentum when he was first learning how to balance and steer.

Then, the instructor had Fin install the pedals.

It was tough to learn how to gain momentum on the bike once the pedals were back on, but he

got the hang of it soon. Karen showed Fin how to switch gears on his bike, use quick release

levers to change the height of the seat, and properly fit and position his helmet. He also learned

the classic ABC Quick Check: checking the air, brakes, cranks and chain, and quick releases, then

riding the bike a few feet to do a final check that everything is working properly.

By the end of the second one-hour lesson, Fin used the “power” take-off and pedaled away

along the Farmington Trail with his instructor riding behind him. He also demonstrated how to

come to a smooth stop by gently using the brakes instead of his feet as he did during his first


Asked to provide advice for future Learn to Ride students, Fin offers that the mindset of the

student is one of the most important factors in the learning process: those who don’t really

want to learn – who are just doing it because they think they’re behind everyone else and

should be able to – might struggle more with the lessons than those who are more motivated.

Fin rides scooters as well as his bike, and notes that while bicycles and scooters have similar

uses, bikes are more practical: they can reach higher speeds than scooters, and are therefore

better for getting around. He can now envision himself riding his bike around some of his

beautiful local trails.

If you’d like to learn more about NHCAT’s Learn to Ride course offering, reach out to A League Certified Instructor will work with you to determine the best time

and place for your class and provide a bike helmet that fits you, free of charge.

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