Some Thoughts on Cycling Savvy

Two weeks ago, I drove to Berkeley, eager to attend the first in a series of CyclingSavvy workshops, which were being offered for the first time on the West Coast. I arrived to find a room full of equally eager people, from all across the state of California (and beyond.) There were some impressive resumes in the room, people who have spent years, decades, advocating for and educating cyclists. The kind of people everyone who uses roads in California should thank, but who rarely get the thanks they deserve, because bicycle advocacy isn’t as high-profile or glamorous as one might think.

For those of you wondering what CyclingSavvy is, it’s a new bicycling education program focused on teaching effective traffic cycling skills. If you’re wondering what the big dealio is, let’s just say that, in the bicyclist educators ring, there’s been a lot of buzz about the curriculum’s approach. Sure, you may not have heard of CyclingSavvy, but bicycle education gets about as much media coverage as bicycle advocacy. For a more thorough discussion of what CS is and how it’s different, you should read this.

In an effort to avoid a review so lengthy it requires an intermission, I’ll try to limit this post to broad impressions and save the nitty gritty for future posts. Having been certified by the League of American Bicyclists as a League Cycling Instructor, my comments will likely compare the CS material to LAB’s.

The inaugural West Coast classes were led by CyclingSavvy Co-Founder, Mighk Wilson, from Florida, and CyclingSavvy Instructor Gary Cziko, from Illinois. Friday’s workshop was a lecture on topics ranging from bicycle traffic code and traffic cycling principals to route planning and problem-solving strategies. First, let me say that no matter how you dice it, there’s a lot to cover in the lecture. And presenting the material to a room full of seasoned, outspoken cycling educators presented unique challenges, to put it mildly. While Mighk was presenting the second half of the lecture, Gary snapped a quick shot of the room:

Oh sure, they look soft and cuddly, but this crowd asked some tough questions.

So, general impressions: The helmet-cam videos were awesome. They serve as a powerful illustration of the traffic cycling principals being taught, more so, I imagine, when the audience is familiar with the roadways in the videos. But that’s a job for future California CyclingSavvy Instructors to tackle. Gary and Mighk are visiting from out of state so we’ll cut them some slack. The lecture is content-heavy. Even with certain commonly covered topics eliminated, CS introduces enough fresh content that it’s a lot to absorb in 3 hours. The slides are complex the presentation could use some streamlining. There were just too many words on the screen most of the time. Perhaps broad concepts could be covered in an online module similar to this one and the lecture used to reinforce the ideas and discuss details.

In the interest of getting this review published sooner rather than later, I’ll save the on-road review for another post. From what I saw in Friday’s lecture, the CyclingSavvy program offers some awesome, practical
information on how to plan routes and take advantage of patterns in traffic flow and clearly communicate with motorists to minimize potentially stressful interactions on high traffic roadways. There is a heavy emphasis on urban riding which is, for the most part, great, except that I would love to see the program delve further into strategies for the heavily trafficked narrow, rural roadways that we encounter here in Southern Marin. Sharing the roads in my little slice of California presents challenges for which I have yet to find a good solution. CyclingSavvy is a big step in the right direction and, with a few modifications to address certain West Coast conditions, is the type of course that all cyclists could attend and walk away from having learned something new and useful. This isn’t cycling 101, it’s dancing for cyclists. We could all stand to learn a few new moves.

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4 comments
  1. Dave Simcoe said:

    I’d like to see S. Savvy produce a quiz or test that covers every aspect of the course. Prospective students might take the test in order to gauge their current understanding of the principals taught by S. Savvy. The results could motivate participation. A retest after wards, could measure knowledge gained.

    • That’s an interesting idea, Dave. I definitely think the program could benefit from moving some of the content from the lecture to an online format. Pieces of the online program could be used to create a quiz…or maybe a little Flash game.

  2. Steve A said:

    I agree totally with Keri Caffrey that a test would absorb student and teacher time without adding value. I certainly got nothing from the TS101 test and the only value I got from the LCI written test was discussion it prompted with Regina Garcia. One reason the CS course is as effective as it is, is its FOCUS, where the LAB courses try to cover too much to be effective in changing behavior.

    In response to my own blog posts on my CS course, Keri noted that the intent in future is to provide photo/video feedback to the students. I just think they haven’t figured out a good way to do it yet. IMO, a flash drive or download with critiques of riding would far outstrip any written test.

  3. I agree that the LAB course covers too much – segments on nutrition, basic bicycle repair, clothing/gear etc., while useful to some, are topics than can be adequately explored by making a trip to your local bike shop or an internet search. Part of what I enjoyed about the CyclingSavvy material was that it stripped out this non-traffic content. Not only does it allow CS to focus its course, it makes (IMHO) the course more appealing to experienced cyclists.

    I know more than a few experienced cyclists who could benefit from the traffic cycling content but would consider themselves “above” a course such as TS101. After all, they know how to fix a flat, they manage their nutrition with Type A precision, and have a closet full of gear. It’s precisely this type of rider that I commonly see blowing through stop signs, queuing up to the right of a line of cars stopped at a light, an time trailing across the Golden Gate Bridge at noon on a sunny Saturday. CyclingSavvy has the potential to appeal to appeal to cyclists of all skill levels. I love this about it.

    My concern is that the lecture is long a dry, even with the excellent video content. I also do think that having some kind of lecture is critical. You need face-to-face time so the material can be discussed, questions answered, and important points reinforced. Perhaps the solution lies in reformatting the lecture to provide more opportunities for interaction. Steve, I don’t know if you remember our LCI certification class when Preston quizzed us to find out what kind of learners we were. Most fell into the visual learner category, some were auditory learners, and two of us (Carl and I) were kinesthetic learners. The CS lecture needs to appeal to those of us who learn by doing, especially if it is to be offered a la carte.

    (The online LAB content wasn’t appealing on this level but it at least allowed me to walk away from it when my brain got numb and then pick it up later.)

    There are ways to make the lecture more engaging. I’ll try to think of a few specific examples and write them up.

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