Origins & Principles of CyclingSavvy

CyclingSavvy is a program of American Bicycling Education Association, Inc. (ABEA). It was developed by former League Cycling Instructors Keri Caffrey and Mighk Wilson.

The founders recognized that because fear of cycling in traffic is the greatest hindrance to cycling and bicycle transportation, the greatest need was a thorough adult traffic cycling course. We reasoned other cycling topics, such as bike fit and mechanical skills can be learned via the web or through books or local bike shops, but traffic cycling absolutely requires the social and experiential aspects only found through face-to-face and real-world instruction.

Course Structure and Content

While CyclingSavvy inevitably teaches some of the same essential traffic cycling principles and skills as other cycling courses—such as those offered by the League of American Bicyclists, Law Enforcement Bicycle Association, International Police Mountain Bike Association, CANbike and Cycle Training UK—it was not based on any existing curriculum. Nor was it based on the original Effective Cycling course (from which League’s TS101 was derived). CyclingSavvy was built entirely new “from the ground up.”  It is built upon an understanding of the needs of adult learners and the challenges of changing behavior that is strongly rooted in our traffic culture. Much of the content in the CyclingSavvy curriculum is completely original. Traditional content is framed and delivered in unique ways to maximize the learning process.

It is a modular course, consisting of three 3-hour classes:

  • The Truth and Techniques of Traffic Cycling – a 3-hour classroom session on traffic laws, crash prevention, bicycle driving principles, and unique traffic management strategies developed for this course
  • Train Your Bike – a 3-hour on-bike skill-building session held in a parking lot
  • Tour of [City Name] – a 3½ hour experiential, on-road learning experience

Either of the first two courses may be taken “a la carte.” It was felt that some potential students would not attend a full traffic cycling course, believing they would never cycle “in traffic,” but would be interested in improving their bicycle handling abilities for trips on local paved trails. Students who attend the “Train Your Bike” course could then be sold on the merits of the full course. The “Tour of…” course requires the prerequisites of the other two courses. Students can buy the modules individually, or as a complete package.

Teaching Principles

Since cycling is an intensely spatial and temporal activity, the creators focused on increasing the “right-brained” approach to learning. Wherever possible, classroom learning is facilitated with animations, videos, photos, and illustrations. The presentation technology facilitates thorough communication between the instructor and students. Humor, stories and metaphorical associations are also essential tools. Student engagement is paramount; students are often asked to identify key issues before the instructor elaborates on them.

Teaching traffic cycling is primarily a battle against cultural myths. Myth-busting requires more than mere “information” or “facts.” It is a social phenomenon that requires a social approach. To that end, five key underlying principles guide the course:

Reframing – bicycling must be reframed from a dangerous activity to an essentially safe one. How crash data is presented is as important than the data itself.

Engagement – students are guided to discover for themselves why cycling is safe. When students themselves identify an essential fact it carries far more weight.

First Things First – essential skills must be second nature before cyclists can comfortably interact with complex traffic conditions. Even “experienced” cyclists are lacking in some of these skills. Some of the parking lots drills were developed by Keri Caffrey and Lisa Blount for the “BOBbies” women’s bicycle club. Others are found in TS 101, as well as in other cycling curriculums. The sequencing of these skills is critical.

Progression – each step must be reasonably achievable to the novice cyclist. We cannot “throw them into the deep end of the pool.” Success can only be built upon success.

Enactment – students put their new skills and knowledge into practice individually through road sections and intersections of increasing complexity. After each section they naturally reinforce for one another the positive and successful experience. This final public “enacting” of the new approach is the nail in the coffin of the old “cycling is dangerous” myth for them.

Unique Content

CyclingSavvy stresses the advantages of being different. Bicycling is not merely motoring at a lower speed on a smaller vehicle. People want cycling to be enjoyable, not just safe. To that end, we show cyclists how to develop routes using pleasant, low-speed streets, trails, and connector paths where feasible, and major roadways where necessary. Often travel on a short stretch of major road is required to connect the local streets. By understanding how traffic flow works, cyclists can take advantage of the major roads without excessive interaction with high volumes of auto traffic. Understanding of traffic flow and road design also helps them to plan ahead when navigating complex intersections and interchanges, reducing the need for unnecessary and stressful merging and negotiation. “Control & Release” techniques are taught for locations with difficult motorist passing conditions. Cyclists aware of signal timing and traffic platooning can get the roadway all to themselves (or nearly so) for surprisingly long periods. Lane position is discussed in varying contexts; narrow two-lane roads require different approaches than wider, multi-lane roads, and higher-speed roads require different strategies than low-speed. The effectiveness of assertive lane position is backed by powerful video take from the cyclist’s point of view as well as the motorist’s.

There is a supplemental group riding element, which can be added to the core CyclingSavvy course for clubs and other groups, or offered as a stand-alone course.

Course Delivery & Instructor Qualifications

This program is not affiliated with the League of American Bicyclists. Instructor qualifications are not transferable, nor is it necessary for one to be a League Cycling Instructor (LCI) to become a CyclingSavvy Instructor (CSI).

To be eligible to become a CyclingSavvy Instructor (CSI) a candidate must take the basic CyclingSavvy course. This should be completed at least two months before a CSI training. Upon expressing an interest in becoming an instructor, candidates will be assessed by their basic course instructors. Favorably assessed candidates will receive a set of pre-qualification exercises to demonstrate their understanding of CS concepts and ability to communicate. Upon successful completion of the exercises, candidates will be invited to sign up for the next available training. Preparation for the training includes an extensive reading list and lesson preparation.

Essential Characteristics of a CSI:

  • CSIs must have an unequivocal belief in the full equality of a bicycle driver in the transportation system. The fundamental principle of this course is that we must change beliefs to change behavior.
  • CSIs must demonstrate proficiency at problem-solving and handling themselves assertively on the roadway.
  • CSIs must have patience, presence and a passion for teaching. A CSI has the opportunity to change the lives of students by freeing them from damaging beliefs and teaching them the skills that allow them to thrive as bicycle drivers in a car-centric world. This carries a great reward, but it also takes patience, mindfulness and the ability to recognize and observe a student’s emotions and behavior on the road.
  • CSIs must have good time management skills (show up early and be ready to teach promptly on time) and demonstrate the ability to manage class time so sessions end at the advertised time. The valuable thing students give us is their time — not their money.  
  • CSIs are the first — and possibly only — contact students, members of the public, government officials, etc. may ever have with the CyclingSavvy and ABEA brands. Our expectation is that CSIs portray our brands in a positive, professional manner. Instances of unprofessional conduct may result in suspension or revocation of CSI status. 

Instructor Support

At their training workshop, CyclingSavvy instructors receive a kit which includes:

  • A binder with their instructor manual, a drill booklet and a DVD with the full classroom presentation on it.
  • A pannier-size tub which includes teaching aides for the on-bike sessions.
  • A CyclingSavvy instructor polo shirt

CyclingSavvy instructors have access to ongoing support. ABEA provides updates to their presentation materials (new animations, high res videos, new content slides) and other reasources to help them market, present and teach.

Liability insurance is provided with a CSI’s ABEA membership (covers instructors in the US and Canada).