Do you like cycling? How often do you ride a bicycle? Did you have a bike when you were a child? When was the last time you used your bicycle? Is it difficult to learn to ride a bike?
  • To hop (verb) - to go somewhere quickly or to get into or out of a vehicle quickly.
  • Status symbol (noun) - a thing that people want to have because they think other people will admire them if they have it.
  • Gear (noun) - In a vehicle, a gear is any of several limited ranges of power that are used for different speeds.
  • Paltry (adj.) - of little quality or value.
  • To get/be shot of something (phrase) - to get rid of or free of something, or to leave something.
  • Sorry (adj.) - a bad condition or situation.
  • Handlebars (plural noun) - the bar along the front of a bicycle or motorcycle that a rider holds in order to balance and turn
  • Loose (adj.) - not firmly held or fastened in place.
  • A raw deal (idiom) - bad or unfair treatment.
  • Tricycle (noun) - a small vehicle like a bicycle with two wheels at the back and one at the front, used especially by young children.
  • Stabilizers (plural noun) - small wheels attached to each side of the back wheel of a bicycle to prevent it from falling over when a child is learning to ride it.
  • Simultaneously (adverb) - in a way that is simultaneous (= happening or being done at exactly the same time).
  • To get the hang of something (phrase) - to learn how to do something, especially if it is not obvious or simple.
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Questions and Answers
M: Do you like cycling?

R: I certainly used to. And I probably would if I did it again. It's difficult to do in a city though. There's lots of traffic on the roads. So it makes it very difficult.

M: How often do you ride a bicycle?

R: Hardly ever these days, to be honest. I live in the middle of a city. So there's not much need to hop on a bike. If I ever live in the countryside again, though, it'll be a completely different story. Like I said, there's just not much need now.

M: Did you have a bike when you were a child?

R: Yeah, I remember. It was like a status symbol to have a bike with the highest number of gears. Although, unfortunately, my paltry six didn't quite cut it. And we used to go on them all the time, all the way up until... Oh, until high school, I think.

M: When was the last time you used your bicycle?

R: Well, I've got shot of my old one in April. April 2023, just before I moved, so probably way before that, maybe in September 2022. So a long time ago. It was a pretty sorry sight, to be honest with you. The chain was coming off. And I don't think the gears worked very well. And the handlebars were quite loose. So whoever I sold it to. I think they got a pretty raw deal.

M: Is it difficult to learn to ride a bike?

R: Well, if you start off sensibly enough with like a tricycle and then on to stabilizers and then moving further or down the road to being able to balance it by yourself, then I don't think it's that difficult. Admittedly, though, I had a little bit of difficulty working my hands and legs simultaneously, but I got the hang of it in the end.

M: Hey! Thank you, Rory, for your answers!
M: So, dear listener, cycling and people who cycle - cyclists. Okay? So you can say, oh, I enjoy cycling, I enjoy riding a bicycle or a bike. Okay? And I'm an amateur cyclist. Can I say that, Rory? If I enjoy cycling, I'm an amateur cyclist.

R: I don't think it's an amateur cyclist. Maybe an avid cyclist if you really enjoy it, and you do it all the time. You do get professional cyclists, though, but I don't think you really get amateur cyclists because so many people ride bikes. It's such a common thing that you wouldn't really get people trying to do it semi-professionally.

M: Avid cyclists. So if you're into cycling, if you ride your bike every day, or if you just enjoy it, you can say I'm an avid cyclist, like I'm an enthusiastic cyclist. Also if you don't, just say it.

R: Even if you don't, lie. It will be fine.

M: Like do like cycling? Oh, yes, I'm an avid cyclist.

R: Oh, yes, I'm a very avid cyclist. All the time, me, cycling. This was a difficult one for me actually because I hardly cycle at all or, well, I hardly ever cycle at all these days. Like I said, there was no need.

M: If this is true about you, you can say I used to cycle. So in my childhood, I used to cycle. And then the second conditional, dear listener. So I would enjoy it if I lived in the countryside for example, or I would enjoy cycling if I lived in Amsterdam.

R: Or I would enjoy it if I did it again. But I don't plan to.

M: The second conditional.

R: Is it the second conditional? Oh, amazing. Look at me using the conditionals.

M: Yeah, there's traffic on the road. The preposition. There's too much traffic on the road. That's why I prefer cycling.

R: Although, can we linger on the road for a moment because I discovered something the other day? One of my students was getting confused between the difference of in the road and on the road. So, if they're in the road, it's like they occupy the closed space of the road. But if they're on the road, if the traffic is on the road, then it's in contact with the surface. Both of them are correct. But it's a small difference in meaning.

M: Rory, what about Scotland and where you live? Do people cycle there?

R: People do. Yeah. It's ironic, actually. We were walking the dog the other day, and there was somebody cycling on a path that said, please do not cycle on this path. So yes, people are very keen on it, so keen that they will break the rules completely.

M: And do people cycle to work?

R: I used to know someone that did that. But I think these days, it's not a very common thing. Mostly because people live so far away from their workplaces, it's not, well, it's impractical. It's not practical. It's not feasible to do.
M: How often do you do it is a very common question. So hardly ever, like almost never. Or you can say rarely, if you can pronounce it. Rarely. Like also almost never. Or frequently, often. Once a week, twice a week. So Rory hardly ever cycles. You can lie about this, okay? Maybe you cycle every day, as an avid cyclist. Like... Cycling. Uphill, downhill. And then the second conditional again, dear listener. If I lived in the countryside, so if I lived in the countryside, but Rory doesn't, it would be, or I would cycle every day. Okay?

R: But I don't. I'm in a city now.

M: Or you can say it's easy to get around using a bicycle. So it's easy to get around your area on a bike. So it's on a bike, right? Or by bike?

R: And how do you get on a bike, you hop on a bike.

M: So it's easier to hop on a bike and get to work. So hop on a bike. But I say travel by bike or travel on a bike?

R: I mean, I would say I go by bike. But some people can say they travel on a bike, and it's just as valid. It's just not very common. That's all.

M: Yeah, usually we say travel by bicycle, or I use a bicycle to get to work. Yeah? Or I go to work by bike. Like by car, by taxi, by Metro, by bicycle. A bicycle can be a status symbol. Status, like your status, you know? Symbol. Yeah, like a Gucci bag, or what?

R: Oh, anything expensive. Maybe an expensive phone as a status symbol, for example. Although, at least amongst a lot of people these days.

M: Bikes are pretty expensive these days. And if you have this, you know, like, wow, an amazing bicycle, which costs I don't know, like a car. So, yes. Like, for me, it's like a status symbol. A bicycle has gears.

R: Yes.

M: You know, the things like you change. Gears, I change gears. What kind of gears do we have?

R: This is amazing. Because it occurred to me, even when I was younger, people used to talk about the number of gears their bikes had as if it was this amazing thing. But to this day, I still don't actually understand what a gear is. And what it does. My guess would be it increases your ability to move as the incline of the road gets steeper. But I don't know much about gears, to be honest with you. It was the same with cars. We talked about it with cars, and I still don't know what it does. I know you have to change them. But what does that mean? No idea.

M: Rory is not an avid cyclist. So you can say my bicycle has six gears or more. Yeah, with like a bike with the most gears. So you mean that a bicycle with many gears?

R: Yeah, some kids used to have bikes with 16 gears or 32. And I now reflecting on it think, what was the point in that? We all lived in the suburbs. We weren't going up any mountains or anything like that. So it was all just to see who could have the biggest number. It doesn't make sense. It's just something people say to look good.
M: My paltry. Paltry?

R: On the subject of the number of gears, paltry just means not that much compared to other people. So my paltry six gears means I didn't have that many gears compared to other people, which was sad at the time. But looking back on it, I'm so glad my parents didn't waste money on something so completely frivolous.

M: Could you give us an example with paltry?

R: Well, if you have very low wages, then maybe you make a paltry $5 an hour. That's quite low, I think. At least it's definitely low for this country. It might even be illegal.

M: And paltry is an adjective?

R: It is.

M: So paltry about the amount of money, for example, very small, very little. For example, student grants these days are paltry. So like very little, or a paltry sum, sum of money, so like a small sum of money, or for example, she made some paltry excuse, like low quality, lame excuse. What else can we use paltry with? Like a strange word. Paltry.

R: It's not that strange. It just means not much.

M: Yeah, like, for example, so about money.

R: I would say it's got a very negative connotation. It's not used to mean something positive. You wouldn't say, for example, a writing or speaking check with Success with IELTS is a paltry 999 if you check out the link in the description. Nope, it's a very well-priced, 999. Yes, a little bit of advertising there.

M: Or I paid a paltry sum for your premium episodes. So just like a small sum of money for the premium episodes, the link is in the description.

R: Yeah, but it sounds, it makes it sound like it's not worth much, whereas it is worth a lot.

M: Ah, okay, okay.

R: That's where the negativity comes in.

M: No, no, no. So we can't use paltry about our premium because our premium is pretty much quality, the best quality ever. So, you see, dear listener? Negative.

R: Is competitively priced. Oh, yes.

M: I got shot of my old bicycle before I moved out.

R: I think that might be a little bit colloquial for IELTS, to be honest with you. Most people would say I got rid of. If you get shot of something, it means the same thing. It's like to remove it from your life.

M: Yeah, very informal. But again, it's possible, right? So I got rid of my bicycle. And I... I sold it or I threw it away. Or I got shot of my old bicycle. And Rory doesn't use bicycles. He said I got shot of my old one. One? Bicycle.
R: And what do we call that when we replace one word with another like that?

M: Referencing.

R: Yes. And if you want to learn about referencing, sign up for my classes, the link is in the description.

M: So way before that, like long ago. And Rory stressed way before, how did you do it?

R: So way before that, so like a long time ago.

M: So like, yeah, a very long time ago.

R: I owe that to one of my students, actually. We were looking at idioms for emphasis and ways to emphasize things. And this was one of the examples or it's close to one of the examples that came up. So it reminded me that I should probably try to use this a little bit more. So we should probably do an episode on that, idioms for emphasis, just thinking about it. And they were band nine-level idioms. So there you go.

M: So you can say I used to ride a bicycle way before I went to school. Way before. My old bicycle was a pretty sorry sight.

R: Yeah. So, if it's a sorry sight, it's a, it's a mess, basically. My garden was a sorry sight before I had it tidied up. My bike was a sorry sight before I sold it. That's kind of why I sold it because it was just a mess.

M: Or maybe the bicycle you have today is a sorry sight. So you can say, oh, yeah. I have an old bicycle. It's a pretty sorry sight, to be honest with you. To be honest with you. And then specific band nine vocabulary. The bars are loose.

R: The handlebars, that's the things that you hold on to.

M: The bars, not the bar like a pub, the bars. The handlebars were loose. Loose? Like they were not tight.

R: Speaking of drinking and cycling, do you know if you rode a bike and you're drunk, and you kill somebody in the UK, do you know what the maximum penalty is? Or was, maybe it's changed now.\

M: Oh, what?

R: It used to be just like a 1000-pound fine. And that was all.

M: A fine?

R: Yeah, you could kill someone riding a bike and it would be totally fine. Well, I mean, no pun intended. But yeah, you wouldn't have to pay that much. I'm pretty sure they changed the law now, though, because there were some really famous cases. And now, it's much harsher, the punishment is much harsher.
M: And we are continuing with specific vocabulary about bicycles. Rory mentioned a tricycle. It's like when there are three people.

R: No, no, a tricycle has three wheels. So there's like one at the front and then two at the back. To stabilize it, to keep it balanced.

M: Some people prefer a tandem bicycle. So a tandem bicycle, there are like two people and one bicycle, right? Tandem. Yes?

R: Yes. A tandem. Have you ridden a tandem before?

M: No, never. So how do you use it? Like I prefer riding a tandem bicycle or I prefer tandem bicycles?

R: Well, I mean, one is about the activity and what is about the physical object, the bike, but they're both used for the same thing unless you're collecting them for some reason.

M: What are stabilizers?

R: Ah, okay. So a tricycle is designed to have three wheels, but a bicycle only has two. However, if you're learning to ride one, and you're very young, and you don't have a good sense of balance, stabilizers are extra wheels that you add on the back. And they keep the bike level, and you, well, work with them until you're ready to not work with them anymore. And then you remove them. And you're free to go.

M: Yeah, so you can say that for people who don't have a sense of balance, it could be difficult to what? To be balanced on a bicycle.

R: Or to stabilize the bicycle by yourself. Yes.

M: Yeah, to stabilize, stabilize. Stabilize the bicycle by yourself, they can use stabilizes. So the bicycle stays level. Level? Like not wobbly, wobbly, but like level. And it could be difficult to work my legs and hands simultaneously.

R: Well, in my case, it was difficult to work the brakes. And the brakes are the things that you press on the handlebars, and they slow the bike down. But it was difficult for me to do this, and also do everything else at the same time. So it took me some time to learn how to do that. And lots of crashes in the meantime.

M: Work the brakes.

R: You can also pump the brakes. But that just means to squeeze them, like with your hand.
M: Yeah. Because usually, what do you do? You just like turn the handlebar and then you brake, right?

R: I don't think you even turn the handlebar. I think you just squeeze the brakes and bring it to a stop and balance on your legs. That's what I would do.

M: Oh, yeah. You squeeze... Oh, yeah, these little handles. Yes, just...

R: Pump the brakes can also mean to squeeze them rapidly several times.

M: And what else can we say? We push the brake.

R: You push the brake in a car. Yeah. But that's because there's the pushing action. Pumping is like both parts of the hand.

M: But on a bicycle?

R: You could but it's not the first one, you squeeze the brakes, or you pump them on a bike.

M: Squeeze the brakes or pump the brakes, dear listener. So it was difficult for me to work the brakes. Like to work with the brakes on a bicycle. Or you have to squeeze the brakes, and pump the brakes at the right moment. I got the hang of it really quickly. To get the hang of something? To start being good at it. So it was difficult for me to learn how to ride a bicycle. But then I got the hang of it. What else can we use it with? Like I got the hang of cooking, I got the hang of writing an essay. Rory, what about you?

R: I didn't get the hang of cooking. I might tell you that right now. I got the hang of, well, teaching English after a few years.

M: Dear listener, do you know what's the hardest part of learning how to ride a bicycle? The pavement. It's a joke. The pavement, dear listener. When you learn how to ride a bicycle, you might fall over, you just start again. And the pavement is pretty hard. It's this hard surface, the pavement. The road. So it's just like... Face, pavement. It's the hardest part.

R: Can I give them something that's less hard to do

M: Okay, right.

R: So our reflection task for this episode is remembering. So I need you to remember three phrases or three bits of vocabulary that we discussed. And I want you to write them in sentences in the comments if you're watching us on YouTube, or you can send them to me on Instagram if you're listening to us on any of the podcast outlets. And I'll give you a little bit of feedback on them when you do.

M: Let us know what you think about bicycles. I reckon bicycles are great because you, you, dear listener, are the engine of your bicycle. You just control everything. So, do you like bicycles, do you like cycling? Me personally, I travelled by bicycle for about four months in Europe and different countries. Like... That was an interesting experience. Would you like to do that? Maybe you travelled by bicycle before? Do you have an expensive bicycle? Write in the comments and use some of the vocabulary we've just told you about. Okay?

R: But it's time for us to ride off now. Bye-bye!

M: Bye!
Get exclusive episodes on IELTS Speaking parts 1, 2, and 3
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