*** If you think you might need to improve your skills you probably should. If you don’t think you need work on your skills, you DEFINITELY should! ***
There are a number of reasons to improve your bike handling skills. One reason is of course is to improve your ability to maneuver through the pack whether on a group ride or in a race. Another reason is to improve your safety and the safety of the riders around you. By being more relaxed and confident on the bike, you will waste less energy through tension and anxiety and you will be able to apply all your energy to turning over the pedals. The most important thing to take away from the drills outlined in this article is not any particular skill or ability, but an overall improvement in your sense of confidence and relaxation on the bike.
WARM UP – Follow the leader. This is a fun, easy way to get things going. One rider can take the reins here and lead the group around the parking lot. The idea here is not speed but dexterity. Impose a maximum speed limit or give points for being the slowest to complete an obstacle course without touching down! Practice sharp turns, cutting in between obstacles and, for a more advanced group, hop a curb or try a track stand. Try to stay as close together as possible. This can be done as an elimination exercise. Keep going until the last rider has to place down a foot or plain falls off.
ANKLE GRAB – This drill involves holding onto your leg while pedaling. What you will find is that flexibility and the length of your limbs has very little to do with success in this exercise. The real key is the ability to push the bike away from the side you are leaning to while continuing to ride in a straight line. By pushing the bike to the side and keeping your center of gravity in the middle, you effectively bring your body lower to the ground. Start by pedaling the length of the parking lot holding your right calf with your right hand and your left hand in the drops. This should be fairly easy. Try it on the other side. Then see if you can move your hand down to your ankle and hold on to it while you pedal. Once you achieve that, you can try to pedal while holding the heel of your foot. The farther you lean your bike to the side, the lower down you will be able to reach.
OBJECT RETRIEVAL – This is a natural progression from ankle grabbing. Using the same concept as the above drill, practice picking up water bottles from the ground. Ride slowly up to the bottle and, pushing your bike away from the side you are leaning to, bring yourself low enough to the ground so that you can retrieve the bottle. You can start by trying to knock the bottles over using your left hand and then your right. Move on to picking up the bottles and then putting them down without letting them fall over. From there, you can practice picking up smaller objects such as soda cans or bottle caps.
LOOK BACK – A basic skill that many cyclists lack is the ability to look over their shoulder without coming off their line. For this drill, pick a partner who is roughly your size. Start by riding the length of the parking lot with your right hand on your partner’s shoulder, looking over your right shoulder. Don’t be afraid to lean on your partner. He will keep you going in a straight line. Once you’ve mastered that, practice looking over the outside shoulder. Try to turn around and look behind you while maintaining a straight line.
TURNING – There are three ways to take a corner on a bike. Lean the bike, lean your body and the bike and turn the handlebars. Most steering is done by leaning, but learning how to turn the bike using the handlebars can be a useful skill. By turning the handlebars instead of leaning the bike, you prevent the possibility of having the tires slide out from underneath you on a wet road or on a gravelly turn.
PARKING SPACE CRIT – In this exercise, you are going to have your own little criterium inside a single parking space. Attempt to make a full circle inside the confines of a parking space. Remember to look to the place where you want to go, instead of where you currently are (this is important in all turns). Once you’ve mastered turning in one direction, try it the other way.
SLOW RACE – Have all the riders line up as if at the start of a race. Mark a finish line about 20 meters away. Using balance and steering, each rider will attempt to rider as slowly as possible without falling over. The last rider to cross the line is the winner. If they clip out, ride backwards or crash, they are out of the race.
At some point, all riders crash. No matter how diligently you try to avoid them, someone will go down in front of you, you’ll hit a pothole wrong or you’ll get bumped. Having said that, it is possible to find ways to minimize your risk of crashing. Keep these simple tips in mind and you’ll learn to read your surroundings and reduce the chances of a crash.
– Watch for riders that aren’t fully comfortable on their bike. New riders can be particularly challenging. They will be unpredictable and wobbly. Stay well in front or behind these riders.
– Watch for narrow bridges, oncoming cars, potholes, gravel or other road challenges. Stay alert.
– Keep your head up. Tired riders often drop their heads. It’s very difficult to see the road ahead or the front of the peloton if you’re looking at your pedals.
– Watch rider behavior. Riders taking a drink may slow down in front of you. Mechanicals like slipped gears and punctures will also abruptly change a rider’s pace. If this happens to you, put your arm up and carefully move to the rear of the peloton.
– MOST IMPORTANT, if you do find yourself in a crash, relax and HANG ONTO YOUR BIKE. Often riders will panic and make the crash worse by tensing up and letting go of their handlebars. Tuck your elbows in and try to land on your shoulder you may break your collarbone, but this is an easy injury to recover from compared head/neck injuries
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