Becoming a proficient cyclist requires a lot of practice and time on the bike, but there are several techniques and tweaks to your bike setup and training routines that can make cycling safer, more enjoyable and even help you get faster.
Here, five ways to boost your performance and confidence:
A common mistake cyclists make is putting multiple fingers on the brake levers. While the older style of brakes may have required more fingers to get enough braking power, most newer bicycles have powerful hydraulic disc brakes that have a light and smooth actuation. Rather than putting multiple fingers on the brakes where it will be easier to keep braking harder as you go through bumps, try using only your index finger to allow for more precise modulation. With more of your fingers on your handlebar grips, you can focus on gripping, pushing and leaning your bike around obstacles.
Tire pressure can be a game-changer for cyclists of all levels. A digital gauge can help you find the exact tire pressure to have in your tires and adjust based on the goals of the ride and the terrain. Having a consistent measure of your tire pressure lets you optimize your pressure for great cornering, comfort and traction.
As a general starting point, road cyclists could test ~80–100 PSI, mountain bikers could test ~19–29 PSI and gravel riders should check out ~30–60 PSI. These ranges might skew lower for smaller riders, tubular/tubeless tires and slower/wetter conditions. The ranges skew higher for faster conditions, larger riders and when rear-wheel strikes are common. As you go lower, watch, listen and feel for the tires squishing or ‘peeling’ in corners and when standing and for any indication that bottoming is possible over roots or bumps. Conversely, if your ride feels very bumpy or you’re struggling to get traction while cornering, a small reduction in tire pressure can greatly improve comfort and control.
RIDING FLAT PEDALS
Many coaches and advanced riders encourage beginner and intermediate riders to adopt clipless pedals. While well-intentioned, the switch to clipless pedals can slow a new rider’s progression. Even worse, early adoption of clipless pedals can cause injury and waste practice time. Flat pedals, on the other hand, help riders understand how to push into the bike, create tension to do wheel lifts and lean the bike to stand up confidently over variable terrain. Rather than spending rides trying to get clipped in and worrying about clipping out, try using flat pedals until you are very comfortable on your bike and used to getting a foot out to dab, which is OK and common for advanced riders to do.
The handlebar height can change your level of comfort, make you more comfortable on technical terrain and enhance how well you execute skills like wheel lifts and corners. Handlebar height can be adjusted in several ways: Changing the stem to a steeper rise or different length, adjusting the stack height of the stem on the steer tube with spacers or simply flipping the stem. If you have not had a bike fit, talked to a coach about your setup or if you are experiencing upper body pain while riding, then the handlebar position may be worth adjusting.
Newer riders tend to have their handlebars too high whereas many intermediate and advanced riders tend to use the lowest setting in an attempt to maximize aerodynamics rather than considering the ideal setup for their comfort, technical skill and optimal power output.
HOW MUCH YOU CARRY ON A RIDE
It may be tempting to carry a lot of tools, spare parts, gadgets and clothing on a ride, however, be cautious that you are not bringing more than is required for your goal ride. It is common for newer riders to have more bags and accessories that add weight and grab the wind. Getting help from a coach, an experienced friend or examining the normal setups of those you ride with can help you organize and streamline what you carry so you are lighter on climbs and more aerodynamic on the flats.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Setting your bike up for success and positioning yourself on that bike can be a huge win for any cyclist. Spending some time on these areas can help boost your performance and comfort on the bike.