Being comfortable and confident riding takes time and plenty of practice. With traffic, high-speed descents, other cyclists and plenty of unanticipated obstacles to deal with, it can be more than a little stressful.
However, these five basic tips equip you to handle things on the fly:
Timing is the main reason beginners have a hard time getting in and out of clipless pedals. If you wait until you begin to slow down before unclipping, the decrease in speed makes it harder to balance. Similarly, if you try to clip back in too quickly before you’ve got your bike going again, it can also increase your chances of taking a spill.
Here’s the ideal scenario:
- When approaching a stop sign, red light or hazard that will force you to unclip, shift into a gear that makes it easy for you to get going again from a complete stop.
- As you begin to slowly apply the brakes (at least 20 yards away from the stop sign), unclip one foot, but keep it resting on the pedal in the 12 o’clock position. As you stop, place that unclipped foot on the ground, keeping the other foot clipped in the pedal.
- While you wait to begin moving forward again, rotate the foot still clipped in to the pedal to the 10 o’clock position. This will help you push off and gain momentum when it’s time to start going again.
- After a good first push on the pedals, flip the pedal over with the toe of your shoe and slide the cleat in. Don’t feel like you have to get it on the first try. If you can’t get it in or don’t have enough speed to balance the bike yet, circle the pedals again with the foot that’s still clipped in, keeping your other foot on the pedal if possible (it’s OK that it’s not clipped in). The additional speed should make balancing easier and give you a little more time to get your foot in.
In addition to cars, pedestrians and obstacles, cyclists also have to deal with other cyclists. Assuming everyone is riding with the flow of traffic (which is the law), to avoid a collision you should also use common courtesy and alert other cyclists of your intentions before you invade their space on the road.
When you’re about a bike’s length behind another cyclist, call out “on your left.” This signals to the rider on the road to hold their position, move to the right if possible and prevent accidently drifting into the space you intend to occupy. As you merge back into the bike lane or far right of the road, make sure you have at least another bike length distance ahead of the other cyclist. Merging too soon can cut off the other cyclist and potentially cause an accident if you clip their front wheel.
To ride safely in a paceline, you need to work together. Since the cyclist in front can see the road ahead much better than those following, it’s important to get into the habit of signaling whenever you see an obstacle or hazard that can potentially harm anyone riding in the group.
Here are some examples of dangers you’ll want to point out:
- Debris like gravel, sand, glass or anything else that might cause a puncture.
- Vehicles turning in front of you.
- The need to slow down.
- Approaching turns or stops.
- Obstacles in the shoulder, such as a pedestrian, another cyclist, garbage can or an open car door.
If you aren’t sure how to signal for obstacles and turns, use this guide.
Whether you’re an experienced cyclist or a beginner, heading downhill at high speeds can be unnerving. Since descending safely should be your number 1 priority, here are a few things you can do to improve your comfort, confidence and control over the bike as you maintain your speed:
- Shift into your big ring as soon as you crest the top of the climb.
- Move your hands from the hoods or bar tops to the drops before you gain speed. This places your hands closer to the brakes, lowers your center of gravity for better balance and gives you more control over the bike.
- Relax for better bike-handling. A tense neck, shoulder, arms and hands can cause you to grip the bars tighter than you should and lead to fatigue and poor reaction time to upcoming hazards. Take deep breaths when you feel yourself tensing up. Shake out your arms, relax your face and hands — and remember to look up the road with your eyes instead of craning your neck.
- Control your bike by leaning your bike and not your body. Keep your weight centered over your bike and keep your outside leg straight (inside foot up) as you lean into corners. This helps with balance and keeps your inside foot from contacting the pavement.
- Being nervous on descents instead of relaxing can cause you to brake more than you probably should. If you’re using rim brakes, frequent braking on a long descent can cause your rims to heat up. When the rims get hot enough, the tire can explode off the rim. With disc brakes this is not a concern.
Proper braking is a technique that can help you maintain your speed and make you safer. In sharp corners such as on a hairpin bend on a descent, you’ll want to use your brakes to slow to a safe speed before you lean the bike in the corner. Braking in the corner can cause your bike to go upright, forcing you off your line. As you exit a corner, accelerate to get back up to speed.
In wet conditions, you’ll have less traction and won’t be able to lean into the corner as much. Decrease your speed more than you would normally before entering the corner and keep the bike a little more upright.