It may not have occurred to you if you have been cycling for a long time, but riding a bike is a skill — and like any skill, it can be improved. While swimmers and golfers are used to practicing technique all the time, cyclists are less open to the idea enhanced skill and bike handling can make the sport more fun and safe — and boost results at the same time. Consider the road rider who struggles to shift smoothly or stand and attack to stay with a group or climb quickly — it’s all in the handling.
No matter your age and skill level, you can always improve. Here are five ways to boost your bike-handling skills:
How do you get better at something? Practice more often! This is easy to say but much harder to do because, unlike those pesky youngsters who recover quickly and have loads of free-time, adults must squeeze in rides when they can and try to avoid injuries from falls.
The trick is finding even a few minutes to work on the skills — in your warmups, while waiting on the trail or at traffic lights or when you have to stay at home and practice in the backyard. Even five minutes of practice compounds over the course of weeks and months.
For protection during your practice sessions, consider wearing pads, practicing on grassy fields and progressing your drills in a stepwise fashion. The goal is frequent repetition, not perfection, so focus on getting something in versus nailing it today. Remember there is no ‘end’ to better cycling skills; we can always get better, faster, safer, etc.
PRACTICE THE FOUNDATIONS
Like most sports, cycling has foundational movements that can be combined and varied to create more complex and extreme motions. If you practice the foundations, you will increasingly have more options to use in advanced applications. I group these foundational skills into position, side-to-side movement and fore-aft movement. You could work on track stands (balance in one spot), wheel lifts and cornering in a small field and get a good start on these!
Another training quality I find myself discussing often is variety. Too often our cycling and movement becomes stale. We do the same route, at the same pace, on the same bike each day. Skilled riders almost always ride several disciplines for training. They mix up their riding by doing hard and easy days, as well as off-road and on-road days. The cadence work and steady pedaling can help mountain bikers, while the skill focus, challenges to traction and need to stand up off-road can greatly enhance a road cyclists’ ability.
It is easy to find instructional videos online — or you can take your own video and study your technique. You can film yourself practicing wheelies, bunnyhops or track standing and get feedback on what to try next. In addition to watching technique videos and watching your own videos, you can research various things online — from getting better at climbing to mastering log hops.
Getting feedback from a coach who is there with you allows you to adjust your approach and direct your attention appropriately. This helps you progress faster and avoid compensation. Skill coaching can be grouped into private sessions and clinics. Private sessions cost more but are customized to you and generally help you see results faster, yet can be more monotonous. Clinics can be more fun if you like groups and may also offer benefits from seeing similar riders completing the skills you are working on. Ask around in your community about courses, clinics and coaching for your goal discipline. Many coaches, clubs and bike stores offer learn to race, group riding or skills clinics.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Whatever your discipline, I encourage you to take a look at the skills required. If you get dropped on climbs, how is your standing ability and your shifting? If you can’t hang on in a criterium or cyclocross race, how are your corners? If a mountain biker struggles with groups, race-starts or tactics then road and criterium-racing can be a huge boost. Finally, if you are falling frequently or worried about crashing, consider skill coaching.