Riding a bike is obviously the best way to get better at riding a bike. The principle of specificity — practicing exactly what we want to get better at or exactly what we want to do on race day — just makes sense. As with all ‘rules of thumb’ there are exceptions, like those times when we just can’t ride that bike as much as we want, but still want to boost riding performance.
For those times when you can’t ride your bike, but you want to get better, consider these drills, exercises and tactics:
CONQUER CLIPLESS PEDALS
If you are not able to ride outdoors but could ride indoors for a few minutes, try working on pedaling with one leg and alternating back and forth to figure out clipping in quickly and smoothly. Experienced riders can do this with very minimal disruption in their pedal stroke and mastering this skill makes traffic lights and any off-road corners you want to throw a foot out for balance or to avoid falling much more natural.
An even better drill is to try riding flat pedals around the neighborhood with the kids, in spin class or while commuting to boost your riding ability, without actually training. Many adults do not learn to ride with flat pedals and they miss the critical skills that flats help teach us.
BREATHE AND BALANCE
I like to test cyclists that come to see me in the gym for a kinesiology session by having them move from standing, to kneeling, to laying while I watch how they move and how they breathe. We all breathe (obviously) but to breathe under exertion is something that often becomes tough. We hold our breath and breathe in a very shallow and stressful manner. Focusing on breathing deeply and relaxing your shoulders as you rest and also while you do strength/core and ride your bike at all levels of exertion helps you deal with the high levels of exertion that you will need to be used to on the bike.
To work on this, you can try yoga flow classes or you can get on hands and knees and lift your left arm and right leg (a bird-dog), now alternate back and forth 10 times. Rest and then try this in a full plank position.
Many riders are not great at shifting, so they break chains, grind gears and get stuck in the wrong gear frequently. To boost shifting ability, put your bike in a work-stand and practice shifting with your right hand as you pedal the bike with your left hand. Play around and notice how the derailleur (the gear shifter) moves up or down depending on the button you push.
Play with how hard you need to push and how you can help the chain up and down by pedaling gradually. Once you figure it out, do it with your eyes closed and even get a friend to say ‘easier’ or ‘harder’ and see if you can shift on-demand. Practicing on an indoor trainer would be your next step to integrate pedaling and some resistance to work against. This final step helps you refine your ability to back off momentarily to allow the chain to switch to the next gear.
TRY EXTREME WALKING
Mountain biking coach Ryan Leech suggests that even while walking around we can be working on our athletic and playful nature by doing a very mild form of parkour. He looks for lines on the trail when hiking with friends to hop over or jump up onto. This playful search for new lines and the practice of balancing, jumping, crawling and climbing helps Ryan stay nimble when he gets back on his bike and works on his mountain biking and trails riding.
Cyclist James Wilson has suggested that strength is great for cyclists and especially for mountain bikers. He has spoken about a movement called the Turkish getup that requires strength, mobility and coordination; can be done with or without weights and only requires a small area. Yoga is another option for off-bike movement to stay healthy, happy and injury free. Leech offers many great routines for cyclists.
READ MORE > CHECK OUT MORE STRENGTH ROUTINES FOR CYCLISTS
MOVIES, BOOKS AND PODCASTS
Many coaches recommend reading about cycling, performance, mindset and adventure as a way to boost performance without riding. I always find books and podcasts help me learn more and boost my motivation. Books like “Saddle, Sore,” can help you stay comfortable on the bike and deal with any ‘uncomfortable’ questions you might not want to talk to friends about. There are also skills books like “Mastering Mountain Bike Skills,” training manuals like the “The Cyclist’s Training Bible,” and nutrition books from experts like Matt Fitzgerald. If you aren’t into reading, then movies or podcasts about cycling, performance and sport psychology are great.