I do not like to hit my own horn, but I’m quite an expert rider. I’ve written books about it and everything – published books. Over the years, I have acquired many of the advanced skills needed to survive and thrive on the road, whether it’s commuting, touring, competing events, or just cycling for the hel.
There are certain mistakes that everyone makes with bikes, a topic I wrote about earlier on T3.com. More useful there are also 7 skills every cyclist needs to master and I will reveal them to you today. After all, you can buy the best road bike in the world and build a modern bike computer on it, but if you have it all together and have no idea, you’ll never cut it into bike circles.
1. Riding in a group / holding a wheel
This is one of the first skills to master as a rider and one that can be quite nervous at first. Being able to ride in a group, nice and neat, just an inch behind the front runner is an achievement that grows with time. Such riding keeps the set on the road clean and will also save energy because you are sitting tight in the slipstream of the rider in front.
There really is no other way to learn this than to practice it. The best way to do that is to join a cycling club with experienced riders and go on their weekend club runs. Here you will be surrounded by people you can trust to maintain a solid straight line, allowing you to perfect your technique in a safe and controlled environment.
Important things to remember are these: do not make sudden movements, keep your eyes forward to look for changes in pace and your hands on the brakes to respond in time. Never grab the brakes too hard or this can cause a chain reaction behind just stay relaxed, alert and so close the wheel in front without overlapping or touching it.
2. Riding out of the saddle
This is a skill that will really help in tackling extreme slopes, or starting a sprint. Again, like riding in a forest is the key practice, although this is a technique you can practice solo. Find a nice steep hill, put a slightly larger gear than normal so that there is more resistance when you push down, stand on the pedals and then swing the bike rhythmically from side to side. Rock left as your right leg pushes down and rock right as your left leg pushes down. It may help to see how pro riders do this; then you can mimic their movement to help you perfect your swing.
When it comes to taking corners like a pro, there are a few important things to consider, to get you on the right foot. The most important of these are entry speed and when to brake.
You want to enter the bend at the speed you feel comfortable to turn it on – you do not want to brake on the bend itself, as this is where you are more likely to lose traction.
For quick, downhill angles, place your hands on the drops – the lower part of your bars – to lower your center of gravity and keep your fingers close to the livers, just in case. Do not pedal through fast turns. Instead, hold your inner leg at the top of the pedal stroke and your outer leg at the bottom to maximize pedal clearance. Finally, choose the best line you can ride if you have the space and the road is clear by starting wide, going to the top and then going wide. This will minimize the angle of the angle, you can spend more speed or just make it easier to navigate. Keep an eye on other traffic users though.
The good news is that your cornering skills will grow as you gain confidence.
4. Take your hands off the bars
There will come a time when you have once started driving that you will have to take your hands off the rails. Maybe first just someone to have a drink or get some food out of your pockets. Or, if you are old school, make a hand signal that you turn left or right. Or the one where you clap your arm to indicate that you are braking.
If you are nervous about taking both hands off, practice on a quiet, empty road first. Start by raising a hand and getting a feel for controlling the bike and keeping it in a straight line. Once you can do that, continue to feel it after removing your water bottle or in your pockets.
Once you have cracked one hand, you do not want to try hands, but this takes some more practice. In an ideal world, you would master this as a fearless 8-year-old, but if you did not, your main obstacle would be nerves.
The first time you sit up straight – and it helps to sit up straight, right above the pedals – it will feel very annoying. You need to use your legs, feet and torso to balance and adjust the bike instead of your arms. The key is to trust yourself, trust your bike, try to make light gentle movements and learn how it feels; how the bike reacts under you. Stay calm, stay confident and soon you will be able to kick while you remove your coat, fill up and probably even iron, with exercise. Maybe.
5. Ride in cycling shoes
Passing a standard flat pedal is a big moment in the progress of any rider. I recommend that you sit on your bike at home, lean against a wall and practice the twist of the foot needed to nail the release. Clip in, turn out, clip in, turn out again and again to get a feel for the pressure needed to trigger the release. Then take it to the road and repeat.
The action must be instinctive and completely natural, because if they are dealing with a sudden stop or obstacle, the escape must be subconscious and automatic. If not here’s a new product just for you!
Advanced Information: Confusingly enough, clip-in cycling shoes are used with ‘clipless pedals’ – as in those that do not have toe clips and straps attached to them, to keep your foot in place.
6. The track stand
More popularly known as ‘balancing on the spot’, this is called the ‘track stand’, because it is some track sprinters who do races in velodromes during a race to force their opponent to move first. It’s essentially the ability to balance your bike on the spot with both feet still clipped.
This is much easier on a fixed wheel track bike if you have total control over the rear wheel to rock back and forth because there is no free wheel. On a road bike it takes a degree more skill, the key is to find a slight imperfection or a slope to rest the front wheel, this will allow you to stay still as you then try to keep your balance by just enough pressure Exercise your cranks to hold the rear wheel firmly.
The track stand is most useful at traffic lights and looks pretty impressive. While of course if you lose balance and reverse, that will look exactly the opposite as impressive, so master the skill first in private.
7. Fixing punctured tires
While there is now the option of tubeless, self-sealing tires, one of the fundamental cycling skills is being able to repair a puncture – the number one pitfall of riding.
First of all, you should always have inner levers, a spare inner tube and a pump. If you have a flat, remove your wheel, pull the inner tube completely empty and then use the levers and remove the tire from the rim. Then, before doing anything else, check the tape by running your fingers into it to see if the object that caused the leak is still stuck in the tape.
Once you have checked the inside, check the outside as well, to make sure there is nothing embedded in the rubber. You can use a patch at this point if you are old school, but believe me, replacing the whole tube is much easier.
Put the band back on the edge, pump a little air into the tube to give it shape and insert it. Starting from the vent, now pull on the other side of the tire working round, making sure the tube does not get stuck between the tire and the rim and try if you can fully tighten the tire without using the levers . If you have to use levers to get the tire on the edge, there is a good chance that the tube will be pinched, resulting in other puncture so be very careful.
Once the tire is on double check the tube is completely inside it and does not protrude anywhere then inflate to the required pressure. Work done.