Over the last few years, a terrifying trend in cycling has been rearing its ugly head. No, it’s not the amount of people doping. It has to do with the number of people who’s fitness far outshines their ability to handle their bike. The number of wrecks I’ve witnessed in a non-racing environment has seemingly doubled, while the number of wrecks in races has skyrocketed. No, I don’t have any hard numbers, just observations from someone who rides and races a lot. I have yet to attend an event this year that has not had at least one wreck. My most recent adventure saw six wrecks (in my race alone), which included a ten rider pile up. I have witnessed two people get air lifted this year. I hate to see even one person hit the deck. Sometimes it is not your fault and the conditions are to blame. But, most of the time, good bike handling skills can get you out of a bad situation.
Having the ability to control your machine makes being on two wheels much safer and, in turn, much more fun. It’s great to be able to hammer and make people suffer. You can even get a custom Dr. Watts paint job if it makes you feel really good about yourself. But what the people you are riding with will appreciate much more, is if they know you are the least likely person to cause a group pile up. If you are new to the sport of cycling, we suggest doing bike handling work as much as possible. If you are a vet, regardless of experience or race category, it is never too late to spend some time on bike handling. There are a lot of energy savings gained through solid cornering, handling and positioning skills. Here are a few very basic tips for improving your bike wrangling and pack riding:
1. Slow Mo. I don’t mean roll at 5mph. I mean creep as slow as you can go without falling over. You can do this seated, standing, clipped in, or unclipped. If you are unsure of yourself, practice riding in the grass. Make sure you are in an easy gear so if you feel off balance, you can quickly start pedaling and get your balance back.
2. Track Stands. This is the next progression to riding super slow. You actually want to practice balancing the bike in a stand still. Work on this out of the saddle, and keep a lot of weight on your hands so you can shift your center of mass off the back end of the bike. Again, make sure you are in an easy gear so you can quickly get yourself out of trouble, if needed.
3. Bunny Hops. The bunny hop is a much needed skill for mountain biking and cyclocross, but it is also a very useful skill when riding in a pack. When you are in the middle of 4 people across the road, you may not have a choice to move left or right to avoid hitting a hazard or debris. If you are in the front of the group, hitting something that could cause you to go down can ultimately mean any number of people behind you are coming down with you. Although, there is no guarantee the people behind you won’t hit the hazard if you go over the top, at least you better your own odds for avoiding a potential meeting with the concrete. Obviously, make sure to alert the group there is a hazard in the road first. And as a side note, no one likes the Bunny Hop King either so save it as a last resort. There is no reason to bunny hop every crack in the road. I digress. Anyways, in a race situation, there are times when the fastest line and a split decision may put you into a hazard. Utilizing the bunny hop can ensure this line is the fastest and not the quickest way to an ambulance.
4. Hands Up! This is not something to practice in a group. Riding with one hand is a must for any cyclist. If you cannot ride comfortably with one had on the bars, you should likely avoid pack riding. Make sure you are comfortable grabbing bottles and food from your pockets and cages. Then proceed to work on making yourself comfortable touching other things like your shoes, the brake calipers, and work your way down to the bottom bracket. You need to try this at speed since the bike has more balance the faster you are going. Then work on it at slower speeds. Try this with all different hand positions and on both sides.
5. Get Off the Road! I don’t mean this in the same sense as the redneck in the truck behind you does. I mean try your hand at some slower more technical mountain biking. Mountain biking is great for improving your neuromuscular abilities, thus improving your handling in a less technical scenario like the road.
6. Look Into the Future. By this, I mean look into a turn. Physically turn your head and stare straight to where you want to go. Your head controls a lot of your body movements, so wherever the head goes, the rest of the body generally follows. Looking into a turn will initiate the leaning of the bike and help keep you on a solid track through the turn.
7. Inside Leg Up. Just like you would see a Moto GP rider take a turn on the track, you want to make sure your inside leg is up. This does two things. It weights the outside foot, putting more force into the tire/road connection. It also ensures you won’t clip your pedal on the ground and lose control.
8. Weight the Inside Hand. Yes, I know how that sounds. The inside hand should be pushing directly down toward the ground to force the bike to lean. When taking a turn at speed, the lateral forces you experience want to push you out of the turn. Weighting the inside hand helps create that balance of lateral force pushing you out of the turn, and gravitational force that creates the friction that keeps you stuck to the road. Without the downforce you will likely not take a clean line through the turn, or you will highside your bike and do your best superman impression. You do not actually steer with the handlebars when at speed. You simply lift the inside leg, weight the outside leg, push the inside hand down, and look where you want to go.
When can I stop working on my bike handling and just focus on ripping the crank arms off my bike??? As soon as you get as good as this guy, you can stop.
If you would like more information on how to improve your bike handling skills, or would like to work with our coaches on improving your skills, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Dale is Co-Founder of BPC and has been coaching athletes of all ages, ability levels, and sporting backgrounds for over 10 years. Dale has been certified through just about every USA governing body, and is a biomechanics nut. To learn more about Dale, check out our coaches page.