How To Improve & Maintain Bike Handling
“I haven’t cycled outside in ages!” Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Many of us have become well acquainted with our turbo trainers these last couple of months, but as lockdown begins to loosen, it’s time to think about brushing up on those bike handling skills again. This means that when you do venture out onto the road or take part in a race, you don’t pose a risk to yourself or those around you.
If you are lucky enough to own a set of rollers, dust them off and get riding! Although rollers don’t provide the same resistance as a turbo trainer, they require maximum concentration and provide a full-body workout if you’re not used to them. They are excellent for evening out your pedal-stroke, as well as practising high cadence intervals, both reasons that you see professionals using rollers as a way of warming up before a race. There are plenty of helpful tutorials online which can help you get started if you’re a beginner, but if you’re more experienced, why not experiment with some tricks. No hands anyone?!
2. Core work
A strong core will help you hold yourself better on the bike and therefore improve your handling. You could incorporate a few core exercises (plank, sit ups etc.) in your pre or post-ride routine, or alternatively join an online pilates or yoga class.
3. Balance work
A crucial aspect of bike handling is balance. This can be improved again through yoga or pilates, however, one method I’ve used before is standing on a wobble board whilst cleaning my teeth morning and night. To begin with, you can just stand on the board with both feet, before progressing onto standing on each leg for a minute. Once you’re confident doing this, you could even add in some Romanian deadlifts or single-leg squats for some added strength work.
A bunny-hop is when you clear an obstacle (be it a pothole, a rock or a branch) with both wheels without swerving. To do this you have to raise your front wheel followed by your back-wheel. With a bit of space in your back garden or on a patio, place down a stick, or piece of wood and practice riding over this at low speed, gradually introducing the different elements of a bunny hop. As you get more confident, you can increase the size of this object and come at it with more speed, the idea of this drill meaning that you can safely navigate hazards on the road and trails, particularly if in a group on the road, because you won’t swerve and risk hitting another rider.
5. Drills Using Bottles
It’s amazing what you can do with two water bottles and a little bit of outside space (dry grass or a patio will do, but a nice quiet car park would work best!)
Figures of 8
One of my favourite drills is to place two water bottles roughly 10m apart to begin with and treat them as dead turns, as if I was on a super tight circuit. You can spread these further apart to practice accelerating and decelerating into corners. If you can, get someone to time you and see how low you can get that PB! Try riding around the bottles clockwise, anticlockwise and especially in a figure of eight, teaching you how to throw your bike in both directions. Doing this you’ll soon realise that your bike tends to go where you’re looking, so try not to stare at the bottles! The same principle applies when cornering, focus on the road ahead.
Slow and steady
Anyone can ride a bike fast, but it takes considerably more skill to ride a bike slowly and with good technique - something any good coach will tell their athletes. Move your bottles closer together and repeat the drills mentioned above. This means you really have to think about how to position yourself on the bike to get around those bottles in a tight circle or figure of eight. Once you’ve mastered this, you are well on your way to learning how to track stand. If you’re relatively new to cycling, I would recommend doing these drills in flat pedals and leaving the clip-ins until you’re more confident!
How low can you go?
Once you’ve had enough of the drill above, you can’t just leave your bottles behind, so you might as well pick them up in style whilst you’re at it! Slow almost to a halt, lean down off your saddle, resting on the top tube and grab the bottle from the top (or the side if you really want to show off). Again, this drill helps to teach you how to ride a bike slowly and the effect that your movements have on the bike’s movements. Once you’re confident with one side, try approaching from the other. Another way of making this harder is making your bottles smaller too, starting off with a litre before progressing onto 750ml and then 500ml.
About the author: Travis Bramley is an elite competitive cyclist and Sundried ambassador.