How to Improve Your Bike Handling Skills
One of the challenges in all cycling events is ensuring that all of your training, the power you’ve worked so hard to build isn’t wasted come race day. All too often I’ve seen good results lost due to a rider’s poor skill set when riding the bike. I know that rider has worked really hard in their training, they’ve committed to a tough training plan, and yet the results don’t match up to their power profile.
Yes, things can and will go wrong. You can’t control punctures, crashes, mechanicals, or bad roads. But there’s a lot you can incorporate into your training to develop your skills and to boost your chances of success. Let’s look at some of those essential skills and how you can build training sessions around them.
Group Riding and Contact With Others
If you’re going to be in a mass start event, road race, criterium, or sportive, perhaps the single most important skill to master is making sure you can cope with riding close to others and being comfortable making contact with them. If you feel uncomfortable riding close to others then your natural tendency is to either stay at the back or charge off the front. Both options have negative consequences and will waste a lot of your energy.
How to Fix It
First, find a quiet road with little traffic, or a park early one morning. On a ride with a friend or small group, practice riding with an outstretched hand on another rider’s shoulder. Swap sides and use your other hand. Then reverse rolls and let them place their hand on your shoulder.
For the next drill, hold your bars on the drops (this reduces the likelihood of bars locking together) and then, remembering to focus down the road ahead, stick out your elbow and make contact with your partner’s elbow. Your initial response will be to look at your partner, but keep focused on the road and use the pressure of their elbow to gauge where they are in relation to yourself.
Once you are confident in your ability to do the above, you can move to more advanced skills. Ride close to your partner, keeping your focus down the road and not looking at your partner. Then lean in from the hips, tilting your upper body sideways. Get your partner to do the same. This will make you both touch upper arms or shoulder. The first few times you do this it may just be a quick touch before you turn away, but persist and over time you’ll be more comfortable and confident when you make contact in a group.
Cornering With Others
One of the quickest ways to waste power in an event is to have poor cornering technique. Drifting back from your group because you’re not confident at taking a corner at speed means that you have to unnecessarily waste power to get back up to them. At some point, the accumulative effect of poor cornering will mean that you have less in the in the tank when you really need to dig deep for that big climb or the finish. Quite simply, good cornering technique will help you go faster at the end of an event.
How to Fix It
First, you need to learn how to pick your line. Enter a corner wide, clip the apex of the corner, and exit as wide as it’s safe to do so. If you do need to slow down, scrub off speed before you hit the corner, don’t attempt to break in the corner. Once you feel comfortable, get a friend to go into the corner ahead of you and follow them. Start two or three feet from their back wheel and then at each turn try to get closer until you’re about a foot from their back wheel.
You can progress this drill by having your partner ride next to you through the corner. This will initially make you slower and force you to take a different line, but come the day of your event, it’s the ability to corner with others on your hip that will help ensure you save energy and stay more relaxed.
Use C priority races to progress your cornering. Set a process goal of cornering a foot or two from the rider in front for the first half of the race. Once that’s done, your goal is met and you can mark the race off as a success.
Taking In Nutrition
The final element in building a solid foundation to launch your power from is getting your nutrition right, and getting it right into your mouth. If you’re not relaxed, you may find it hard to drink and eat whilst riding with others. First work on your group riding, then your cornering, and then throw in some gel routines.
How To Fix It
Again, get a friend to ride next to you and practice passing a bottle or a gel between you. This keeps your group riding skills strong and helps your relax when taking a hand off the bars to eat or drink.
Again, use C priority races as a day to practice when your eat and drink. Set your Garmin to beep on a regular basis to remind you to reach for the bottle.
Of course, with all of these drills and skill building sessions you should consider your safety first. Make sure every rider knows the purpose of each drill and that you are performing them in a safe environment.
Having a solid set of skills around group riding, cornering at pace, and taking in nutrition will ensure that all that power you’ve developed will be available to maximize your chances in your race.