Bike racing is a puzzle requiring numerous pieces. When an athlete fits all of the puzzle pieces together as one, great things happen, like winning! As a coach and a racer, I cannot emphasize the importance of ‘skills’ in racing and training. Typically, when asked how to define skills for bike racing, coaches focus on bike handling and/or mental strategies. Bike handling is the ability of an athlete to move their bike and body around in a controlled and agile manor. Bike races are won and lost via handling abilities. While mountain bike and cyclocross races have a more obvious need for bike handling, road cycling may not be as clear to riders. Common necessary skills for road racing or riding in a group include cornering, fitting through tight spaces in a pack, adjusting the way a rider rides for speed on mixed terrain and surfaces, getting food and water from pockets or bottle cages, safely avoiding obstacles in the road, and taking garments on and off while riding. All of these skills can be gained with practice. This article focuses on ways athletes can improve their bike handling in an efficient and effective manor, and incorporate skills as a regular part of their training. The skills in this article aid riders in having an overall improved awareness and comfort riding their bike whether it is on a road, cyclocross, mountain, or track bike.
Important side note: Some athletes are naturally talented with the ability to move their bike around in space, some need to work at it regularly to reach the same level of proficiency. Bottom line, everyone can be a good bike handler if they work at it.
While waiting for friends to get to the group ride:
Because you are always early or on time, and they’re late 😉. Practice a few of these skills in the parking lot or in a grassy field. Make sure the area is clear of traffic and danger. These can be performed on a road, cyclocross, or mountain bike.
- Ride in a circle clockwise and counterclockwise using 3 parking spaces. For more advanced skills-work ride in a single parking space.
- Ride in a figure-eight shape in both directions using 3 parking spaces. For more advanced skills-work ride in a single parking space.
- Practice riding in a perfectly straight line using a white line on a road. Next step is to ride with one hand. Next step is to ride with no hands. Next step is to ride while looking back, with hands on the handlebars. Next step is to ride in a straight line while looking back turning the other direction, with hands on the handlebars.
- Track standing. Balance over the bike while not moving the wheels more than a few inches. Try this in grass if concern of falling. For more tips on track standing visit this article.
- Pick a water bottle off the ground while riding. For beginners practice taking one hand off of the handlebars and work towards touching the top of the water bottle. For advanced riders practice picking up a water bottle that is lying flat and then put it back down on the ground standing up.
As a part of your warmup and/or cooldown:
- Incorporate single-leg pedaling drills. While warming up on a flat road or on a trainer or rollers, unclip one foot and pedal using only the other leg for 15-45 pedal strokes. Count the number of pedal strokes on the one leg and do the same for the other leg. Repeat these 3 to 5 times. Make sure to relax the upper body while engaging the glutes and core.
- Practice riding in a perfectly straight-line using instructions above.
- Practice riding with no hands. For beginners, ride with hands on the tops of the handlebars, engage the core, and gradually take less and less weight off of the hands on the handlebars. For advanced riders, works towards being able to take outer garments on and off, unpeel food wrappers, and do the YMCA while looking back and riding in a straight line.
About the author: Kristen Arnold MS, RDN, CDDD is a level 3 USA Cycling coach as well as a Registered Dietitian (RD) specializing in sports nutrition and is a board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). With Kristen’s nutrition expertise and diverse experience in the sport of cycling as a racer and a mentor, she provides a comprehensive approach to her coaching. She works with athletes from the beginner to elite ranks in road, cyclocross, and mountain biking disciplines. Kristen is also a category 1 domestic elite road racer and seasoned mountain bike and cyclocross racer. Learn more about Kristen.