If you’re just starting out, or if you’ve taken the winter off, it’s a great time to refresh your knowledge of basic cycling skills.
Choose the right position: Riding in the right position at the right time can save energy and increase power. If you’re training for the Ultimate Challenge, you’ll spend a lot of time in the neutral or dropped positions.
Neutral position: Riding on flat or rolling ground should be accomplished in neutral position. Hands should be positioned on the brake hoods so you have access to brakes and shifters. You should be light on your hands so that your head can turn freely. Your spine should be straight with your head, neck and back aligned. Shoulders and elbows should be relaxed. Keep some weight on your feet to decrease the load on the saddle and increase stability.
Dropped position: You’ll move into the dropped position when descending or riding into a headwind. Shift your hands to the front curved position of your bars. Your hands will access the brake levers easily for quick slowing and stopping. You’ll take your weight on your feet, lean forward at the hips and shift your weight back over the seat. This lowered position will increase balance and control.
Hold your line: It’s important to be predictable when you are riding on the road with traffic or with a group of cyclists. One basic rule of cycling is that your bike will go where you look. If you focus your attention on an obstacle in the road, you’re likely to unintentionally swerve toward it. When you see an obstacle, practice letting your eyes move past it – this will help your bike to steer around it. A good rule of thumb is to look at least 20 feet ahead of your current position. Another critical move to practice is looking over your left shoulder to check for traffic while continuing to ride in a straight line.
Braking: Practice using your brakes to moderate speed – like a dimmer switch instead of on or off. Braking can be a surprisingly complex skill that, as with all aspects of bike handling, improves with practice. Your front brake had most of the stopping power, but if it’s used too quickly can send you over the handlebars. Too much back brake can lock the tire and cause you to skid. Aim to use your brakes evenly. Practice shifting your weight down and back when stopping quickly – this will keep traction on the back wheel and minimize the risk of going over the handlebars.
Cadence: Cadence refers to the speed at which your pedals rotate. Most professional riders spend the majority of the time at a high cadence – between 90 and 110 rpm. The fast cadence helps to distribute the power evenly by taking advantage of multiple muscle groups. It is natural to feel more comfortable at a cadence loser to 60 rpm, so 90 may feel almost impossible at first. One of the best ways to keep an eye on your cadence is to use a cycling computer. If you need to increase cadence, start with intervals of 3-6 minutes of fast pedaling (close to 110) on a flat section. Your heart, lungs, and muscles will quickly adapt if you practice consistently.
Shifting: Keeping your bike in a gear that allows you to keep a cadence of 90-110 rpm can be a challenge. Anticipation and timing are crucial components of being able to stay in the same cadence zones as the road undulates or conditions change. In general, if you start riding uphill or into the wind, you’ll shift down to an easier gear. When you are descending, or have the wind at your back, you’ll want to shift up into a harder gear.
Quick stop: There are many reasons that you may need to stop quickly without warning. A car my make an un-signaled right-turn in front of you or a dog might run into your path. Practice this skill before you need it! With feet level on the pedals squeeze both brakes simultaneously. At the same time, move your center of gravity down and back. Straighten your arms and extend your rear behind the seat. If you can do this quickly and confidently, your wheels will stay on the ground and your body will stay off it.
Road Hazards: Keep an eye out for debris while you’re riding by keeping your eyes scanning ahead of you. If you can’t avoid an obstacle stand up on your pedals and relax your knees and elbows to act as suspension and keep your speed up so momentum will carry you over the top.
Slick spots: If it has rained, treat metal and road paint with caution. Both can become slick when wet. If you find yourself riding over a slick spot, just cruise – braking, swerving or pedaling can cause your wheels to slide out.
Railroad tracks: always aim to cross tracks at as close to a 90 degree angle as possible.
How to fall: If a fall is inevitable, keep hold of the handlebars. It’s natural to reach out to try to break a fall with your hands, but you’re much better off trying to land on large muscle mass (gluts, your shoulder or hip.) As you fall, angle your body toward the ground and roll out of the fall if possible. If your helmet hits the ground, retire it and get a new one before your next ride.