If you’ve been cycling enough in races or out on training rides, you’ve inevitably witnessed some bad bike handling skills – whether you were passing someone and politely saying “on your left” only to have the rider drift into you when they turn to look at you, or an athlete who has to unclip to be able to make the turn-around on an out-and-back race course. This isn’t limited to just beginners – I’ve seen very fast athletes who fall over at stop lights because they don’t unclip. You may even admit that you, yourself are not the greatest when it comes to getting your trusty steed through a ride with gracefulness of a Tour rider. (The pictures below is from the 2016 Challenge Roth. The age-group athlete in red/black is not maintaining his line during a climb as the pro’s came back through on their second lap)
On Saturday, March 4th, a cycling skills clinic was held to help cyclist avoid injuries, increase speed, and improve efficiency. Here is what the athletes worked on.
Tight Turns: If you’ve ever been in a race where it’s an out-and-back with a 180-degree turn on a two-lane road, this drill is for you. This drill teaches balance at low-speed, cornering, and the fine line between pedal-power and braking. There were two circles outlined in flat cones that were about 2-bike widths diameter. The riders practiced going around the first circle clockwise (right-hand turn), then transitioned to the second circle going counter-clockwise (left-hand turn). Since the circles were such a tight radius, riders had to go slow to be able to make the turns and counter balance the bike. Riders found that if they were smooth without jerkiness of the handlebars, they were able to stay on track, but give the handlebars too much input, you’re far more likely to begin over-correcting and need to bail.
Box Stop: The primary focus of this drill is to teach riders how to perform an emergency stop…without going over the front of the handlebars. The riders were given a small area in which to complete the stop – full braking was required. But before we did full stop with both brakes, the riders tried a full stop with just the rear brake (enjoying what we all did as kids—skidding!!!!) Then the same thing was tried with just the front brake but riders were shown that during full braking, that it’s important to get the weight back over the saddle to avoid going over. Then finally, all of the riders did a full-braking stop to a track-stand then rode out of the box. Every rider absolutely needs to understand how well their bikes stops and how much applied brake pressure is needed to perform a full stop.
Corridor: Next up was riding and maintaining a straight line with hands in various positions on the handlebar. A narrow, straight course about 25m long was set up and riders were instructed to ride through. First time, riders went through on the hoods (bull-horns on tri-bikes), next riders went through in the drops (or in aero). Next up, riders got back out on the bull-horns and exercised taking their left/right hands off the handlebar; left/right hand touching the down-tube; left/right hand on their hip; and finally look back to the left and looking back to the right…all of this while riding a straight line through the corridor. The final skill was to hold onto the stem and try to maintain that straight line – the key here is that at speed while centered on the bike, the bike will want to remain straight, so you don’t need to continuously put a lot of input into steering the bike.
Slalom: This drill taught riders to look through the turn to set up for the next turn. If they got behind, they found that they were in a very bad position to make the next turn. A very tight 8-turn slalom course was set up to, not only teach riders to look through the turn, but also to link the skills learned during the tight-turn drills, and introduce pedal movement to get through the course. To maintain speed of course, the riders needed to pedal forward, but they needed to plan which leg would be up as they entered the turn (left leg up when turning left, and right leg up when turning right). Some riders found it easier to back-pedal as they entered the turn to get the leg in the proper position.
Wheel Lifts: How many of us have come across an unavoidable obstacle in our path. Being able to lift the front end of the bike, the rear end of the bike, or performing a bunny hop has saved me and my bike from damage numerous times. Riders were shown how to perform the wheel lifts, and then they had some obstacles that they had to clear (a cut-up pool noodle).
Low-Touches: The last drill that riders performed was low-touches. This drill is useful for athletes who need to go back and pick up a dropped water bottle, but even more, it gives athletes a much greater confidence on their bikes because the athletes feel what the bike needs to do when the athletes’ center-of-gravity is off to one side of the bike. In order to perform this skill, athletes need to counter-balance the bike to the opposite side of the side in which they are leaning in order to continue riding in a straight line. In the picture below, the athletes’ bike is leaning to the left while the rider is off to the right-side of the bike. First the athletes worked on picking up cones, then moved onto the flat cones. Athletes who really felt one with their machines even got to the point where they were dragging their fingers across the turf (I was once told that you should be able pick up a quarter off concrete while riding. I didn’t believe it until I did it, and these athletes now believe me)
The athletes who attended this clinic left with new found confidence on their bikes. They have a greater understanding of the rider/bicycle interface and how the body affects the bike, and the bike affects the body.
Another Cycling Skills Clinic is planned in the May/June timeframe. Follow TriCoach Colorado on Facebook (@TriCoachColorado) or Twitter (@TriCoachColo), or periodically check the website http://tricoachcolorado.com/clinics/ for updated information.
Justin Chester is a USA Triathlon Level 2 certified coach. Additionally he holds a Level 2 certification from the American Swim Coaches Association. He began coaching after helping a friend create a plan for an upcoming half-Ironman and has since coached athletes of all abilities, from beginner to elite, and athletes competing in all distances, from Sprint to Ironman.
With an engineering mindset, Justin takes a very methodical approach to training and employs advanced data analysis to achieve the best results for his athletes. His approach is also one that understands the delicate balance that needs to be maintained between triathlon, family life, and work. Getting the most out of each training session is key and the ability to adapt training plans to individuals is paramount.
Justin believes that any every athlete can achieve any goal they set their mind to – after all, it is the mind that is the greatest limiter.
Justin is based in Parker, Colorado but has clients worldwide.