This article is not intended to make you a faster cyclist, look at performance improvements or teach you how to do 30' drop-offs.
It is just going to cover what I have found to be 5 useful skills that I use nearly every time I ride.
What I have found over the years riding is that adult riders do not go out and have "skills rides", where they go out for a ride with the sole intention of practicing and improving their bicycle handling skill. Whereas for the younger riders, specifically BMXers, pretty much all they do is working on improving their handling skills.
I often get out and just go for a ride around the block and practice new skills and have fun on the bike. All these skills are easy to learn, fun to do & could save you from a fall (well maybe the wheelstand won’t exactly save you, but it is fun to do).
1. Bunny Hop
“A small jump powered by the rider”
Being able to bunny hop has saved me more times that I can remember. On both a road or mountain bike it is a very useful skill to be able to bunny hop at late notice.
On the road, especially in a group, you may get very late notice of an obstacle and by the time you see it, the only course of action you can take is to bunny hop over it.
It is best practiced on a Mountain bike, where it can be a lot of fun to get more height on jumps or to get over fallen logs, but on a road bike it is a skill that can save your wheels, and some skin!
2. No-Hands / One Hand
“Being able to control a bike with either one or no hands is a very useful skill.”
Obviously if you have your bottle in a bottle cage, you will need to be confident taking a drink while riding as you will need to have one hand off the handle bars. But also being comfortable riding with no hands can also be very helpful.
Being able to do this means you can do a range of things while cycling, such as adding / removing layers of clothing, adjusting an uncomfortable helmet, or most importantly, celebrating that real or imaginary win; and you can do all this without having to stop.
Another area this skill has saved me a few time is when a car is veering in too close to me. I have been able to give them a bang on the roof or window. This is a good way to draw the driver's attention to your presence and make them give you more room. (Please be careful, this can be a very dangerous situation. This should only be done if you are confident in your ability and have an escape route, as car drivers can be unpredictable. I am in no way recommending you go around banging on car roofs and should only be done if you think your are going to get hit.)
Also, if you do no-hands it is mandatory to yell out: "Look Mom, no hands!"
3. Stationary Balance (trackstand)
“Balancing on a bike while stationary with both feet still attached to the pedals.”
This is one of my favourite skills, plus it is also fairly easy to master. There is a range of benefits to doing this. On the road it puts you in the position to get away from a stationary position very quickly. For instance, if you are at the lights with a group, you will not have to get up and sprint away from every set of lights so you will stay stronger for the ride. You are also less likely to have an accident when taking off as you won't need to look at your pedals to clip in.
On a mountain bike, this skill can give you the time needed to prepare for an approach to a technical section, or if you get held up by a slower rider you do not have to unclip and wait for them, you can just balance and be ready to move as soon as they do. Clipping in on a steep climb is definitely harder than learning how to balance your bike.
4. Emergency Braking
“Braking as hard as possible without flipping your bike.”
I don't think I need to explain why this is important. Getting your weight back over the rear wheel and braking hard can save you in lots of situations.
I have been with a group of riders and had a car deliberately slam on their brakes in front of us. A couple of riders jammed on their brakes and flipped over, ending up face planting on the back of the car. I was able to narrowly avoid hitting the car because emergency breaking was a skill I had been practicing.
“OK, this one is just for fun, but I do get a lot of enjoyment out of it.”
It can have a few practical uses, especially on a Mountain bike. If you are approaching a large obstacle, being able to wheelstand from a few feet before it to get your front wheel up and over can make challenging sections much easier to ride.
I wouldn’t recommend doing them on your road bike because, well, that is not what they are made for, but it is possible. Just BING 'Robbie McEwen wheelie' and I am sure you will find some great videos of a talented road bike wheelier (is that a word?).
Going out riding is great, heck that is why we all do it, but I highly recommend you take the time every couple of weeks to go for a ride just to practice some or all of these skills, without worrying about heart rates or knocking over the miles. It is great fun, will make you a better rider and you will be much more confident dealing with unexpected situations.
Anything missing? Do you think there are any other skills that every rider should have?
Would you like any more information of how to do any of these techniques? Let us know in the comments and we will follow up with practical advice on how to learn these skills.