Do you feel a twinge of jealousy when you see somebody with awesome bike skills? It can be really frustrating to see them effortlessly ride over obstacles that you know you'd struggle with, or hold a perfect track stand at the lights as you wobble to a tentative stop behind them.
But there's more to great bike-handling skills than just looking cool. There are a number of reasons to take just 5 minutes out of every training ride or commute and devote it to improving your cycling dexterity. One reason is, of course, to improve your ability to maneuver through the pack - whether on a group ride or in a race. Another reason is to improve your safety and the safety of the riders around you - a combination of experience, skills, and mental preparation can help make a lot of crashes avoidable.
However, the most convincing reason is that by practicing skills and improving agility on the bike, you will actually become a stronger, faster cyclist. The thinking behind this is that by being more relaxed and confident on the bike, you will waste less energy through tension and anxiety and you will be able to apply all your energy to turning over the pedals. The most important thing to take away from the drills outlined in this article is not any particular skill or ability, but an overall improvement in your sense of confidence and relaxation on the bike.
This is definitely the coolest skill that can be mastered relatively quickly - it saves you time and energy, improves your balance out of sight, and will have the local hipsters drooling with envy.
A trackstand simply means you bring your bike to a complete stop and stay balanced (usually at traffic lights), standing up on the pedals, ready to ride away.
Here's how to do it:
It is easier to learn with tennis shoes on, because you will be touching your feet down pretty often to begin with. Begin to practice in an easy gearing, so that you're not stuck in position by being in too big a gear. The best place to make your first trackstand attempts is on a grassy knoll with a slight uphill rise. Grass is pretty good to fall on and adds extra resistance for balance.
- While standing up on the pedals, ride up to the slight rise on the grass and position the bike so that it is pointing at either 10 o'clock or 2 o'clock, depending on what side you prefer, first.
- Turn the wheel slightly so that it faces back towards the 12 o'clock.
- Now BALANCE. You don't want to use the brakes - use the gears to keep you in place. Gravity will force your front wheel back down, but your gearing will force you back up. So when you feel the bike go back down the hill slightly, apply some pressure to the pedals and go up a foot or so, then relieve the pressure and roll back, and so on and so on.
- With the front wheel going slightly across the front of your body (at 10 or 2 o'clock) allows you to spread the base of the bike, so that it can be moved to balance you.
- As with all balance techniques, focus on one spot on the ground. If you follow something moving, you are going to move with it.
The key to a good trackstand is to stand up early, cranks level, and extend both arms and legs until they are straight, or nearly. Use the brakes gently as you come to a stop, to avoid throwing yourself off balance. Now make sure you are well forward, shoulders over the bars, so you can push down through straight arms to correct any wobbles in the bike. Do not swing the bars from side to side - just turn a little to one side then stay balanced by putting pressure down through the bars instead.
It will take a bit of practice, but by trying it a few times a week for just a couple of minutes at a time you'll soon be a trackstand master!
The bunny hop is a great skill to learn, not just for safety, but also to avoid flat tires and to keep your wheels true. As with most drills, there is a natural progression here.
Front Wheel: in an empty parking lot with white lines to indicate parking spaces, practice riding the length of the lot, hopping your front wheel over each line as you cross it. This is mostly done using the arms to pull up on the bars.
Rear Wheel: Now do the same thing but with your rear wheel. You will use your legs to pull up on the pedals and lift the rear wheel off the ground.
Both Wheels: Once you've mastered the front and rear wheel separately, it is time to get both wheels off the ground at the same time. At a jogging speed, bend your knees, push the bike down into the ground and then burst upwards, pulling up simultaneously on the pedals and the handle bars. Once you feel comfortable jumping white lines, you can try some bigger obstacles such as soda cans or sticks.
The Ankle Grab
This drill involves holding onto your leg while pedaling, and is a wonderful way to improve your balance and your awareness of your center of gravity. What you will find is that flexibility and the length of your limbs has very little to do with success in this exercise. The real key is the ability to push the bike away from the side you are leaning to while continuing to ride in a straight line. By pushing the bike to the side and keeping your center of gravity in the middle, you effectively bring your body lower to the ground.
Start by pedaling the length of a parking lot holding your right calf with your right hand and your left hand in the drops. This should be fairly easy. Try it on the other side. Then see if you can move your hand down to your ankle and hold on to it while you pedal. Once you achieve that, you can try to pedal while holding the heel of your foot. The further you lean your bike to the side, the lower down you will be able to reach.
So get to work - just a few minutes a day can help develop cool bike skills, break up the monotony of a boring commute and improve your overall riding.