Sharpen your bike handling skills in the off-season

Want to build your bike confidence and skills ready for the start of next season? Then winter is the best time to work on technique. Here's the how, why and a key technique session… 

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Good bike skills won’t just keep you safe while training and racing, they’ll also save you time in every race, which is why the off-season is the perfect opportunity to work on them. 

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Ride with others

So first off, if possible, ride regularly with people who have plenty of cycling experience to help you pick up skills naturally. Seeing someone going into a corner fast and coming out the other side without any issues, for example, shows you it’s possible.

Notice when they stop pedalling, how they’re looking at the exit of the corner rather than down at the front wheel. See how they lean the bike and how they have the inner pedal high when coasting, and so on. Do this over several months and your bike skills will grow massively.

Work on cornering

You can also develop your cornering skills by picking a bend and riding it several times – maybe when you’re coming back downhill during hill repeats, for instance. Push just beyond your comfort zone each time, gradually getting quicker as you learn what’s possible without taking risks.

Improve your descending skills

Another area to work on is descending. Find yourself a straight, traffic-free descent – one that’ll take you up to 20mph without much effort. Give yourself a marker, such as a tree. Descend from the top and then, as soon as you’re level with the tree, brake to a halt. The next time, try to stop a little sooner.

Don’t allow your weight to shift forward or you risk the rear wheel losing traction. Feel how much you need to use each of your brakes to stay stable. You’ll be surprised at just how short your stopping distance is.

If you skid, you’ve gone too far. Once you’ve worked out exactly what your brakes can (and can’t) do, you’ll find yourself tackling fast descents with much more confidence.

Practise riding one-handed while holding your line too. You’re going to need to do this to drink on the bike, so the more comfortable you are with it the better.

Bike-handling masterclass session

Benefit: Bike handling’s often overlooked, yet one look at the Olympics and Super League and it becomes clear how important it is. This session’s all about skills and not fitness levels, so is suitable for anyone. It can be ticked off in a car park, cul-de-sac, playing field or quiet business park.

Warm-up: 10mins riding around your area, looking to ease onto the drops every time you corner. Ensure you look forward throughout. Practise riding in both directions around your circuit.

Main set:

  • Slalom – set out a series of cones in a straight line and place an extra cone at each end to mark your turnaround point. Ride through the cones, completing a turnaround. I ask athletes to complete two laps each time.
  • Figure of eights: set out two cones. Perform figure-of-eights on your circuit. As you progress, bring the cones closer together. Again, ride around your cones in both directions.
  • Box stop: set out a 1m-square box with cones. Ride quickly into the box, bring the bike to a stop momentarily without skidding and under control, then without putting your feet down, pedal away again.
  • Touch the cone: set out half-a-dozen ‘witch’s hat’ cones. To practice hitting the apex, bike control and ability to pick up a bottle, as you pass each cone, reach out with your hand nearest the cone and touch the cone.

Cool-down: Not really needed.

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Image: Jonny Gawler