Basic Road Bike Skills You Should Know
By Michelle Valenti
You’ve done it: You spent the money, bought a bike, and you are going to ride it every day — well, at least every weekend. But the bike you have now is a far cry from the Huffy you rode as a kid, and the local rides are a little different from when you pumped your legs as fast as they could carry you to the local 7-Eleven for a slushie.
How hard can it be? They don’t say, “It’s just like riding a bike”, for nothing, and you’re pretty sure you can still balance on two wheels. But how well can you keep up with the local cycling club?
These basic cycling skills will help you feel more comfortable on your new ride.
It’s easy to keep up with a group on the straightaways, especially if you ride in the middle of the pack and draft off of the more experienced riders. The hills are what separate the seasoned cyclists from the newbies. Ascending a long steady climb without dropping to the back of the pack — or worse — off the back of the pack — takes endurance and skill.
Practice these tips on your next climb.
1. Keep your eyes on the road ahead. As you approach a climb, shift down a couple of gears.
2. Try to keep your cadence (the rate at which you are pedaling) high.
3. Remain seated for as long as possible
4. Make complete circles when you pedal — pulling up on the back part of the stroke in addition to pushing down on the front side.
5. Put your arms on the top of your handlebars, keep your elbows relaxed (not completely straight), and use your core muscles to help power your pedal strokes.
You’ve crested the hill, so it’s time to sit back and enjoy the ride, right? Wrong. Going down should be just as methodical and controlled as going up. Although descending is rewarding and fun, it requires just as much, if not more, attention to the road as the climb.
Here are the basics of descending safely:
1. As you crest the climb, shift into a higher gear so that when you need to pedal you’ll be ready.
2. Set yourself up for optimal control of the bike: Put your hands in the hoods with your finger resting over the brakes. If you’re comfortable, you can move your hands into the drops to reduce drag. Shift your butt back a little in the seat and, when you aren’t pedaling, keep your feet parallel to one another.
3. Focus your eyes about 15 feet ahead of you to watch for turns or obstructions in the road.
Looking over your shoulder
On any bike ride you should be alert and aware of what’s happening around you — not only watching for what’s coming up ahead, but for what’s approaching from behind. Always check over your shoulder first if you plan to make even the slightest adjustment from your course. Sometimes, however, the simple act of looking over your shoulder can cause you to veer off course.
Follow these tips to get around an obstacle safely:
1. When you see an obstacle ahead — whether it’s a parked car or another cyclist you want to pass — prepare to look over your shoulder.
2. Turn your head 90 degrees and let your eyes look the rest of the way.
3. Keep your shoulders and chest facing forward; don’t let your arms follow your gaze.
4. Check for approaching cars or riders coming from behind before executing the pass.
The reason looking over your shoulder can cause you to swerve is because, in cycling, you steer with your eyes. Where you look (usually) dictates where you want the bike to go.
Follow these tips for successful turns:
1. Look into the turn.
2. Position your inside pedal at the top of the pedal stroke.
3. Lean into the turn. You won’t have to turn your handlebars. If you look and lean, the bike will follow.
4. If you need to slow your speed, apply the brakes before you start the turn. Don’t brake in the middle of your turn.
5. Start pedaling again as you come out of the corner, to maintain your speed.
The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be. Spend some time working on these bike skills in a parking lot or on a quiet neighborhood street before heading out with a big group.
Michelle Valenti is the cycling and triathlon editor at Active.com.