Hone your Skills with Every Ride
by Bob Zogg
Want to improve your bike-handling skills, but don’t have time for a workshop? Here are a couple of drills you can practice pretty much any time you’re on your bike. Try them every now and then- they can really help.
Reducing the Weave: All cyclists weave. It’s how we keep our bikes upright. However, a skilled cyclist’s weave is so slight that he/she appears rock solid. Less weave means better balance. Better balance means that you’re more likely to stay upright. Ride the white line at the road’s edge. Relax your upper body, keeping a light grip on the handlebars. Keep your focus out front-you can feel whether you’re on the line. It helps to maintain a smooth pedal stroke by pushing and pulling evenly with each foot throughout the 360-degree rotation. Try this only on dry roads. Wet, painted surfaces can be slick.
Looking Back: Even if you use a rear-view mirror, it’s important to be able to look behind you for traffic before changing lane position: no mirror provides a full field of view. Practice looking behind you when you’re on quiet streets, alternating between looking over your left and right shoulders. Keep practicing until you can do this without weaving.
“Look Ma, No Hands”: No-hands riding is a useful drill to improve your balance and learn how your bike handles. Practice only on quiet streets or in parking lots, and only on smooth pavement. Keep your hands close to the handlebars until you get the hang of it. Steer by rotating your hips (rotate them right to turn right, and vice versa).
Bunny Hopping: Sometimes the best way to avoid an obstacle is to jump over it. Hold your pedals level with each other, squat down, and pull up on the handlebars. Then jump up and pull your legs up under you. This works best with clip-in pedals or toe clips, but even without them you can get your front tire up, which is the important one. Just unweighting the tires without actually lofting your bike is often enough to get over a bad pothole. Practice this before you need it by jumping over imaginary hazards.
Dodging Hazards: Every now and then you’ll be surprised by a rock or pothole that you don’t see in time to avoid using a leisurely maneuver. Just before hitting the hazard, turn the handlebars suddenly without leaning first (which feels very unnatural), so that the front wheel dodges the hazard. As soon as your wheel passes the hazard, catch your fall by turning the opposite way. Your wheels will steer around the hazard while you and the rest of your bike travel in nearly a straight line. Practice this using a safe “hazard” in an empty parking lot (not on the street).
Quick Turning: There are times when you’ll need to turn fast (for example, when a motorist turns across your path and you need to swerve out of the way). In these situations, quickly turn the handlebars opposite (yes, opposite!) the direction of your intended turn. This forces you into a lean, and you then quickly correct your handlebar position (by turning in the direction of your turn) and execute a fast, tight turn. This is similar to the hazard dodge, but without straightening up. Practice the rock dodge first, and then move on to the quick turn. You can use the same quick-turn technique to recover from entering a downhill turn at too fast. Straighten your handlebars momentarily to force yourself into a steeper lean.
Remember—safety is about choices. What choices will you make?
(Adapted from August 2005 Safety Corner Article)
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