Have you ever been on a group ride where you felt like your life was in danger because of “squirrely” riders? They dart to and fro always keeping you guessing as to which way they will go next or if they will choose to avoid a crack in the pavement at the last second. Maybe this is this you? Riding in a group requires a lot of trust, which is why it is important that we do what we can to be a trustworthy person to ride with.
I advise you to get yourself to a grassy field with minimal potholes, swapping your clipless pedals for simple tennis shoes and flat pedals. Tuck the laces in so nothing gets caught causing unnecessary toppling. Most importantly, strap on a helmet, and now we are ready to ride.
Besides looking pro at a stoplight, this skill is really good for improving balance and spatial awareness. Balance is a key ingredient to cycling and thus improving it should be a commitment we make for our sport in the name of fun and safety.
When first practicing a track stand, wear tennis shoes and stay unclipped, this way you can put a foot down and catch yourself as you start to fall. The term “track stand” originates from the velodrome where fixed gear bikes—the bike moves backwards when you pedal backwards—are used. This gives the rider the ability to remain virtually motionless while making partial pedal strokes forwards and backwards. We will perform an improvised track stand, since road bikes have freehubs that allow us to coast downhill and prevent us from pedaling the bicycle backwards.
Pedal in circles in the field, as slowly as possible, keeping your body weight centered and low over the bike. Standing on your pedals, position your feet level with each other, so the crank arms are both horizontal. As you slow, you will lose stability, but don’t panic. The key to a track stand is that you are never truly standing still, but rocking gently from side to side, forward and back. At first, try to use only 20% of your pedal stroke, and then return to the horizontal crank arm position. Keep your front wheel turned into the circles you were previously pedaling. As you perform partial pedal strokes with the wheel turned, you can create enough movement to stay balanced without moving very far.Eventually you will be able to keep the bike in the same spot. On track bikes, pulling the pedals back to the original position would also roll the bike backwards, however modern freehubs will not allow you to move the bike backwards unless gravity is on your side and a slight incline allows you to roll backwards. It is helpful to know that if you do feel like you are going to fall over you can give one good hard pedal stroke and pedal out of it. I have fallen when practicing this so don’t feel like falling is defeat. Falling is a sign that you were pushing yourself to your limit and that is when the best kind of learning happens. Track stands are a delicate balance of continuously moving while trying your best to not go anywhere.
Water Bottle Pick up
The water bottle pick up is exactly as it sounds, and is a simple yet helpful tool to have in your skills toolbox. There have been times in my riding when I have accidentally dropped a water bottle and had to turn around, carefully, to retrieve my bottle. Like the track stand, it is really convenient if you can avoid unclipping and pick things up on the fly.
You are going to want to have a little extra speed to carry you through the pick up part of this drill when you will be coasting. So, approach the bottle in a straight line and choose a side. When you are close to the bottle, your leg on the side that the bottle is on is going to be stopped at the top of the pedal stroke so that you can lean on the other leg fully extended as the counter balance. Take one hand off the handle bar and reach for the bottle. It may take you many approaches to accomplish this grab and that is completely fine.
The “nifty lifty” is very handy for curbs, potholes, or debris in the road. Sometimes all you need is a little front tire lift just to avoid a potentially bad impact to your rim, fork, or frame. This drill does require you to be clipped in for the back tire lift and definitely makes executing a bunny hop easier.
- Front Wheel- This movement requires you to take the pressure and weight off the front end of your bike and tends to be a little easier if you’re slightly out of the saddle. Gently push down on the handlebars, then lift them up and slightly lean back as you rebound from the push down. Start small and gradually build your confidence.
- Back Wheel- Being out of the saddle with crank arms in the horizontal position is the best for this maneuver. You are simply going to push down and pull up with your feet while activating your hamstrings into a little lift.
- Bunny Hop (Front and Back Wheel)- A true bunny hop is actually several different steps performed in one fluid motion. Push down on the bike with your hands and feet, then spring up, first pulling up and pushing the handlebars forward. Once the front wheel is off the ground, lift up the rear wheel by pushing backwards and “scooping” up and forward with your feet. Proper bunny hops are hard to master, however, and simply pushing the bike down into the pavement, then pulling up on the bars with your hands and on the pedals with your feet is adequate for most situations. When practicing, use a water bottle as a marker on the ground as you learn the timing, and also to emulate a real life situation.
Being able to handle someone leaning on you is a terribly necessary skill to have as a group rider. Case in point; I was riding with a friend on a road with lots of trucks, one of which sucked me into its draft. As I fought myself out of the truck’s draft, I over-corrected into my friend. Her ability to keep her balance and push back into me as I pushed into her kept us from an extremely dangerous fall.
So get a friend and practice leaning into one another until you are comfortable.
This is also a very useful skill to have when you are riding with a group. In a pace line situation there may come a time when someone will put on the brakes a little too hard when you are following closely. If this happens you will be able to respond like a pro and stay upright on two wheels. For this drill you are going to have your friend ride consistently and slowly in front of you. You are then going to tap his or her back wheel, just grazing it with your front wheel. Be sure to try from both sides and straight on. This practice will help you greatly for group rides in the pace line. Be careful, as it’s easy to get overzealous and fall over!
So, go! Find your grassy field so that you can play your part in being a responsible group rider.