Bicycling (South Africa)
HOW TO KEEP YOUR SKILLS SHARP NOW, SO YOU’RE READY WHEN RACING RESUMES
TTHIS HAS BEEN A YEAR OF ENDLESS BASE BUILDING. When races started leapfrogging into June and then September and then sinking like stones in the ocean of an endless pandemic, competitive cyclists went back to putting in the kays – solo on the road, or on the trainer. That’s great for building fitness. But skills? More like a chain left out in the rain. As events come back online, those bike-handling skills will matter – a lot. Because, as everyone who rides and races a bike knows, good performance (and staying upright) also requires efficiency and control. Here’s how to keep your skills sharp and race ready when it comes time to toe the line.
ROAD BRAKING // be ready: Any time there’s a wheel in front of you (e.g. while drafting), rest your fingers on the brake levers. This way, you’ll be able to brake quickly, and minor slowdowns won’t develop into emergency-stop situations while your hands find the brakes.
keep it equal: In 99 per cent of braking situations, you want to apply pressure evenly to each brake lever so that both tyres share the load. This helps maintain stability and control on tar or gravel.
Turn smart: As mentioned previously, always brake before a turn.
Pedal through the brakes: In many scenarios, continuing to pedal while braking lightly will get you out of trouble. The overall effect: you won’t be a yo-yo, that person who brakes hard, then accelerates to regain momentum, and wastes energy in the process. learn to stop: When you master the emergency stop, you’ll have greater confidence because you’ll know this move is there when you need it. Put your hands in the drops, push your weight back behind the saddle by shifting your butt and straightening your arms. PRACTISE BRAKING Practise on a grass field, sprinting up to speed then slowing as fast as you can without skidding. You’ll need to modulate finger pressure on each brake lever, much like ABS on a car, to stop individual tyres from skidding. Fresh brake pads greatly increase stopping performance – replace them regularly. Consult with your bike shop if you’re not sure when.
MTB CORNERING // drift like a pro: World Cup DH legend Chris Kovarik is a master at maximising – even gaining – speed through turns. When you enter a corner with speed and lean your bike over to turn, your tyres will begin to lose traction. For many, this is terrifying; but embrace it as the fastest way, um, forward. “Anticipate this and cotrol it, especialy in loose or wet conditions, and you will be faster. This isn’t skidding – where you lock up the back brake and lose speed around a corner as you drag the wheel; we’re talking about a controlled slide that will make you faster, and cool as ice.
carry your speed: Pros like Kovarik intuitively know how much speed they want to carry into – and out of – a corner. The rest of us will have to practise. But as you learn to drift, remember that speed is the force that causes your tyres to break loose. Kovarik recommends practising on a loose, fast corner with a long run in. As you enter the turn, keep your eyes focused beyond the exit, and lean your bike over to carve around the apex. Repeat several times, carrying more speed with each run, and leaning the bike over until the tyres start to break free. That’s when the fun begins.
balancing act: Once your tyres break free, it’s a matter of balancing your weight. The key is to keep your front wheel glued to the ground, while the back wheel does what it needs to do – within reason. To do that, Kovarik says, keep your weight slightly forward. “As I’m approaching the exit, I’ll shift my weight over the bars to keep traction on the front wheel,” Kovarik says. “If you get your weight too far back, you’re going to come out of the drift slow, and bog down.”
constant corrections: The goal of drifting isn’t just to slide around corners with a big plume of dust and smoke. That looks great in photos and videos, but won’t help your riding. You want to blaze around a turn as quickly as possible, but exit in control. That means counter-steering as your tyres slide, just as you would in a car that’s slipping on an icy corner. “While in
the drift, I’m continuously correcting my front wheel [steering into the opposite direction of the turn] to prevent the rear from coming out too far,” Kovarik says.
plant your foot: As you learn to drift, Kovarik recommends extending your inside foot out and ahead of the cranks to prevent you from falling over if your wheels slide too much, or if you lean too far over. The move also helps keep your weight low. This is easiest done with flat pedals, but can be performed with clipless pedals if you anticipate the corner and unclip ahead of time.
lead with your eyes: Your bike follows your eyes. Look as far through the corner as you can, aiming for a nice wide arc. Also, pay attention to what some pros call the ‘third eye’, or your navel. You don’t use it to see (obviously), but it does take you where you want to go when it’s ‘looking’ in the right direction.
it isn’t all about the drift: Cornering is a something you absolutely can (and should) practise on your own.
Slaloms: In a parking lot, set up a mini slalom course. Start with a straight line and practise that, linking turns left to right. To make that more challenging, offset them so you have a more acute turn required for each one. And again, start slowly, and progressively build speed.
Circles: Put your bike in a low gear and ride in slow left-hand circles, gradually picking up speed and bringing the circle tighter and tighter until you feel the rear wheel break traction. That’s your tipping point. Get a feel for that point and get comfortable riding within it. Practise in both directions.
Figure 8s: Next try figure 8s, which are perfect practice for real-life riding because you have to change direction quickly to maintain control. This is where you should really feel how the shift in weight and pressure in your hands and feet work to help you control direction.
SCANNING // Being able to look behind you without swerving or changing direction is a critical skill for racing, as well as commuting and riding in general. Here are the basics: look forward first: Before you glance back, survey the road in front of you to be sure that it is clear of potholes, debris, or other hazards that could cause you to crash while scanning behind you.
keep your shoulders square: Your bicycle goes the way your shoulders are pointed, so if you rotate them while looking back, your bike is going to track in that direction. Keep your shoulders square and facing forward.
tuck your chin into your shoulder: With shoulders squarely forward, turn your head down and to the side you want to look over, so your chin meets your shoulder, and glance back to see riders (or vehicles) passing from behind on that side.
or look under your elbow: Dip your head towards your elbow, and flare your elbow out and look through the window between your arm and your body to see where the riders behind you are.
HOLDING WHEELS (FOR ROADIES) // look through the riders ahead: Ideally, you want to be about 15-30cm behind the wheel in front of you for optimum draft (and to prevent someone from cutting in and taking your spot). But you don’t want to be transfixed, because you won’t be able to adjust to fluctuations in speed and terrain or sudden movements.
avoid prolonged wheel overlap: You are responsible for your front wheel, because what happens to it directly affects you and probably those around you, should you go down.
minimise the accordion: There is a Slinky effect that happens towards the back of the pack as the accelerations and decelerations of the riders towards the front get amplified at the rear. Minimise that effect by leaving room between you and the riders directly in front of you, to allow for micro-adjustments that are less abrupt and disruptive to your rhythm.
hold your line: When you’re in a bunch, you need to be predictable. That means ‘holding your line’, continuing to travel in the path that you’re on and not switching or swerving.