Bike handling is tricky. A road bike, with its tiny thin tyres, is very different from the hybrid bike I grew up cycling, and there are so many different things to get a handle on! Firstly – three basic things for beginners.
Clipping in / clipping out – I still do not understand why these are called “clipless” pedals when they involve clipping…. A lot of people are put off cycling road bikes by the idea of these pedals and a fear of falling off. Well, you may fall off the first time …. I fell off once on my first cycle and once on my second, and then I’ve maybe fallen one other time since then from not clipping out properly (in about three years). My boyfriend hasn’t fallen off once. It doesn’t hurt, it’s just a slow motion tip sideways and a bit of embarrassment! I now have the routine of clipping out both feet well in advance of any stop. So much so that James teases me about it a little bit but it seems to work!
Standing up – this one took me a while at the beginning as the bike was so light compared to my weight that I was sure I would fall off. I started with tiny bursts (we’re talking 2-3 seconds) out of the saddle when accelerating off at traffic lights, gradually building that up, and then trying it on a hill. There’s still no way I would be comfortable getting out of the saddle at full speed on a sprint, but other than that I’m pretty okay with standing up these days!
Turning my head – this sounds like a stupid one but at first, every time I turned my head, my bike weaved dramatically (dangerous in traffic) and I almost fell off. Which meant I just avoided turning my head, meaning I left a friend a long way behind once as I couldn’t check where she was, and made lots of turns just following the people in front of me without looking properly for cars behind. Trusting that they had looked properly. Not a great tactic! This one was conquered just with time on the bike and now its something I barely have to think about.
And now for my current challenge – cornering downhill.
I really learnt how rubbish I was at this on my holiday with James in Andalucia where we had LOTS of hills and I was painfully slow both up and down. I just had absolutely no confidence on my cornering. Where a hill was long and straight, I was perfectly happy to let the bike do its thing. Where there were corners, I inched around them with fear on my face. Something had to be done.
So first I watched this video from Triathlete Europe. It’s called “how to perfect your bike cornering” and I realised that perhaps I was watching the wrong video when it started by saying “cornering is all about grip and confidence And, as you’re watching a video called ´how to PERFECT your bike cornering’, I imagine you’ve got confidence already”. Hmmm. Not so much.
However, there is one tip in this video which I had never thought of, had never read anywhere, had never been told, but has REVOLUTIONISED my cornering. Yep, it’s as important as that. When you go around a corner, look where you want to go, not at what you are trying to avoid. It makes a crazy amount of difference. I remember coming down one particular stretch in Andalucia, desperately trying to avoid the wall of rock right in front of me as the road swept around to the right, staring at that huge wall of rock and… almost cycling right into it. I had to slam my brakes on and gingerly inch round. Not ideal.
This technique of looking where you want to go – looking around the corner – makes all the different in making your bike easily turn the way you want it to. I’ve had a lot of practice on the overpass that I take to get into the Casa de Campo park in Madrid. It has tight u-bend turns, that normally I would be unclipped for and often have to put a foot down to help me round the corner. It is slightly scary, looking where I want to go and steadfastedly not looking at the railing at the side I am trying to avoid, but it has made getting around those corners SO much easier. Give it a try!
I then went and found the video I probably should have begun with – “how to improve your cornering on the bike”.
So here are a few extra tips I picked up – the first one I knew and the second and third were new to me.
1) brake before you get to a corner – well of course, it’s kind of obvious … having said that, whenever I am going round a corner at some point I get scared and then brake in the middle of the corner. Not a good idea.
2) Have your hands on the drops – this is much more stable for cornering as it adds a bit of weight to the front and evenly spreads the weight. It also gives you a low centre of gravity which helps you corner more quickly.
3) outside pedal at the bottom, put weight into your outside leg – the reason for having the outside pedal at the bottom of the stroke is because, as the bike corners, it leans over towards the inside of the corner. If your inside pedal is at the bottom of the stroke it could catch on the road which would lead to disaster. I don’t even want to think about that, ow. The having your weight down the outside leg is interesting – it makes a lot of sense when you think about it, but as I had always seen bikes leaning into the inside of a corner, I had assumed you would put your weight on the inside as well.