How to Develop Handling Skills like a Pro

By Mike Durner - Coach, Military and Veteran Cycling, United States Olympic Committee

I recently learned a lesson about movement while doing a team building exercise with some of our U.S. Para Cycling National Team athletes.  We took a lesson in surfing, and what I learned was that surfing does not take place in the planes of movement and angles that I thought it did.  This got me thinking and dissecting movement on the bike more and what I realized is that cycling is a sport of lateral motion.  Maybe “lateral control” is a better term for how cyclists deal with the forces of physics while riding.

The forward motion of the bike is what keeps riders upright, however I feel that it is a riders ability to control the bike laterally that elevates their level of skill.  Riders that can track stand endlessly, corner as if they are on rails, and surf the pack with ease, are considered by others to have high levels of skill and can utilize these skills to ride beyond their current fitness level.  All of these skills require that an athlete’s body have awareness of and comfort in lateral movement planes. 

A good time to work on your lateral bike movement now that the weather has warmed up is during your recovery rides.  If you only have time for a very short recovery ride (less than 60 min) you can get the most out your time by getting on the rollers.

Sample recovery ride:

  1.  Easy spinning for 5 min.
  2. Keep spinning easy for the next 10 min but start as far to the left as you are comfortable and slide a little to the right each min to finish the 10 min as far to the right as comfortable.
  3. For the next 10 min repeat number 2 but move from right to left.
  4. For the next 10 min while spinning easy, practice moving in one slow, steady continuous movement from one side of the rollers to the other each minute.
  5. Spin easy for 5 min

If you have a little more time and a nice day, consider talking a friend into doing a skills ride with you outside.  This is something I have the resident Para Cyclists at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center do at least once a month.  Not only do you get to improve your skills but you also get to feel like a kid again, playing on your bike.

  1. Lower your tire pressure a little and head down to a nice grassy area (the outfield of a baseball diamond works well) with your training partner.
  2. Practice the following drills:
    1. Track stand making sure to practice with both your left and your right foot forward.
    2. Slow Turns:  90 and 180 degree turns around a cone or water bottle with your hands in the drops.  Riding very slow focus on pushing down with your outside foot and into the turn with your inside hand.
    3. Side Bump Drill:  riding next to your partner slowly with both of having your hands on the hoods and arms and shoulders relaxed gently bump into each other’s forearms, elbows and shoulders.  When you bump into each other focus on reacting like a tennis ball dropped onto a foam matt (bounce off but softly).  Make sure to switch sides with your partner so that you both bump against your left and right side.
  3. Enjoy the time on the bike.

Lastly, don’t let your level of experience stop you from working on lateral movement skills - it’s what the pros are doing when people think they are playing!

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