Cycling is a fantastic way to stay active and in shape and explore the outdoors. Whether you are a weekend warrior or a competitive racer, improving your bike skills is essential for a safe and enjoyable ride.
In this article, we listed some bike skills every cyclist should know, from proper pedaling technique and riding in a group to navigating tricky terrain. So, beginners and seasoned pros, these tips will help you improve your bike handling and increase your confidence on the road. Grab your helmet and get ready to take your cycling to the next level!
1. Changing gears smoothly and efficiently
Changing gears smoothly and efficiently on a bicycle is a fundamental skill for any cyclist. It can make a big difference on a ride, especially when going up hills or changing speeds. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you master this skill:
- Start on a flat surface: It's best to practice changing gears on a flat surface where you can easily control your speed and focus on the shifting process.
- Shift through all of your gears: Begin by switching through all of your gears, up and down. This will help you get a feel for where each gear locates.
- Pay attention to how your bike feels: As you shift through the gears, pay attention to their feel and the sound. It will help you recognize when the gears shift smoothly and when they do not.
- Try shifting while riding at different speeds: As you become more comfortable with the shifting process, try shifting gears at different speeds. It will help you learn to switch smoothly at different velocities and terrains.
- Practice on different terrains: Once you feel comfortable shifting on flat surfaces, try practicing on different terrains, such as hills or gravel roads. It will help you learn to shift gears smoothly and efficiently in all conditions.
- Always keep your hand on the brake: As you change gears, keep your hand on the brake, so you can stop or slow down if necessary.
- Change gears before climbing a hill: It is essential to change gears before climbing a hill, so you are in the right one and don't have to shift while going uphill.
- Match your cadence: It is crucial to match your rhythm with the gear you are in. For example, if you are going uphill and in a low gear, you should pedal at a slower rate than if you were on a flat surface in a higher gear.
- By following these steps and practicing them regularly you will learn how to change gears smoothly and efficiently on your bike.
2. Cornering on a bike
Cornering on a bicycle is an essential skill that can increase your confidence and safety while riding. To learn how to do it effectively, follow these tips:
- Look ahead and focus on where you want to go: It helps you scan the road for hazards and allows your bike and body to follow the direction you are looking in.
- Pay attention to your pedal position: When going around a right-hand corner, have your right-hand pedal up and your left-hand pedal down, and vice versa for a left-hand corner. It will prevent your pedals from touching the ground and causing a crash.
- Focus on your weight distribution and pressure: When cornering, apply pressure to your outside foot and inside arm. By doing this, you will maintain traction and control the trajectory of the turn.
- When riding in a pack, maintain momentum through corners by letting a small gap open as you enter the turn. It will allow you to close the gap as you go through the turns and come out on the wheel without needing to accelerate as much.
- In wet, gravelly, or unstable conditions, keep the bike more upright to keep your center of gravity closer to the contact patches of the tires, which will increase traction.
Practice these tips in a quiet area with a gentle corner to start with, and gradually increase the difficulty of the corners as you gain more confidence. Remember, cornering is a skill that takes time to master, but with practice, you will become more comfortable and efficient at it.
3. Look behind you while riding in a straight line
Learning how to look behind you while keeping a straight line on your bike is an essential cycling skill. It is necessary for many situations, such as when you have to turn off the road and check for cars coming behind you or riding in a group.
When practicing this skill, find a quiet location like a car park. Start sitting on your bike in a static position with your hands on your hoods. Look straight ahead, then take your chin to your shoulder and back again.
During this exercise, keep your shoulders and core in the same position. If you move your shoulders, your bike will also move out into the middle of the road. It will allow you to maintain a straight line while looking behind you.
Practice this skill slowly and gradually increase the speed as you improve. Remember to stay aware of your surroundings and check for traffic before making sudden movements. With practice, you will learn to look behind you quickly and efficiently without losing your balance or veering off course.
4. Riding a bike with one hand
Riding a bike with one hand is a skill every cyclist should have, as it allows you to do multiple things, such as eating and drinking while biking or signaling to other road users. Here is a detailed guide on how to practice and improve your one-handed riding:
- Start slow and easy. Begin by getting up to a comfortable speed on your bike and taking one hand off the handlebars for a few seconds. Place your hand back on the handlebars and repeat this process until you become more comfortable with the sensation.
- As you become more confident, try taking your hand off for a prolonged period of time. Gradually increase your time riding with one hand, and bring your hand higher off the handlebars.
- Find a quiet, straight, and safe place to practice, like an uncrowded car park or street.
- Keep your shoulders and core steady while riding one-handed. You should keep your body as still as possible to avoid unwanted movements on the bike.
- Practice other activities while riding one-handed. As you become more comfortable riding one-handed, try drinking from your water bottle, taking a snack out of your back pocket, or pointing out road hazards to other riders.
- Remember that riding one-handed may not seem like an important skill when you first start cycling, but the more you ride, the more you will find that you need it. So, practice this skill regularly to become proficient.
- Once you feel comfortable enough, you can try riding one-handed on a busy road, but make sure you are aware of your surroundings and keep an eye out for any potential hazards.
- Always practice safety first and be aware of the traffic laws in your area when riding one-handed. After following these steps and practicing regularly, you will safely ride your bike with one hand.
5. Braking properly
Braking safely on a bicycle is an essential skill for every cyclist. It is the difference between a safe and controlled stop and an accident. Check out these tips and learn how to brake effectively and safely on a bicycle.
- Use the front brake to stop quickly and the rear brake to slow down gradually. The front brake is the most effective, so you want to progressively apply pressure to the front brake while also feathering the rear.
- Keep your body positioned towards the rear of the bike when braking. It will prevent the rear wheel from lifting off and keep your weight low and over the back of the bike. This way, you also prevent the rear wheel from locking up.
- Practice emergency braking in a quiet area with a good road surface. It will ensure you learn how to stop quickly and give you more confidence and control over your bike.
- Remember to feather with one or two fingers on the front brake in a group, especially with modern brakes. It allows you to adjust your speed minutely and avoid sudden stops that can cause accidents.
- As you apply your brakes, your center of gravity shifts forward, which means that more of your braking power will come from your front brake. To prevent going over the handlebars, slide back in your saddle at the same time you apply the brakes. The harder you brake, the farther back your butt should go. You can even push it slightly off the back.
- On a long descent, if you brake constantly, you may overheat the rim and cause a blowout. To prevent this, pump your brakes hard enough until you can feel the bike slowing, release the brakes, and pump and release. If it is a moderately steep, sustained descent, stop part-way down and feel the rim of your front wheel. If it is too hot to touch, wait before resuming descending.
- Practice sliding your butt back and pumping your brakes on short, moderate descents. If you can't find one nearby, practice in a parking lot at a brisk pace. Remember to wear a helmet and stay visible while cycling.
6. Riding out of the saddle
Riding out of the saddle is a skill that is beneficial for a cyclist to learn. Not only does it provide a break from prolonged sitting, but it also allows for greater power output. When riding out of the saddle, it is essential to consider hand position, gears, and technique.
- Hand position: When riding out of the saddle, the most comfortable place for your hands on a road bike is on the hoods. Experiment with other hand positions, such as the drops, to find what works best for you.
- Gears: Prepare for getting out of the saddle by shifting down a few gears on the rear cassette. It will prevent the pedals from spinning too quickly.
- Technique: Get out of the saddle at the top of the pedal stroke. Most people have a favored leg. For example, if you are right-handed, you may prefer to get out of the saddle when your right foot is at the top of the pedal stroke. As you push down on the pedals, the bike will lean slightly in the opposite direction. For example, if your right leg pushes down, the bike will incline to the left. Use your arms to level the bike across and help you get maximum power out of yourself.
Note that the more you practice getting out of the saddle, the more comfortable and confident you will become, allowing you to put more pressure on the pedals and increase power output.
Observation is an essential skill for any cyclist, whether you are training, racing, or just going out for a leisure ride. As a cyclist, you need to be aware of your surroundings and look out for any potential hazards on the road. It includes potholes, loose gravel, oil spills, and other road users.
One of the main benefits of mastering the skill of observation is that it makes your rides safer and more enjoyable. By being aware of potential hazards and predicting the movements of other road users, you can react more quickly and avoid accidents.
When you are out on a group ride, you should also help others by pointing out any hazards to other riders. This way, you can help prevent accidents and keep everyone safe.
To improve these skills, practice them regularly and make it a habit to scan the road for potential hazards. It may take some time, but observation skills will become second nature.
Climbing on a bicycle can be challenging but also a rewarding experience. If you want to improve your climbing skills, there are crucial factors to consider.
First and foremost, maintain a good posture and a relaxed grip on the handlebars. Keep your chin up and sit back on the rear of your saddle. Loosely gripping the handlebar tops or brake hoods will help you to stay relaxed and save energy. If you need to stand, think about staying light on the pedals as if you were dancing on the balls of your feet.
Second, ride your strengths. For example, if you are a smaller cyclist with good climbing skills, you can push the pace on the climbs and then back off on the descents, where you may not have the power to overcome the aerodynamic drag. On the other hand, if you are a large cyclist who may not climb as fast, you may easily ride faster downhill and on flat terrain.
When climbing, it can be helpful to attack the steepest sections. It can be especially effective in racing or group rides. The general rule of thumb is the sheerer the climb, the more power you should put out, and the steeper the descent, the more you back off. After all, power will give you more of an advantage in climbing than descending due to the aerodynamics.
Also, avoid getting shelled off the back of the group. It can happen when you go harder than your sub-barf pace, lactate threshold (LT), or functional threshold power (FTP) for more than a few minutes. To avoid it, focus on your breathing and cadence, not pedaling squares, which happens when you only use your strong quadriceps to push down on the pedals.
Another factor to consider is riding tactically. If the other riders in your group are better climbers, work your way up to the front as you approach a climb. This way, you can ride just a little slower and gradually fade to the back of the group without getting dropped.
If you are not in a competitive setting, ride your own ride. In endurance rides, it is important to stay below your tempo pace, where you should always be able to talk but not whistle. By heart rate, stay below 95% of LT, and by power, below 90% of FTP.
In summary, climbing on a bicycle requires a combination of good posture and technique, riding your strengths, and utilizing tactics and pacing. By focusing on these factors, you can improve your climbing skills and enjoy the challenging yet rewarding experience of climbing on a bicycle.
9. Riding in a group
Riding in a group can be a great way to improve your cycling skills and make new friends. However, you should know how to ride safely and efficiently in a group. These tips will help you get started:
- Maintain the proper distance from the rider in front of you. Ideally, you want to ride about 10 inches to 12 inches behind the rider in front of you for optimal aerodynamic advantage.
- Anticipate the actions of the rider in front of you. Look through the rider directly ahead of you to anticipate their actions. You can watch their hub, glancing down at it to gauge distance. Keep an eye on their rear brake to let you know when they are slowing.
- Keep your hands on the brake hoods. Unless you are climbing, ride with your hands on the brake hoods, with your index finger around the front of the brake lever, so you can moderate speed if necessary.
- Ask questions to your fellow riders. Cyclists are always eager to help.
- Move up in the group efficiently. When it's time to move up in the group, it is hard to fit between two riders riding shoulder to shoulder. Similarly, it costs a ton of energy to move outside the group and accelerate in the wind. Moving in a diagonal is the most efficient way to ride forward in the pack. To move diagonally between riders, you should get your handlebars in front of the rider next to you. You can dictate where the two of you go with your bars in front of theirs.
- Protect your handlebars. If the space is tight, protect your handlebars with a slightly flared elbow or make a little room with your shoulder. It is NOT the same as throwing an elbow or shoulder-checking the rider next to you. Don’t do that. Similarly, you should not take your hands off the handlebars to move through the peloton. Using your hands to move a person over is dangerous and reveals deficiencies in your pack-riding skills. The only occasion you should put a hand on the other rider’s shoulder or hip is to prevent a crash.
- Be aware of other riders around you, especially when making sudden movements or riding in tight spaces.
By following these guidelines, you can ride safely and efficiently in a group, making the most of your time on the road. Remember to always ride with caution and pay attention to the actions of other riders.
10. Proper pedaling technique
Riding a bicycle requires proper pedaling techniques to maximize power and efficiency. A good pedal stroke involves using multiple muscle groups throughout the entire 360-degree rotation of the pedals, not just pressing down at the 3 o'clock position.
To achieve a proper pedal stroke, focus on the following four parts of the rotation:
- 12 o'clock to about 5 o'clock: Most muscle activity occurs in this region. Your quadriceps powerfully straighten your knees, and your hamstrings and glutes straighten your hips. To increase power, engage the hamstrings and gluteal muscles. Imagine you are pushing your knees toward the handlebar or kicking a soccer ball.
- 5 o'clock to about 6 o'clock: The same muscles are working as above, although not as powerful. Engage your gastrocnemius muscles, which point your toes down. Imagine you are scraping mud off your shoes or your toes along the floor.
- 6 o'clock to about 9 o'clock: Good cyclists don't pull up on the pedal in this arc; instead, they use the hamstrings and gastrocs to unweight the pedal so that the downward moving pedal doesn't have to push the other pedal up.
- 9 o'clock to 12 o'clock: The same muscles are working, and the quadriceps flex your hips.
To practice and improve your pedal stroke, try the following drills:
- Concentrate on the top and bottom of the stroke for a few minutes at a time. Learn to initiate the forward and downward push right at 12 o'clock and to start unweighting the pedal at 6 o'clock.
- One-leg pedaling is the best way to improve your pedal stroke. Put your bike on a trainer and put something, like a box, on either side so you can rest the non-pedaling foot on it. Pedal for 30-60 seconds with your left foot. Then, pedal for the same amount of time with both feet. Repeat this several times and then switch feet. Every time you do the drill, try to increase the time of the one-leg and two-leg pedaling.
Riding gravel, especially gravelly climbs, is a great way to smooth out your pedal stroke.
It is important to remember that proper pedaling technique takes time and practice to master. Be patient with yourself and keep working on it. Always be aware of your muscle use and engage the right muscle groups at the right time. Never hesitate to ask other cyclists for tips and advice.
Did you find this list of bike skills and how to improve them helpful? Don't forget to share it with other cyclists who might learn from it!