Bike handling skills are something that every cyclist, including the pros, can always improve. Nobody likes crashing and while certain accidents are almost unavoidable, improving your skills on the bike can vastly increase your chances of staying upright.
Most recreational cyclists will never approach the skills of the best pros: The top riders can put on their rain jacket in a downpour and go through hairpins in the Alps with no hands on the bars. Some of us mortals may be able to accomplish that feat on a straight, smooth road, but the big boys have to be able to put on a jacket in any situation.
There are a couple of skills that we can all learn, both of which come in handy multiple times during a single ride.
One of the most basic skills pertains to hand placement on the handlebars. Not everyone likes to have their hands in exactly the same position, but the key component, which is the same wherever you place your hands, is that they need to be locked in some way to the handlebars.
Placing your hands on top of the handlebars without locking them in place with your thumbs is just asking for trouble. One small bump in the road could cause your hands to come flying off the bars, and a crash is almost 100 percent guaranteed. We have opposing thumbs; use them to keep your hands securely fastened to the handlebars.
That doesn't mean you need to have a death grip mentality. Holding on too hard causes fatigue and transmits road shock to your upper body. Make sure your thumbs are loosely opposing your fingers so that if a bump is encountered, your hands don't come flying off the bars.
Another tip from the pros makes your bike more stable when drinking from your water bottle or taking an on-the-bike photo. Before you reach for your bottle or grab your camera out of your jersey pocket, move your other hand as close to the stem as possible and grab the handlebars there. Moving the contact point toward the center of your handlebars gives you more control over steering the bike and helps you maintain control should you hit a bump or other irregularity in the road.
The key here is to minimize movement in your upper body. If you look over your shoulder to take a picture of all the buddies you dropped on the last climb, it's more likely you will stay in control. Remember, when riding in a group, going forward in a straight line is good.
So whenever you need to take one had off the bars, before doing so, move your other hand as close to the stem as possible. You will have much more control over your bike and be a much safer rider on the road.
Bruce Hildenbrand is a freelance journalist covering cycling and a host of other outdoor-related sports. Find the latest news, rumors and more on his Active Expert blog. He splits his time between Mountain View, California, Boulder, Colorado, and Europe.