The Object Retrieval drill will help develop your sense of balance.Photo: Josh Horowitz/ PezCycling News
When it comes to working on cycling skills, I always tell people the same thing. If you think you might need to improve your skills you probably should. If you don't think you need work on your skills, you definitely should! Let's look at some great drills for helping you to keep the rubber side down.
There are a number of reasons to take one precious training hour per month and devote it to improving your cycling dexterity. One reason is, of course, to improve your ability to maneuver through the pack—whether on a group ride or in a race. Another reason is to improve your safety and the safety of the riders around you. There seems to be a common misconception that some crashes are just inevitable. In my experience this just isn't true. I'll go out on a limb here and say that with a combination of experience, skills and mental preparation, ALL crashes are avoidable.
However, the reason that I usually find to be most convincing is that by practicing skills and improving agility on the bike, you will actually become a stronger, faster cyclist. The reasoning behind this is that by being more relaxed and confident on the bike, you will waste less energy through tension and anxiety and you will be able to apply all your energy to turning over the pedals. The most important thing to take away from the drills outlined in this article is not any particular skill or ability, but an overall improvement in your sense of confidence and relaxation on the bike.
You don't have to be a coach to run a skills clinic. Here is a basic outline of the clinic I run. Find an empty parking lot or a grass field, gather some friends and give it a try.
Just as your body needs a good warm-up before a hard interval session, your mind needs some early-morning calisthenics to get those neurons firing.
Follow the Leader -- This is a fun, easy way to get things going. One rider can take the reins here and lead the group around the parking lot. The idea here is not speed but dexterity. Impose a maximum speed limit or give points for being the slowest to complete an obstacle course without touching down.
Practice sharp turns, cutting in between obstacles and, for a more advanced group, hop a curb or try a track stand. Try to stay as close together as possible. This can be done as an elimination exercise. Keep going until the last rider has to place down a foot or plain falls off.
Note: If you have a spare training bike, skill drills are not the time or place to showcase the new bike you got for Christmas!
Center of Gravity
Just like a gymnast, figure skater, or a diver, there are some things that the body has to learn instinctively. The following series of drills will improve your innate sense of balance.
Ankle Grabbing -- This drill involves holding onto your leg while pedaling. What you will find is that flexibility and the length of your limbs has very little to do with success in this exercise. The real key is the ability to push the bike away from the side you are leaning to while continuing to ride in a straight line. By pushing the bike to the side and keeping your center of gravity in the middle, you effectively bring your body lower to the ground.
Start by pedaling the length of the parking lot holding your right calf with your right hand and your left hand in the drops. This should be fairly easy. Try it on the other side. Then see if you can move your hand down to your ankle and hold on to it while you pedal. Once you achieve that, you can try to pedal while holding the heel of your foot. The farther you lean your bike to the side, the lower down you will be able to reach.