I enjoy mountain biking on paved trails where you have the trees block the wind and provide shade from the sun. You don't have to worry about cars, and for the most part you don't have to worry about dogs. While you may have to be concerned about the occasional suicidal squirrel that will dart out in front of your wheel, for the most part you don't have to deal with riding in close proximity to other riders until you're in a race.
The same can be said for a road racer who likes to train alone—racing within inches of another rider's wheel can be intimidating and one of the hardest skills for a new rider to develop, especially if you don't practice it during training.
The tricky part is, you might be comfortable with riding close to another rider, but maybe those around you aren't. This can be dangerous too. For instance, if you are in a race, riding into five feet of empty space between two riders in front of you might not be a big deal.
But doing that on a charity ride or on a trail may not be such a good idea. It can cause panic, riders could go down, and potentially cause a lot of anger. Knowing when it is appropriate to ride in close proximity to another rider and when it's not is just as important as knowing how to.
The polite thing to do, if unsure, is to call out "on your left" so the riding partner on the left will move back to the right side of the trail. Just think of how much energy is lost by moving to the left then back the right, moving to the left then moving back to right. When someone is not comfortable riding 1 to 2 feet next to the person beside them, it can cause lots of problems. This is due to lack of experience on the bike and lack of knowledge on proper steering techniques.
Below are a few drills that can help anyone become more comfortable riding in close proximity to the rider next to you. These drills will be most helpful if you can do them while riding with a training partner.
Straight Line Drill – If you have ever gone to a safety class, this is one of the drills they teach. Pick out a straight line in a parking lot or a low traveled road and practice riding on top of the painted line on the shoulder. Make sure you look ahead of the line and not down at the line. Your bike will go where you look, so look straight ahead.
Handlebar Grip – Another tip is to loosen up the grip on the handlebars. If you are holding your handlebars too tight and pulling more on the left side, your bike will move left. If you are pulling harder on the right side your bike will move right. You grip should be loose and your elbows slightly bent; they are your shock absorbers.
Two Finger Grip – Try this! Use only your index and middle finger to steer the bike down a straight line. This drill will teach you that you do not need to squeeze the handlebars hard to steer it. Your arms, legs, and core will do this, not your hands.
Core Exercises – Yup! Your core helps you to sit up on the bike and take some pressure off your hands, which will loosen your grip on the handlebars. Remember your core is everything except legs, arms and neck, so any exercises you do-chest, abs, back, hips and glutes, will help you to ride in a straight line.
Time On The Bike – The more you ride the more comfortable you'll become. Join a group ride whenever you can and get advice from others while you're riding. It's the best way to be safe and gain comfort.
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