Q & A: Chicken Cornering and Exploding Up Hills

Q: Hi Gale, I have done a good deal of riding by myself and with a few friends. I've completed a number of challenging bike tours and have had a great time on the tours.

An experience with a group of riders on a bike tour last summer made me eager to try a few local group rides. On my first group ride, I surprised myself and kept up with the main group until the split point. Our group often splits after about an hour, with some riders going longer than others. Because I don't have stellar fitness right now, I decided to go with the shorter-ride group.

I'm really excited about this new group riding experience of drafting, rotating the lead, paying close attention to other riders and pushing myself. I see some areas where I have some big weaknesses to work through and was hoping you could give me some advice.

  1. Cornering: I easily lost 10 to 20 yards each time the group went around a corner. It seemed the group accelerated around the corner, but it may be a combination of my lack of comfort with the bigger group and I am just a chicken at speed. I'm not sure you have advice for how not to be a chicken!?

  2. Hill Rises: I know that being able to easily keep up on hills is a fitness gap, and building that fitness will take time. That written, how hard and how far should I push it on hills to try to keep up? I easily hit 90 to 95 percent of my max effort on the rises, and can only keep it up for 20 to 30 seconds before needing to slow down quite a bit to recover. I drop back to high 80 percent. Should I keep it under the 90's as I know I can maintain that for longer, or learn how to push the 90's and recover faster?

Any insight you can lend would be great.

In advance, thanks,
- Lynn

A: Hey, Lynn. Glad you are enjoying a group ride experience. Given the right group of riders to match your needs, group riding can help you achieve higher levels of fitness and make cycling even more fun. I'll try to answer your questions:

Cornering With Greater Speed

Learning to go around different types of corners at varying speeds takes some practice. Begin by practicing on your own. When you take a corner at high speed, be sure to keep your inside foot at the top of the pedal stroke.

For example, for a left turn the left foot is in the highest position possible at the top of the pedal stroke. Most people have a preferred side, or they turn in one direction with more confidence than in the other direction. Be sure to practice turning both directions.

Some turns are long and sweeping, while others are a tight 90 degrees or more. Begin with the long and sweeping turns to build your skills and confidence. As you gain both skills and confidence, move to turns that are tighter and more difficult to manage at higher speeds.

To compliment your solo practice, watch some bicycle races online or on television. Notice the line or path the riders take around the various corners. Look at the body positions of the best riders to see what they do to successfully navigate the corners. Try to practice some of the techniques on your own.

Another resource is watching the riders in your group ride. Notice the line they ride into and out of the various corners.

In some group rides, if the riders are taunting or racing each other, skilled riders at the front of the pack will intentionally accelerate or sprint out of the corner. Those accelerations make the corners seem even more difficult, especially for riders near the back of the pack.

As you gain more skills and confidence practicing both on your own and with the group, I think you'll find a decrease in chicken feathers.

Sustaining Speed on Hill Rises

I will often use group rides to help cyclists harvest fitness they don't know they possess. What I mean by this is if you spend a good amount of time training and riding by yourself or with a couple of close friends, you might have fallen into a certain level of comfortable riding.

On some selected group rides—but not all group rides—I will have fit athletes tape over their heart rate monitors and just ride. Give the ride your best effort, do what it takes to keep up with the group. Yes, I'm saying to ride as fast as you can to keep up with the group on the hills. Do whatever it takes, even if you feel like your legs are near a point of exploding into flames. You might find that you have more strength and speed than you thought you possessed.

Notice I asked you to tape over your heart rate monitor. I do want you to wear it and collect data from the ride; but don't let the monitor dictate the ride for this particular assignment. After the ride you can look at the data and evaluate your heart rate response at various points during the ride to help you design future workouts.

I suspect you will need some hill repeats of varying lengths, grades and ridden at different intensities. In short, I think you should do a combination of doing some higher-intensity efforts (Zone 5b and 5c) with long recoveries as well as doing some medium-high efforts with moderate recoveries. (Begin with Zone 3 work and move toward Zone 4-5a.)

If you need help learning more about exercise intensities, you can find free download information on my training page titled "Training Intensities."

Best wishes building your strength and speed. Keep me posted on how it goes for you.


Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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