Dear Coach: What are some easy ways to practice my bike-handling skills?
As with swimming and running, triathletes should practice bike skills often. Why? For starters, a more efficient cyclist is a faster time trialist. Gaining confidence translates into better turns and accelerations and will reduce the number of handling errors that often turn into crashes. I recommend the following weekly or bi-weekly skills sessions to help you become a more efficient, confident and safer triathlete on the bike.
Straight line riding drills
Increases balance, confidence and efficiency
What you need
10–20 small stable obstacles (like cones) that you can set up side by side, one foot apart in a long line. *Alternative option: Use the white line on the right side of a safe road.
Ride through a dozen times, circling back around each time, for each of the following.
– Straight through without hitting cones and adjusting your speed
– Ride with one hand on bars and one hand on back hip or jersey pocket; alternate hands
– Ride through looking back as if clearing for a turn
– Ride through no handed
– Bonus: Have a friend “hand” you a water bottle while you’re going through
It seems simple enough, but when you deliberately practice these, you’ll immediately see that you’ll need more practice!
Standing and accelerating drills
Learn to generate maximum power in a short time. Get back up to speed as quickly and efficiently as possible.
What you need
50 meters of pavement
Clip in and start pedaling. Get into a “hard” gear. Pick a point on your line that you will “start” your acceleration. At that chosen point, stand on your bike and pedal hard. Use your body weight to help you push down and let the bike rock rhythmically side to side beneath you. This allows you to apply more force to the pedals than is possible seated because you can rest your entire weight on the “driven” pedal while also pulling up on the handlebar thus giving you even more force than just your weight. This will be tremendously beneficial for technical bike courses that have lots of turns.
High-speed turning drills
Learn how to carry more speed into and out of a turn
What you need
A large paved area (like an empty parking lot) and some markers, like cones. *Alternative option: Utilize “landscape islands” in parking lots.
Set up a 90-degree turn with cones practicing a dozen times increasing speed each time, then change directions. Then set up a 180-degree turn and repeat.
– Turns should be smooth with one “arc” (i.e., one turn with minimal adjustments)
– Any adjustments to speed need to be complete prior to entering the turn (i.e., no braking in the turn—brake before the turn)
– Look ahead and through the turn, not right in front of the wheel
– Point your knee into the turn, shift weight and keep your upper body over the plane of the bike (i.e., your body angle should match the bike angle)
– Utilize “counter steering” by pushing down on the bars
– When passing the apex of the turn, your bike should already be pointing in the outbound direction (for 90-degree turn)
Mark Sortino is a USA Triathlon Level II and USA Cycling Level II coach who is the co-founder and CEO of Team Multisport Performance Institute (Teammpi.com).