Alison Tetrick and Ted King break down biking basics to help you feel more comfortable on the road.
by Jordan Blanco
Many adults can recount the exact moment they learned to ride a bike. In fact, there's presumably photographic evidence—taking your first pedal strokes is a childhood rite of passage. The simple skill of riding a bike is never forgotten.
All of this doesn't stop cycling from being a tricky endeavor, especially if you're looking to participate in a group ride, race, or other cycling event. It takes a combination of bike handling skills, terrain management, and traffic navigation all while exerting physical effort. And then there’s bike maintenance, arcane terminology, and bicycle repair techniques to master as well.
The world of cycling can be overwhelming, but it doesn't need to be confusing. Employing a few basic skills will boost your confidence and enhance your enjoyment of riding. Below, three professional cyclists shared with us their favorite tips to help you feel at one with your bicycle.
Alison Tetrick rides for Women's World Tour team, Cylance Pro Cycling. Her favorite advice for beginners is something her grandfather taught her when she first learned to ride a bike: "wiggle your toes and play the piano." Her grandfather's mantra was a cue to relax, as Tetrick explains. "By wiggling your toes you can ensure you aren't clenching your feet in your shoes, and this allows for a more fluid pedal stroke."The same principle applies to being able to 'play the piano' on the handlebars rather than white-knuckling them. "If your toes and fingers are loose," she says, "you are able to use your elbows and body to respond to the road, and make the energy go where you need it to propel the bike forward."
Tetrick's other simple piece of advice is to always look where you want to go, especially when negotiating corners: "if you focus on the obstacle you’re trying to avoid—a pothole, a tree, or a squirrel—you will ride straight into it. Instead, look where you want to go and the physics of your bike will take care of the rest."
"Practice makes perfect" is Jess Cerra's favorite piece of advice. As a professional cyclist with Team Twenty16, she recommends that newbie cyclists spend time practicing skills like descending and cornering. She recognizes that it can be frustrating to spend time working on weaknesses, but, she comments: "trust me, champions spend time on this as it's not all about fitness." Cerra suggests that you take a skills clinic with a local bike shop or ask a friend with exceptional cycling skills to help you initially and then practice to develop your confidence.
Like Tetrick, Cerra acknowledges the need to learn the physics of the bike and how it moves. It's the ticket to becoming a smarter, safer, and more efficient rider. She also believes there's a good return on time investment in learning about gearing. Again, your local bike shop will be a great resource. "Newbies should understand the different options for chain rings and cassettes so you can make the most out of your training and racing," says Cerra, "it can make a big difference if you are doing a block of training with climbing, or a race with a lot of climbing."
Former men's ProTour rider, Ted King, raced for ten years in the world's biggest cycling races, including the Spring Classics and the Grand Tours. He retired this year but his career included riding as a domestique in support of ProTour riders such as Thor Hushovd, Ivan Basso, and Peter Sagan. He learned the hard way that cycling is about conserving energy and he encourages amateur cyclists to get comfortable riding in groups. In his experience, "riding in the second row or so of a group is generally a good place to be as you're protected from the wind but not so far back that you get the 'elastic effect' around every corner and up each hill."
King's second piece of advice is something that is echoed repeatedly in the pro peloton by team managers and fellow cyclists: "eat and drink," three simple but important words. "There's no coming back once you're in the 'red' if you don't stay on top of your hydration and hunger," King adds.
Want to take your cycling skills to the next level? Sign yourself up for an event with Velothon and get outside and practice your riding skills while building fitness.
Jordan Blanco is a writer and cycling junkie who lives in San Francisco.