Coaches Corner: Riding skills, part of your training

Ed: Throughout the year we’d like to bring our readers a few training, riding and lifestyle tips from Varick Olson and Elmer Colyer. Both are U.S.A. Cycling coaches and allow us to tap into a wealth of knowledge within the team.

We hope to provide a series of short articles covering different aspects of cycling over the course of the year, most likely once a month. This is a bit of a work in progress so it may change a little as we go, but we can all take the ride together and see where it goes.

I will add a tag to each of these postings for “Tips and Training” and post them on their own page “Coaches Corner” on this blog after they run.

If you have ideas, or questions you would like Varick and Elmer to address please post them to this site in the “comment’” area under the post or contact us at

Build your skills

Training is “the ride”, number of miles, intervals, H/R, power, etc.  Too infrequently the skills of “bike handling” are not practiced.  Skillful bike handling makes you a safer rider whether in a race, on a training ride or just riding. 

Bike handling skills need to be part of your training program.

Skill practice can be divided into three categories: those to do alone, those to do with a partner and those to do with three or more.

All skills have two basic principles: 

 Keep your bike perpendicular to the road, leaning the bike means you are closer to the ground and will more easily crash. 

Keep pedaling, power to the rear wheel keeps you upright, no power and you lose control. 

Skills need to be practiced in areas of minimal to no vehicle traffic.

Skills to Practice alone:

Practice pedaling, shift down and practice spinning, shift up and keep your spin.  This is an important skill when turning and coming out of a corner.  Practice shifting down and then spin when climbing, do not come out of the saddle.  This skill will help you avoid a “backward movement” when climbing. 

The backward movement disrupts other climbers and can cause a crash.

Ride a straight line, practice looking backward under your arm and maintaining your line.  Practice looking backward over your shoulder and maintaining your line.  Become proficient right and left. 

This is a VERY IMPORTANT skill in pack riding so you learn to LOOK before changing your position.

Place 6 sponges in a line about 1.5 bike lengths apart.  Ride the line steering between the sponges, do not hit the sponges.  Do not lean your bike, keep it perpendicular to the road and learn to steer your way through the line of sponges.  Practice various speeds. 

At higher speeds you may feel you need to lean your bike-DON’T-learn to move your body and keep your bike perpendicular to the road.  This skill will help you avoid debris on the road, sudden movements of other riders and maybe a fallen rider.

Place a water bottle on the road.  Ride toward the bottle and reach down and pick it up.  Turn around and ride back and place it on the road.  Become good reaching left and right.  As you improve place a riding glove on the road and pick it up. 

To make a few dollars tell a friend you can reach down and pick up a 5 dollar bill placed flat on the road, if you can’t you owe $5.  Just make sure you have practiced so you can’t loose.

Ride along the edge of a road with a minimal drop-off.  Drop-off the road and learn to keep pedaling, shift down and spin, and RIDE back onto the road.  Practice RIDING back onto the road rather than “bunny hopping” as “bunny hopping” requires you to stop pedaling and you will have poor control when returning to the road. 

As you improve try dropping off at higher speeds and different terrain.  This skill will make you a much safer rider no matter where you ride.

Cornering: Turning left move as far right as possible, into your drops shift down and turn into your lane, spin to accelerate up to speed.  Turning right move as close to the center line as possible, into your drops shift down and turn into your lane, spin to accelerate up to speed.  DO NOT CROSS THE CENTER LINE! 

Practice this skill as if your life depends on it- it does!

Practice corning two ways.  The most frequently used method is to lean your bike into the turn with the inside pedal up so it does not hit the road.  This is an exception to the rules of “keep pedaling” and “keep the bike perpendicular to the road”.  Beware that you need excellent control as this method places you closer to the road with minimal control over the direction of your lean. 

Another way to corner is to keep your bike perpendicular to the road, into your drops look over the brake hood in the direction of your turn, pull up on the bar toward the turn and push down on the bar opposite (this keeps your bike perpendicular to the road) and steer your bike around the corner — KEEP PEDALING. 

This method is very useful in wet conditions, loose gravel and when the group has slowed a bit as you now keep your bike perpendicular, pedal through the turn and can accelerate away from the group.

Skills to Practice with a partner:

Ride side by side and place your hand on your partners shoulder, keep pedaling and both of you ride a straight line.

Put the sponges on the road.  One of you slaloms by steering between the sponges, the other rides as close as possible leaning his body, not the bike, toward the slaloming rider.  By leaning with the body and keeping the bike perpendicular to the road the leaning rider can support the slaloming rider if the need arises. 

Try it.

Practice picking up a water bottle from the road with your partner riding beside you, first left then right.

Practice dropping off the road with your partner beside you and “riding” back on the road without disrupting your partner’s line.

Practice cornering riding side by side.  Which method (leaning the bike or steering) works the best when you are the outside rider or when you are the inside rider? 

Practice cornering following your partner and learn how to accelerate to get on her wheel.  Not only will you become more skilled at staying on a wheel but also your skill of cornering will improve.

Skills to Practice with 3 or more:

Put the sponges on the road, one rider slalom (steer) between the sponges, with a rider on either side riding as close as possible.  The side riders lean their body toward the slaloming rider and keep their bikes perpendicular to the road. 

Take turns in the middle and on either side.  How fast can you go?

Practice riding a revolving pace line.  When you reach the front LOOK under your arm and when you see the front wheel of the front rider in the slow line, move your bike over then your body. 

By moving your bike first you are able to keep your bike perpendicular to the road.  When you are at the end of the slow line accelerate and move your bike toward the fast line and move onto to the rider’s wheel. 

Again by moving your bike first you are able to keep your bike perpendicular and KEEP PEDALING.

Bump and Out: In an open grassy area make a large circle marked with water bottles.  Riders ride the same direction inside the circle and attempt to ride other riders out of the circle.  The last rider in the circle wins.

The slow finish.  Select a finish line and assemble 75 to 50 meters from the line.  Begin the race, no turning around, no foot on the ground; the last rider to cross the line wins.

Varick Olson, PhD, PT, is a Level 2 U.S.A Cycling coach and long-time member of the Big Ring Flyers.

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