Riding on the road means that you always have to be alert and ready to take evasive action. The better your bike-handling skills, the more likely you’ll come out unscathed. As with anything, practice makes perfect. It’s better to work on handling skills before you need them, rather than wait for an emergency. Being calm and confident on the bike may get you out of a bad situation. Even if you ride alone, you can’t always predict what’s around the next corner or what the car just ahead of you will do. If you ride in packs, you’ll need to be even more comfortable on the bike because of the proximity of other riders.
Following are a few exercises that may come in handy. Find a quiet area without cars or obstacles so you can focus your attention on the exercise rather than on obstacles. Whatever type of bike you’re riding (road, mountain, cross, hybrid, or touring), all of these exercises are applicable and valuable.
- Wheelies—Many of us mastered the wheelie as a kid on our BMX bikes. Feeling comfortable popping the front wheel can save you if you’re about to roll over an obstacle. Settle yourself on the pedals, and when comfortable, yank up on the handlebar. Start small and slowly build up. Robbie McEwen is a professional road racer famous for coming over the finish line riding a wheelie on his racing bike.
- Bunny hops—I’ve been saved many times by the bunny hop, and that’s not hyperbole. This is an excellent skill to master. You should practice a bunny hop until you have no problem clearing a curb or pothole. While rolling, pull up with both feet and hands at the same time. Both of the wheels should come off the ground at the same time.
- Tight circles—Find a parking space or other marker in the pavement. While riding at slow speed, work on making as tight a circle as possible without falling over. Don’t forget to do this drill in both directions. The purpose is to give you a good feel for your bike while also enhancing your balance. This exercise will help you feel comfortable in tight spaces and in packs.
- Rapid braking—Accelerate to a sprint and then coast. Rapidly apply your brakes to stop as quickly as possible without skidding. Remember that the majority of your stopping power comes from your front brake. The tricky part is that if you overapply the front brake, you can flip or “endo.” This drill will help you get a feel for how quickly you can stop. It will also help you learn the proper technique for rapidly decelerating without losing control.
- Track stands—You’ve likely seen a bike rider doing this at a traffic stop. Make sure you’ve mastered popping out of your pedals before attempting this exercise. You want to feel confident that you can abort if you start to fall over. Like the other drills, this hones your sense of balance and connection to the bike. Hold your hands on the brakes, turn your wheel to one side, and stand on the pedals. You may have to rock back and forth just a bit to maintain your balance.
- Cornering—Pick a smooth, sweeping corner without obstacles or debris. Come into the corner, slow at first and then more quickly. Feel your bike lean over. Get comfortable driving through the corner. Remember that you can’t pedal through the corner because your pedal may clip the ground. Focus on driving the ball of your outside foot through the bottom of the pedal with the foot in the 6 o’clock position on the crank. You’ll get a feel for how much grip you have coming into a corner. Remember, try not to brake while sweeping through the corner. Traction is in limited supply. If you brake, you’ll be using up some of your grip to slow the bike and some to keep the tire from slipping out. It’s better to use your traction for keeping the tire on the pavement.