• Directional Stability

    by  • June 9, 2009 • too random • 2 Comments

    A teammate was asking for feedback on how to improve his riding skills…specifically on how to hold a better line. He got an earful of suggestions, which I thought I’d recount here, in slightly condensed form.

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    • If you’re good on rollers, it means you have a pretty smooth pedal stroke already, so hopefully these tips are helpful!
    • One word – relax. Bikes are stable and will track a straight line if you let them. Try to relax your upper body, arms and hands and just let the bike go straight with no input from you. If you can do that your line will get straighter and straighter.

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    • And, dealing with looking back and paying attention to traffic is a separate issue. Yes, there is traffic on group rides, but it effects the whole group and you have to trust your group to do the right thing.
    • Instead, you trust the other riders and focus about 99% on what’s in front of you and don’t let anything distract you. I would especially caution against looking back. Someone is always back there and they should be telling you if they hear a big truck or something. Ideally, you follow a wheel you like and you just relax and match their line exactly. If they’re not so smooth or they wobble a little you can even try to ride a straighter line than they do.
    • But, overall, the key focal point is relaxing and letting your legs spin the pedals while you keep your upper body still and quiet and look at the guy’s shoulders ahead.

    look-back.jpg

    • A suggestion given to me that worked really well was to first take a deep breath, then try to tuck my chin onto my collarbone BEFORE looking behind me, as well as focusing on keeping my hips square with the bike and pointed forward, (and keep spinning the pedals).  This keeps the spine in line, and the head remains centered over the body, thus allowing the bike to track in a straight line.  This makes sense to me, because any coach will tell you when steering the bike you should look where you want to go, in other words, point the head and the body and bike will follow, so intuitively, it seems most riders swerve left when looking behind them because they’re sticking their head to far out left.  Tucking the chin onto the collarbone first, then looking initially felt a little weird to me but soon became second nature.
    • Well, these tips demonstrate that you should definitely care more about what’s happening in front of you, not behind.  It’s definitely important to be mindful and aware of riders behind you when changing your line, or when you suspect an attack.  However, the riders in front of you can have a much more direct impact on you staying upright.
    • I have a little different perspective due to my hearing problem so I thought I would put in my two cents.  When I ride I don’t wear my hearing aids because the sweat would do them in the in no time, and without them my hearing is pretty much equivalent to a person with his head in a bucket of water.  So I have to depend on looking back more than most riders do and I also tend to swerve all over the place when I turn my head. But, thanks to a suggestion from my wife, I have found a method that has worked out pretty well for me.  She told me that jockeys (she used to be involved with horses) look behind them by ducking their head and catching a glance under their armpit.  I have found that I can do that much faster than I can turn my head, decreasing the time that my eyes aren’t pointed forward, plus it seems to decrease the tendency to swerve.  Of course everything is looks upside-down, but at least I know where the traffic is.
    • Practice your look-backs while on the rollers.unibike.jpg
    • I don’t know if this is relevant or not, but one thing I have made a habit of is signaling moves. I do it for cyclists behind me, and I do it for drivers. Its often a lot easier to stick a hand out to the L or R than it is to take a look behind, especially in a tight spot, such as in close with other riders, or on the road when you come upon an obstacle and have to move out of the bike lane into the car lane. Stick a hand out, then make a gradual deliberate move in that direction.
    • As a collegiate diver the first thing I learned is the body follows where the head goes, use your eyes and not your whole head as much as possible, and when you need to turn and look, do it gently.
    • It’s possible that your bike has a very “quick” geometry that makes it somewhat squirrely at low speeds and exaggerates the problem

    double-bike.jpg

    • While looking over your shoulder is a skill to be mastered, it’s always more dangerous than looking straight ahead.
    • Quite often the phrase “the race is in front of you” pops into my mind when I see you look back and swerve into the traffic lane. I know we’re not racing when this happens, but that’s what pops into my mind.
    • I think you’re on the right track with needing to get in the habit of preparing before looking over your shoulder. Relax, turn gently, keep your line in mind
    • Don’t get a mirror.  You’d instantly be labeled as “the scary guy who needs a mirror” in races, and you don’t want that.
    • Use your ears!  I can usually hear the sound of wheels or drivetrain when someone’s moving up around me before I see them.
    • Also, you can look between your arm and torso to check for clearance.  It’s a lot less movement than looking behind you, and more subtle.  You can also look for shadows of bikes and riders when applicable.

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    2 Responses to Directional Stability

    1. Justin
      June 9, 2009 at

      *Do more crunches. Seriously, do them all the time. Do crunches so often that it becomes no different to you than checking your tire pressure. Shitty riders who look like hell on a bike usually have weak core muscles– it causes them to rock and juke all over the place when they pedal hard, which in turn makes them incapable of holding a line at speed.

      *Stretch more. Try to get your palms flat on the ground instead of just touching your toes. Being stable in the drops means your body isn’t “reaching” in that position; it’s resting. Stretching before a ride should make your bars feel closer.

      *Ride the dirt. Doesn’t matter what kind of bike. Just do it. It will make you a better bike handler. Example: I watched Mark Weir repeatedly wheel-drift through a corner full of road paint while we were in the break at the Carrera last year, and he was doing it on purpose. Probably because he spends his free time doing ish like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vu4n5k5oyD8&NR=1

    2. Mr. Man
      June 11, 2009 at

      10% is knowing how to hold a line.
      90% is caring enough about being safe to do so.

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