Riding a bike is something many of us learn when we are young. If you’re looking to get into competitive cycling though, there’s a lot more to it than you might think. You can’t simply hop on a bike and expect to compete. For those of you interested in trying though, we’ve asked cycling experts to give their top tips for beginning cyclists.
Riding in a Paceline
Most bike riders are accustomed to riding alone. In competitive cycling though, you’ll want to take advantage of the pack. You can actually save energy by hanging in a paceline. At first, it may be scary to ride so close to other cyclists, and learning to modulate your speed to match the pack can be difficult. It’s a good idea for first-timers to start towards the back. This way, you can watch the rider in front of you to see what the group does. By taking a cue from the trees and grass, you can determine the wind direction, and then position yourself on the lee side of the next rider. This is called drafting, and cyclists do it because it cuts down on wind shear.
Soft Pedaling vs. Coasting
While trying to keep up, don’t go back and forth between pedaling hard and coasting. This yo-yo effect won’t help you take advantage of the benefits of hanging in a paceline. Instead, try to find a consistent speed that will keep you in the lee of the next rider. You can do this by soft pedaling. Try to stay off the brakes if possible. You can slow yourself slightly if needed simply by raising your head into the wind.
Normally, when biking down a hill, your first instinct would be to brake, especially if you’re moving at racing speeds. However, if you want to maintain your position in the paceline or if you simply don’t want to fly over the handlebars, you’ll want to practice descending without braking. At first, the angle will seem risky, because your head, hands, and shoulders will feel like they're tipping forward. Resist the urge to sit up though, as this actually makes you unstable by placing your weight too high. Instead, scoot your rear back and spread your weight out while keeping your hands in the drops. This will lower your center of gravity, which makes your bike a lot easier to control. If you need to slow down with the brakes, do it gradually, with a slow, gentle squeeze.
Turning Like a Pro
When taking sharp turns, you may find the urge to lean into the curve, but this isn’t the best way to do it. Instead of leaning your body, lean your bike. To keep it stable, press your outside leg into the pedal. Then, point the inside knee into the turn, which will in turn shift your hips and shoulders as well. Eventually, this will become a natural motion for you. At that point, you can simply look where you want to go. The bike will follow your head and eyes.
With a lot of practice and a good bike, you can become the competitive cyclist you’ve always wanted to be. If you want to give racing a try, we invite you to join us for the Ring of Fire Cycling Time Trial here in Maupin, Oregon. Take on the 6- or 12-hour race with bikers from across the Northwest. The cycling race takes off from Imperial River Company on September 12th. Registration starts on Friday at 5pm.