In my last post, I introduced why technical cycling matters to triathletes. The first reason I gave was that bike proficiency parallels power/speed consistency and greater overall energy conservation. The second reason, however, is even more important. And that’s because experience in technical riding makes you a safer athlete.
Yes, it’s true that Tour Riders are daredevils. They burn down mountains and zip around cut-throat turns in ways us mere mortals would never dream of – mostly because it’d be a nightmare. And while we do witness some pretty horrific crashes from time to time amidst the pro circuit, that’s usually only due to the fact these guys are in such close proximity to each other. The truth is that as crazy as pro cyclists are they’re often still safer than an over-cautious newbie.
There’s almost always at least one crash at every race I compete in. I always hear about it some time after finishing. But the triathletes toppling over their handlebars are almost never the experienced riders (and “experienced” doesn’t just mean fast riders). This is because those who haven’t acquired the proper technical skills simply don’t know how to approach certain situations. As a result, they either underestimate their speed around a bend and take a dive into a ditch, or they overestimate the approach and the poor saps coming up from behind are suddenly in a dangerous traffic jam.
Those with technical riding skills are keener on identifying how to handle situations. The more practice you have in outdoor cycling the more you take on a “I’ve seen this before” kind of mentality. That’s a lot of what technical cycling is: reading the landscape. Good triathletes survey what’s ahead and anticipate how to handle the challenge by way of experience and cycling 101 basics.
So where do those basics come from?
How To Be Technical
There are a few ways to get better at technical riding. One is to expand your cycling horizons. For those privileged enough to afford a road bike, mountain bike, or cyclocross bike, these ventures are fantastic ways to gain experience in proficient bike handling. They’re also great ways to cross-train during the triathlon off-season. Mountain biking and cyclocross specifically are very technical sports in and of themselves. Taking part in these endeavors is not only fun, but you’ll also be forced to learn grace on a bike.
This is because mountain biking and cyclocross demand your whole body, not just your arms and legs. Banking, weaving, and descending on un-level ground will force you to connect with your bike in ways you never have before. There’s a finesse necessary here that can’t be avoided like out on the road. Give it a try and find out for yourself.
Additionally, you can always learn to be more technical on the road by simple practice. Find a few challenging left-hand and right-hand turns and treat them like experiments. Repeat the same turns at various speeds and following different “lines,” working to get around them smoother and faster each time. This is what is known as “cornering.” Cornering is an essential skill for any cyclist or triathlete. I strongly recommend you learn more about the basics on these two websties:
Moreover, when I say “lines” I am referring to the invisible pathways of trajectory you can take around a turn. In other words, what’s the best arc to take so that you can come out the other side with the least amount of speed lost? This will often depend on the size of the road and the angle of the turn, but generally you want to start as wide as possible, cut in toward the apex of the turn, and then exit as wide as possible. This is the fastest line to take while maintaining a smooth arc. However, be sure to NOT cross into the oncoming traffic lane … ever.
Remember to think about and practice the basics of cornering, like a properly timed brake, a dropped outside leg, a pointing-out inner knee, and a leaned bike (not torso). Most importantly, though, know your bike and your surroundings. Be aware of any gravel and wetness as well as the condition of your tires.
Lastly, learn from the best. The single most effective way to learn how to be a more technical cyclist is to ride with a more experienced friend. Pick his or her brain for pointers. You can also learn a lot by simply watching them change gears and take turns. Study your friend’s cycling mannerisms and mimic them with equal timing. You’ll immediately notice why they do what they do.
Being a technical cyclist in triathlon is key to sustaining a level output of effort and staying atop two wheels at all times. Practice the basics of cornering, descending, and overall handling out in the real world as much as possible.
TALK WITH TRIDOT:
What aspects of technical cycling do you struggle with? Have you felt like you were at a disadvantage during a triathlon because of your lack of confidence?
Stieda, Alex. “How to Corner on a Bike.” Bicycling. Rodale, Inc., 10 June 2010. Web. 31 Oct 2016. http://www.bicycling.com/training/bike-skills/how-corner-bike
Global Cycling Network. “How to Improve Your Cornering.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zlr5M3UcXKQ
JARED MILAM is a professional triathlete, TriDot coach, and member of the Tri4Him Pro Team. He has 16 years of competitive running experience and 11 years of competitive triathlon experience with a half Iron PR of 3:59 and a full Iron PR of 8:30. Coaching under the TriDot system since 2011, Jared loves working with aspiring triathletes of all ages and performance levels.