• By Dean Hughes

    How much time do you spend on improving your handling skills?

    Most triathletes spend hours a week training the cardio engine, mashing big gears and riding for hours in straight lines on the tri bars. Including some basic bike handling skills can add variety in your training, fun & competition with your buddies and prepare specifically for races and help ease a few nerves for that much deserved warm weather training camp!

    Even ‘male’ triathletes can benefit from spending a short time either, before, during or after a ride on the fundamentals of safe efficient riding!

    Over the years I’ve coached on various training camps, guided/led rides and it always amazes me that when athletes are asked the question; ‘how are your cornering, climbing and descending skills’, most triathletes will just nod and say; ‘yeah fine, no problem’. These are usually the riders that are terrified of holding the drops and adopting a lower body position when descending – brakes on most the way down! Coming to a complete stop on a tight turn and struggling to hold a water bottle, dropping it whilst riding in a group. Sound familiar? Then why not include some of these ideas into your training programme.

    Cornering – most races have a variety of corners and some have dead turns, even Long distance events do – Challenge Henley does! Car parks (park and ride sites are usually empty on Sunday afternoons) set up some short races with your mates – great fun! Mini round about (quite roads), or simply put some water bottles or markers down and practice a variety of turns on a quiet road or cul de sac. Control your speed by braking and changing gear easier before – ensuring smooth line and good acceleration out the turn. Body low on tights turns – chest down to stem, holding drops, inside pedal up and drop inside elbow too. Push down on outside pedal and weight over the rear to maintain traction.

    Descending – how many of you can confidently ride down a hill on your drops or tri bars, pedalling continuously, with out white knuckles and not holding the brakes all the way down? Hill reps are a great way to improve your strength climbing up, but the decent is just as important, so practice riding down focusing on relaxing, gaining speed, smoother each time. Hold the drops (lowest hand position), relax and bend your arms, keep your centre of gravity low for stability. Keep pedalling to flush your legs out after the climb and maintain momentum on the flat.

    Braking – Your front brake in the most powerful so use the rear for feathering the brakes and both for quick stops. Braking effectively before turning will ensure a smooth line and speed. Practice stopping at different speeds using white lines or markers. Stay low and weight over the rear wheel. Remember to change gear so you can accelerate away again and practice staying clipped in – balancing at traffic lights are good for these! Practice away from audiences first though!

    Riding in a bunch – If you sit on a wheel, spinning behind experienced cyclists you will benefit from some great tips. Passing bottles in the bunch and taking turns on the front. Always look through the group when riding in a bunch – anticipating speed and direction changes. Try & position your self in the middle so you don’t get dropped out the back. Keep your eyes on the front!

    Bottle pass – Have someone stand on the roadside and pass you bottles. Don’t forget to say ‘thank you’ for race day! Practice dropping them in the drop zone too. Long distance events – feed stations.

    Saddle push – Speeds up transition and it looks cool when mastered! If your standing around getting cold waiting for your group riding buddies to turn up, why not practice pushing your bike around the car park with the saddle. Pushing with the saddle will free up one arm to make running easier and your body position will be higher enabling you to be more aware of your surroundings in transition. Practice with both hands/side of the bike.

    Pedalling – Restrict your gears on sections of a long ride and spin at different cadences – 100,105,110+ rpm. Invest in some rollers for improving leg speed and improving balance & coordination. Great for recovery spins after races and hard sessions too. The ability to spin in races at different cadences especially long distances events will help reduce fatigue.

    Bike fit – If your are not comfortable on your bike, then get some expert advise from your coach or book in a Retul Bike Fit – http://www.freespeed.co.uk/

    Top Tip: Recce the bike course of your next race at least a month or two before and you will be surprised how much more relaxed and confident you will be on race day! Oh! And don’t forget to practice changing those inner tubes!