Originally written for Cyclopaedia shop in Cardiff, I’m making the case for spending as much time on building your skills, as money spent on your bike. Better skills leads to enhanced performances and more enjoyment.
So…You’ve got a shiny new Giant TCR, a top notch Kask helmet, your rump is comfortable in some marvellous Fizik shorts and you’re looking the bizz in that Spokesman jersey. With boundless enthusiasm you’re ready to smash those Strava stats, aim for sportive supremacy and fill your calendar with wondrous events from all round Blighty. You’re almost completely prepared.
So what else is there? One word and one word only: skills.
Cycling has enjoyed tremendous growth in the ten years since the Tour De France visited London. There are more sports cyclists than ever and the growth in new riders and mass participation events shows no sign of abating. This, of course, is great news. Historically, sports cyclists came through the club system, whether the club was track, road or audax orientated. This came with certain restrictions – club rides at set times, a culture and obligation to help – and certain benefits; other riders to help push you further, sound advice, a slap on the wrist if you make a mistake and often, skills training. These days, most new riders don’t enter the club systems and have less opportunity to learn skills and good practise from their peers. So why does this matter and how can skills enhance the experience?
Riding solo or in small numbers poses few problems. Riders can easily see how road conditions are unfolding and respond accordingly. When group sizes increase, the importance of understanding group dynamics and how to ride in large groups becomes vital; how to anticipate that adjustment of line, when to take a wheel and how close to follow, when not to half-wheel and shatter a group that’s working well; how to ride close together comfortably, the right line through a roundabout or a corner, when and what to communicate. The list of skills and knowledge that can really turn your group riding experience into a safe, fast, enjoyable outing is long.
So where to start? Not everyone wants to join a cycling club and that’s perfectly understandable (though naturally, we’d definitely suggest this as a great option). To get an idea of good cycling practise and technique, consulting a coach is a great idea. A coach can help you understand the dynamics of group riding and also work on individual skills like cornering, climbing, descending, slow riding, track standing etc. The British Cycling coaching scheme produces coaches up to level 4 (most club coaches are level 1 or 2).
If consulting a coach is difficult or co-prohibitive, then it’s worth swotting up on line. There are some excellent coach led resources out there and many will improve your awareness of a particular skill and give you a means by which to assess your own level. Perhaps doing this with other riders of a similar standard, will help provide some peer assessment and healthy competition. Finally turn up and spectate. Turning up at a local cycle track to watch a critierium race in action will give you a great sense of what it means to ride quickly – and hopefully – safely. Crit races in the E/1/2 categories contain riders who’ve been around the block, have a wealth of experience and don’t tend to take risks unnecessarily. You can learn an awful lot by watching.
Of course, if you want to really take your skills on to another level, try your hand at cyclo-cross, where road and off-road skills get blended into one. But that’s another post for another day. However you choose to improve your cycling, we wish you all the very best; let’s get out and enjoy.
From the shop
Sportive bikes: The Giant Contend offers great value for money in a package that is smooth, efficient and quick, with prices ranging between £525 and £1150 dependent on component choice. If your budget stretches a little further, then the Giant Defy is a terrific machine, enjoying a frameset used by the pros. Prices start at £1500 with the full Ultegra equipped, carbon wheeled model weighing in at £3700.