Chances are, at some point or another you have crashed your bike. Virtually all of us fell off our bike when we were kids and first learning how to ride. I can’t even recall how many times my kids wiped out when I was teaching them to ride their bikes. Even now – as adults – there’s a really good possibility that you have crashed.
Your crash might have been pretty tame. For instance, one time I pulled up to an intersection in my neighborhood and had to stop because of a red light. Wouldn’t you know it, but at that very moment my clipless pedals stopped working, and I was unable to unclip in time to put my foot down on the ground. I toppled over on my right side, spilling all the liquid out of my aero bottle and landing on my back with my bike (still attached to my feet) sticking up in the air. Naturally, this happened when there were multiple cars at the light – with one of them being driven by a friend. That happened probably four years ago, and he still ribs me about it.
On the other hand, your crash might bave been pretty severe. I’ve had my fair share of these, too. Six years ago, I was out on a group training ride. There were about eight or ten of us, riding fairly close…drafting off of each other. We approached a hill (which in reality was just a slight rise in the road….but we call those hills here in Florida). Another guy and I had a testosterone-filled moment and took off. I was on his wheel – literally inches away. All of the sudden we were both on the ground. We think his chain dropped when he was switching gears…but I could have crossed his wheel with mine, taking both of us down. At the end of the day, we were both pretty significantly hurt – he had a broken jaw (which needed to be wired shut) and I broke my left clavicle and right thumb (both of which needed to be surgically repaired).
I’ve been cycling for close to 30 years. At one point in time, I raced in US Cycling sanctioned races. I worked in a bike shop. I would go out and drop 100 miles and think nothing of it. I’d rocket down hills at close to 50 mph. All without never wearing a helmet. I consider myself a pretty solid cyclist. And yet, I still have crashed. Lots of times.
The bottom line here is that if you ride a bike, chances are you will crash. Hopefully your crash(es) will be more like my former example than the latter. For whatever reason, triathletes have become synonymous with poor cycling skills. Perhaps it’s because we tend to ride solo. Or we spend too much time on the bike trainer rather than outside. Whatever the reason, lots of triathletes have shoddy bike skills.
Over the next several blog posts, I’ll share my thoughts as to how you can become a better cyclist, and ergo, a safer triathlete.
Tip # 1: Learn how to hold a line
“Hold a line”, you say. “What the heck is that?”
In cycling vernacular, holding a line means having the ability to maintain a dead-straight line without wavering. This skill is critically important when you are riding in a group setting, with other cyclists around you. It’s even important when you’re riding solo. You may not realize (especially if you don’t practice this skill) that it is really easy to swerve around – even small amounts. This can be exacerbated when climbing, when eating or drinking, or even when riding in aerobars.
Imagine why this could be a critical skill when you’re riding in a group setting. You might have several other cyclists around you – both on the sides and perhaps behind you. They could all be very close to you…mere inches. If you’re unable to hold your line, you potentially are moving closer to – and potentially hitting – some of those around you. Clearly this could be dangerous.
When riding solo, having a lot of lateral movement or swerving is inefficient and ultimately could reduce speed or add slight amounts of distance to your ride.
The really good news is that improving your skills around holding a line is really pretty easy. All it takes is practice. Here’s my suggestion: on your next ride, be very specific to ride only on the white fog line on the side of the road you’re on. It’s about four inches or so wide, and serves as a great tool for giving immediate feedback in terms of how you’re doing. Ride on that line consistently. For miles and miles. And miles. Practice riding on that line on your drops. Master that, then practice on your aero bars. Once you’ve mastered that skill, then practice moving between drops and aero bars. Then practice grabbing water bottles and putting them back – all without wavering from the white line. Practice taking things out of your pockets and putting them back in. The better you get at doing these things while staying on the white line, the better your control!
Having the ability to hold your line while cycling will prevent some crashes. I have a few more tips, too. Check back often for more posts that include those!