It’s a common misunderstanding that the best cyclists became the best by mastering a long list of advanced skills. In truth, they are usually the people who know the fundamentals better than anyone else. Similarly, if you’d like to quickly improve your skills as a cyclist, learning the fundamentals well will get you the most results for the least effort. Below, I’ve outlined the most critical fundamental skills which can easily be developed by adults and kids. Master these few first, and you’re family be on the way to greatness. Keep reading.
Skill #1: Look ahead
When riding an off-road trail, it’s a common mistake to look down at the space directly in front of your bike. Problem is, this causes you to see obstacles (such as holes in the ground and rocks or anything else that you want to avoid) far too late. As a result, you have to brake with panic or suddenly veer to one side. Were you looking ahead, you’d have seen these problems in advance … and been able to make a much smoother transition; saving you energy and allowing you to maintain a higher speed.
As you ride, look well ahead and use your peripheral vision to see directly in front of the bike. This will take a bit of practice at first.
Similarly, if you have poor eyesight, you will want to act accordingly. In the minimum, wear contacts or glasses so you can see where you are going. Oddly enough, clearer vision tends to increase your confidence while riding. This means you are less timid and so perform much better.
Skill #2: Avoid the problems
When you see an issue coming up, move around it well in advance. Specifically look for the best parts of the trail to ride on, and make corrections as you go to stay on those parts of the trail.
Skill #3: Think ahead
If you are coming up on a section where you can’t see ahead, slow down until you can see. For all you know, that hill ahead is actually a steep drop, or that blind corner has a tree branch on the other side. You’re far better off slowing down until you clearly see what your next move should be.
Skill #4: Braking
If you’re doing the earlier steps well, you’ll see objects well in advance. This allows you to brake early and smoothly instead of suddenly and in a panic. This leads to much better performance, but also a more enjoyable ride.
It’s also worth familiarizing yourself with your bike’s brakes before getting started and you’ll want to practice always braking smoothly. If you pull the brakes quickly, your back tire will lose traction. This can cause you to go into a skid and wipe out. In the least, it makes it harder to steer. You can also lean back slightly to put more weight on the rear tire to prevent losing traction.
Always keep a few fingers on the brakes so you can react if anything comes up.
Skill #5: Steering and Cornering
When cornering, brake for the turn early; you want to have your braking completely finished before you begin the turn.
It’s also worth practicing how to take a corner while maintaining as much speed as possible. For most cyclists, this means learning to take wide turns instead of quick sharp turns.
Skill #6: Learn to pedal with maximum efficiency
It’s critical to remain focused throughout the entire ride. Doing so will greatly increase your abilities. One key area for this is focusing on how you pedal. It’s common to simply force the pedals down hard. It is much more efficient, however, to actively focus on moving the pedals in circles instead.
This sounds a bit odd at first, but give it a try and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Skill #7: Choose the right gear for the situation
Being in the right gear, at the right moment, makes a big difference. It allows you to maintain a higher top-speed, but it also makes the ride take less effort so you can ride longer and go further. This one will take some practice. It tends to pay off big time, however.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you are cycling for leisure (not competing in a race), you will often do best to use a slightly lower gear than you could. This will allow you to go longer and go further overall.
Truth be told, you need not learn every trick in the book to become a master cyclist. You need only learn a few skills well. The right skills. The fundamentals. If you practice these simple, basic skills, your cycling abilities will take off faster than you knew possible.