I have always believed that as triathletes, we need to get on our road bikes more often. I absolutely love riding my road bike, though I don’t get to do it often enough. A vast majority of my yearly miles are on my TT bike, but even when I am deep into race season, I try to get out on my road bike at least once a week for an endurance ride. Why? Because it gives me a chance to change the way I ride, it works leg muscles a bit differently due to the geometry of the bike, and it’s easier on my neck and back! Riding for miles and miles in the aero position can take its toll! But a big reason for me was I just loved the way I felt on my road bike. I have always said I am a “roadie” at heart.
One of the coolest things I did this summer was attend the USA Cycling (USAC) Level 2 Coaching Clinic in June. This two and a half day clinic held in Augusta, Georgia was jammed packed with information from sports physiology, setting up training plans, race strategy, to analyzing even the most complicated power files. But the part of this clinic where I learned the most was the bike-handling skills portion. The first half of day one was dedicated to “on bike” instruction. Now I have to admit that this took me out of my comfort zone. I was only one of maybe two triathletes in this clinic, and most of the coaches and instructors were serious cyclists; either actively racing and coaching, or former pros. My thinking at the time- “I am in serious trouble!”
Within an hour of the clinic beginning, we were all out on our bikes going through a crash course in bike handling skills. Up until this point, the only skill I knew was down in aero, pedal to the medal, hit the watts, straight line! Now I find myself having to ride with no hands, ride in a tight circle over and over while keeping my eyes on the instructor, bunny hopping, weaving around cones, and picking up objects off of the ground while riding. And that wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was when we had to ride two by two around a grassy field actually trying to bump into each other, riding behind each other making tire contact, and playing something called ‘garbage ball’. Garbage ball was like a cross between hockey and basketball, and you have to use every single bike handling skill known to man! Again, way out of my comfort zone as a triathlete, but some of the most fun I have ever had on a bike. We ended the bike handling part of the clinic on day one by taking what I thought would be an easy ride around Augusta. It ended up being a pretty fast paced ride of 17+ guys inches between us, while I was holding on for dear life, trying to look like I knew what I was doing. Me, white knuckled, trying to rotate through a peloton, which I have never really done before. Triathletes don’t do pelotons, I thought! And I had never ridden with more than six people in a group… but there I was.
I learned so much from these “roadies” who didn’t make too much fun of me. My biggest take away? I didn’t know squat about bike handling and it’s importance- not only to safety, but also to being a good racer. Yes, knowing how to handle your bike helps your racing tremendously. How to take that turn around a cone properly, how to corner and brake properly, and knowing what to do if you should accidently make contact with another rider; all can take minutes off of your race.
So don’t show up at the group ride this fall on your tri bike! Show your road bike some love! Ride with others, and practice some basic bike handling skills. When you’re more confident on the bike, and when you understand and practice basic bike handling skills, you will become a better racer.
Train smart, train safe!