I’ve always been defensive of triathletes and their cycling prowess. We are not “faux” cyclists, we are extra tough as we push limits and wow onlookers as we pedal away dripping lake slime, unload questionable substances on our bikes and then charge off to run, often with helmets still stationed on head. …Okay, maybe these onlookers aren’t wowed by our awesomeness but rather are gaping in concern for our mental health. But my point remains. Surely, if we can do all this, then we must be incredible cyclists.
I firmly believed this until my sister, a pro mountain biker, watched T1 of Ironman St. George 70.3 with a look of sheer horror on her face. I watched more carefully at my next several races, and my eyes were opened. We are a disaster! We are sketchy bike handlers not just coming out of transition where riders swerve erratically as they shake water from ears and conquer post-swim dizziness, but throughout the entire race! Once I stopped to look, I noticed unpredictability, inefficient handling, discomfort with vehicles and other riders, and low awareness of the need to make adjustments to safely navigate unforeseen conditions and obstacles.
Year after year, as power trainers become better and more affordable, many athletes are opting for indoor riding so that very little time is actually spent out on the pavement. While these athletes may be strong physically, race day isn’t about setting an all-time high FTP. It’s about who can get from Point A to Point B fastest. To utilize fitness and get to Point B as quickly as possible, riders need an understanding of the way their bikes work on the road and the technical skills to masterfully maximize speed.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a time and place for the indoor trainer. A power trainer allows the athlete to remove variables and work at specified intensities that local terrain might not allow, and it’s darn handy for parents who can’t leave the home, time-crunched athletes, and occasions when the elements block all but the toughest riders. However, there is no substitute for road time.
How to Improve Bike Handling Skills:
Sign up for a skills clinic!
Set a goal to do one ride a week outdoors. Start with recovery or endurance rides where you do not have intervals, and choose a route you are comfortable with.A short loop you can repeat to meet your time or distance goal will help build confidence.As you get more comfortable, try larger loops and out-and-backs.Before you know it, you will be doing most of your rides outside with the confidence to navigate new routes and whatever obstacles come down the road.
Ride with more experienced cyclists. Many bike shops offer free group rides, which can be a great way to meet other people and learn from roadies. (It’s worth noting, however, that it’s best to show up for these rides on a road bike, not a TT bike. If you must be on a triathlon bike, refrain from riding in aero and stay up the whole ride.)
Find an empty parking lot and do you own mini-skills session: