It is a cliché you hear all the time “It is like riding a bike, you never forget.” The ability to remember how to ride a bike is not important here; what is, is that you can forget how to ride a bike “well”. Very few of us are born with the balance of Martyn Ashton or the cornering speed of Vincenzo Nibali. These skills, if we want to improve them have to be worked on. As with your first bike ride as a very young child, your first rides on a road bike will tend to be slow, awkward and un-fluid, but with practice you will improve.
The starting place for all issues with improving the handling of your bike has to be checking your position. If your bike is too big or small, too long or short, you will not be in a natural position to control it well. PBK recommends that you get a professional bike fit make sure that your bike is the right fit for you, because if it is not, no matter how much you practice you will never have the fluidity on a bike that a professional rider does.
As Fausto Coppi said, if you want to improve as a cyclist you need to “ride the bike, ride the bike, ride the bike.” Slightly obvious yes, but the whether you want to get fitter or improve your general riding then the principle is the same. One drill which you can perform to improve your skill and handling on the bike is to learn how to ride slowly on it. When riding fast we have momentum and the gyroscopic effect of the wheels to aid us. It is only when we ride slowly that we can see who has more experience at balancing a bike. When the speed drops the slightest movement of your body will change the balance of the bike. So by doing this more you will naturally improve at it. PBK recommends finding somewhere quiet, wearing tennis shoes (so you can dab a foot quickly), naturally wearing your helmet, and just practicing riding slowly. Whether you ride in circles or figures of 8 the aim is to see how slowly you can go.
Naturally this will be hard at the start, you will panic, think that you are falling and dab a foot. Do this a few times and before you know it you will be comfortable keeping your balance at slow speeds. Once you have mastered this you can progress onto using your skills on the open roads, at junctions whilst clipped it. But remember a spud thud, the panic to get your foot unclipped when you are trying to balance, is embarrassing when done in a line of traffic or a group ride.
Another drill to feel more comfortable on your bike is to practice cornering it. Riding in a straight line is easy, but when we have to bank our bikes over to get around a corner things can be more frightening, your 23mm tyres seeming very thin when you lean them over. The next time you find a small and quiet roundabout on a ride, go around it a few times. This will get you used to the sensation of going around a corner on a bike. Because roundabouts tend to be flat you will have to pedal around it, not only increasing your training kilometres, but also getting you usedto, and aware as to what happens to your bike as you pedal through a corner.
With the winter months upon us and the bad weather the final drill can sort out two issues in one. Winter weather is not fun to ride in on the road, but if you decided to ride off road (on a mountain bike or cyclo cross bike) you will stay warmer because of a higher work rate and also slower speeds. Riding off road is a quick way to improve your general bike handling on the road. How do you think Cadel Evans got his skills for descending like a rocket? Correct, from his years of riding off road. The mud, gravel, grit and general lack of grip teaches you quickly the need to relax on a bike. If you fight a bike when it is sliding, 9 times out of 10 you will crash. If you relax then many times the bike will fine its natural path and grip.
With a little work and following some of the drills above you can go from the wobbling liability in the group ride to the smooth expert, floating down the road, confident and relaxed.