How do you build confidence on the saddle?

A colleague of mine chatted with me on the elevator going down and out of the office recently. She had asked for tips about how to improve her confidence while riding, as her on-the-saddle nervousness was detracting from the time she could spend with her kids while they gleefully rode their own bikes.

I figured this would make for a good subject for today’s writeup. So, how do you become a more confident bike rider?

SADDLE TIME – AND MORE OF IT

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic shortcut or an instant cure that will take away your jitters. The best way of building confidence on the saddle is to simply keep riding your bike.

Or is it?

As starkly simple as that advice is, it’s too simple and doesn’t give you much of anything to focus on. A more effective strategy is to break down the task of riding into individual skills you can practice when you do log the saddle time.

EMERGENCY STOPS

This is first on my skills list for good reason. The laws of physics dictate that vehicles with one front wheel just don’t stop as quickly as those with two or more. There are things we can do to improve the odds, though, regardless of what brake system you run on your bike.

Befriend your front brake; it is crucial if you want to stop quickly. Key to making use of it correctly without flipping over your handlebars is to straighten out your bike, get your pedals level, stand up out of the saddle, and push your hips backward as you pull the front brake lever. In a sense, you are pushing the bike away as you brake. This counterweighting action basically makes it impossible for you to fly forward off your bike. Pull on both front and rear brake levers, but bias the front brake more.

It is imperative you practice and get used to this skill quickly, because it can literally save your life. Regular practice recommended.

RIDING ONE-HANDED

Easily second on my list is one-handed riding. If you have any plans of riding on the street with vehicular traffic, you will need some way of visually indicating your intentions, and the best way of doing this is with hand/arm signals.

Freeing one hand from your handlebars also allows you to drink or eat while riding, and allows you to turn your waist and head more so you can check for traffic behind you.

So how do you teach yourself to ride one-handed? Take advantage of your speed, as it’s how a bicycle stays upright and stable. At a medium riding pace, around 12 km/h and faster, try to have one hand let go of the handlebars while going straight, and let the loose hand hover a few centimeters over the bar, so you can hold it again if needed. You’ll soon find out that you don’t have to grip the handlebars all that tightly to maintain stability.

RIDING AT VERY SLOW SPEED

Having established that a bicycle is more balanced and stable the faster it goes, what do you do when you take away the speed? You become more active and work to maintain your balance.

This is an excellent skill to learn, one for more advanced riders. It’s also great to go back and practice every once in a while. Without speed, you are forced to constantly tweak your balance on the bike, making adjustments with the handlebars and leaning your body left and right. It’s effective both done in a straight line and while turning or going round in a tight circle.

The good news is that all this low-speed balance work translates directly into better bike handling at higher speeds. On a fast road ride, especially, you can get used to steering the bike with your hips instead of your handlebars.

RIDING IN A STRAIGHT LINE

This might sound too simplistic, but you actually do need to intentionally practice riding in a straight line. Why? I see too many bike riders who cannot ride straight without flopping their wheels over left and right. Imagine the cold bullets of sweat you’d feel having to ride alongside such a cyclist.

The constant need for left-right correction while riding straight just means a rider cannot keep balance well. Much like in car racing, the more you move the steering wheel, the slower you ultimately are. While a fast pace on the saddle isn’t top of everybody’s priorities, I bet most people want to ride without having to needlessly expend energy doing anything else but go forward.

Practicing this is as simple as finding a white line on the side of the road and trying to keep yourself as parallel to it as possible – or even ride over it if conditions allow. Again, the side effect is you learn to steer your bike using your hips, rather than your hands. For added challenge, drop your speed and hold the straight line at a very slow pace.

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Indoor training, part 6: The flywheel effect

I’ve had the Minoura LiveRide LR340 turbo trainer for a while now and I’ve used it with both Hyro, my cyclocross bike with 700C wheels, and Bino, my 20″-wheeled folding bike. A few buckets of sweat later, shared between these two bikes, I started noticing a few differences.

At this point, I’ve documented numerous times the more rapid rate of tire wear from the smaller wheels – and the larger resulting mess that comes with it. It turns out that’s not the most telling difference between the two bikes.

With Bino, I find I can crank up the resistance and use much heavier gears. I regularly dip into the higher end of the gear ratio spectrum. I’ve gotten to the point where I can sprint in the 50×12 top gear combo at the final flat-out interval of a workout…and push as hard as an indicated 60.8 km/h on my cyclocomputer.

I have no idea how I’d sprint to this speed on a folding bike. My limit on the road is around 44 km/h, at which point I’d be pretty spun out.

Even in my 50×12 top gear, it’d take my legs a pedaling cadence of 154 RPM to get to this indicated road speed. Yes, that’s not sustainable for long periods, and most likely very hard to do out on the open road due to aerodynamic drag, but I’m mentioning it to illustrate my case.

On Hyro, though, it’s a different story. I use nowhere near half the LR340’s total resistance range, and despite using the same cassette and chainrings as Bino, I usually never breach the halfway point of the cassette. Beyond 50×19 or 50×17 are gear combos that are too big for me to push my pedals to on a turbo trainer. My indicated road speed also peaks at a significantly lower 52.5 km/h.

V-max on Hyro while on a turbo trainer.

It’s entirely possible that the two bikes are giving me slightly different workouts, and I pin this down to their rear wheels acting as flywheels of different sizes.

With Bino, the smaller 406 mm rear wheel acts as a flywheel that is much lighter and quicker to spin up with pedaling the cranks. The consequence is it takes much more resistance from the turbo trainer to give the training load called for by sprint intervals. Hyro’s 622 mm rear wheel, on the other hand, has more mass and needs more energy to get going…but requires less out of the turbo trainer to give roughly the same training load.

In practical training terms, I think that indoor training with Bino is more of a test of souplesse, or pedaling smoothness. With the smaller wheel size, I find it is much easier to accelerate and decelerate simply by changing my pedaling cadence. Peculiarly, with a change of bike, I find I could get the same kind of training coaches used to recommend getting a roller trainer for. Bino also has a slight edge for really high cadence work. Mounting Hyro’s bigger rolling stock on the LR340 will allow me the low-cadence training that replicates endurance climbing efforts, as well as getting used to holding low positions for faster riding.

Without hard data, and sharing just my palpable differences training between the two bikes, I feel like I may just be blowing a load of hot air. For that reason, I would love to quantify all this difference with a power meter. Unlike heart rate or speed, where external factors such as aero drag or physical condition can affect readings, power meters are more “insulated” and are better at actually quantifying your training load and output – a watt is a watt is a watt. Unfortunately, while they have been coming down in price almost constantly since 2012, they’re still too rich for my blood.

Indoor training, part 5: Turbo trainer tweaks for a folding bike

Previously I wrote about how Bino, my 20″ folding bike, interacted with my Minoura LiveRide LR340 turbo trainer. Officially, with the Z-adapter installed, Minoura says it can support a bike with 24″ wheels, and this became apparent when the threaded shaft on the adjustment knob simply ran out of room to squeeze against Bino’s 20″ x 1.75″ Impac Streetpac tire.

Another issue I ran into was the much greater amount of rubber dust particles generated by the smaller wheels. Because the circumference of the 20″ x 1.75″ tire is smaller, it goes through more revolutions at a given road speed compared to Hyro’s 700C x 28 mm or 700C x 32 mm rubber…which directly translates to much faster wear. The rubber dust particles themselves fly out over a larger area because the wheel is suspended much higher off the floor, making cleanup a chore.

So, I had two issues that need resolution.

I took a page out of Steve’s playbook and fashioned an extension for the adjustment knob’s threaded shaft, in order for the resistance roller to get more pressure against Bino’s rear tire. Basically I took a large brass dome nut and slipped it over the end of the adjustment knob shaft. It didn’t matter to me that the threads between these parts were incompatible with each other – all I needed was to give it a bit more length.

With the dome nut stuck on the end, I got more consistent and more positive pressure on the rear tire, and I was even able to reinstall the large cone spring that should have been there in the first place. This also opens up the option of using narrower tires for turbo trainer duty instead of being stuck with the 1.75″ width option. Schwalbe’s full-slick Kojak at 20″ x 1.35″, in particular, is a good candidate, although I might need to swap to a bigger nut.

See all that gray inside the box? That is all rear tire dust.

Addressing the problem of rubber dust particles was even simpler. All that took was a large cardboard box. Every time I use the turbo trainer, I basically put the cardboard box as close to the rear wheel and resistance unit as possible, so it catches all the rubber that gets flung off. The box flaps rest on the rear fender so there’s no rubbing anywhere.

These two simple hacks solved my problems. They’re not going to do much about the accelerated actual tire wear, though – that’s just a fact of life when using a small-wheeled bicycle on a turbo trainer, I guess.