no one line


Relaxing, Bike Handling, and 09’s First Race
March 1, 2009, 4:01 pm
Filed under: bikes, cyclocross, road bikes, road race, tactics, teamwork

For a few more road races, I’ll be racing in the Cat 5’s. I talk a big game, like I know what I’m talking about, but that’s mostly because I’m a nerd rather than somebody who’s done a lot of racing. Writing this blog is a way to articulate my own learning process.

One of the things I’ve been learning over and over again this winter is that a relaxed upper body goes a long way toward improving one’s cycling. I realized, several weeks ago when I was out on the first long ride in nice weather of the late winter, that my torso and arms were a lot more relaxed while riding. I attribute it to spending time riding on rollers this winter. They force you to relax and let the bike do it’s thing. If you try to manhandle it, you’ll overcompensate in a snap and ride yourself right off the front roller, into the doorframe, chair, or whatever you are using for support.

Bikes are really great at handling themselves. The way the steering works is really remarkable, taking the fork rake, head tube angle, and lean of the bike into account in a fine equilibrium that really does most of the work for you. I learned, by riding on some terrible urban terrain (loose cobblestones, ruts, and poor asphalt) that the bike can control itself if you take a backseat role. Literally: push your weight back on the saddle, over the rear wheel, and focus on transmitting power to the pedals. Lighten your grip on the bars and let your upper body get loose. The front end will perform its remarkable feat of self-correction.

I put this skill to good use in November’s Staten CX race in a section full of off-camber turns, exposed roots, ruts, and rocks. I sat back and powered through, surprising one rider who seemed to gingerly work a line through the mess – as I plowed through he looked up and asked, “How’d you do that?” Poor bike handling in part stems from tension or overcontrol of the bike, and something that I realized in yesterday’s Cadence Cup Prospect Park Series (Cat 5 field, remember) is that staying relaxed in a tight pack when there is some oddball behavior around you (riders jamming themselves left to right in their eagerness, and moving unpredictably to capriciously go after a new wheel) – particularly at high speeds – may very well make the difference between staying upright and taking a tumble.

And, though I’m going to largely avoid full-blown race reports, the first race of the season went well. A teammate and I attacked on the second lap, hard, at the top of the “hill.” We were away for only about a mile before the pack, still fresh, reeled us in. A lap later, the pace was very high, and then dropped quite suddenly when a lone rider went up the road and nobody was able to respond anymore. I was staying sheltered, twenty wheels back, at that point, still recovering. The rider gained significant time. The pace picked up well on the last half of the last lap, on a fast section of road. There were a few edgy moments at 34mph in a pack tighter than it needed to be, as a lot of people tried to get to the front. But when the terrain stopped providing the speed, the front didn’t want to take over and the pace slowed down to maybe 24mph instead of ramping up the speed for a field sprint. So I attacked, hard, with about 800 meters to go. I opened a big gap and went cross-eyed trying to hold my speed and hold off the inevitable field sprint. And I did, mostly. The lead sprinter got me at the line; I threw my bike to prevent the second from doing so, too, and got 3rd place.

Next up: two crits in Connecticut next weekend. I’m taking it easy today, for fun rather than out of a need to recover, and will go for a long hard ride tomorrow.

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4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Kudos on third — well done!And good point about the relaxation. Hopefully years of yoga and study of Eastern philosophies will come in handy if I ever get into a race situation. 😉

Comment by Velosopher

I doubt you’re taking that ride today, given the snow. Let me know when you do, I need to wake the legs up a bit.I wonder, as I read this, how much of your recent revelation of letting the bike do its thing comes from riding rollers, and how much of it comes from your recent emphasis shift from Track to Road.Anyway, as I’ve said before, kudos. Now get out of my category already.

Comment by De.Corday

Thanks folks! V, I imagine that yoga and eastern philosophies (but especially yoga, since it’s so physical) will definitely, definitely come in handy.DC, yeah, no ride today. Wow, what a mess out there. Kind of blows my week apart a little bit. I actually don’t think that letting-the-bike-do-its-thing is from riding more road bikes. I still ride fixed a whole lot (my daily), and it’s from working in the Meatpacking District cobbles (last year and this year) that I get some of the things I’m talking about. I do think it’s probably a bit easier to fall into manhandling the bike on a fixed gear because you can lean back against the pedals and overgrip the handlebars to stabilize yourself. And my emphasis hasn’t really shifted. More like, it’s been shared. There’s plenty of road season before track season gets underway. What will be interesting will be, combining track season with summer crit season. I have yet to figure out how that’s going to go down.

Comment by No One Line

Enjoying catching up on your blog – and congrats on the podium finish! Your advice about keeping the upper body relaxed is as important as it is timeless. Great writing

Comment by Suitcase of Courage




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