Mastering certain skills and techniques is essential for all cyclists. These include balance, positioning, braking and cornering. Other techniques or concepts are more specific to their discipline, and include:
- Cadence – Basically means the number of revolutions of the crank per minute, controlled by the speed at which the rider pedals. It’s very important for cyclists to discover their optimal cadence, as it improves efficiency and reduces fatigue.
- Descending – At high speeds, this is potentially lethal on a bike. Tour de France riders regularly reach downhill speeds of 90km/h, so perfect coordination and reactions are needed to keep tyres and tarmac in contact with one another. For MTB, descending is less dramatic but obstacles such as tree roots, rocks and drop-offs require excellent control of the bike and balance.
- Handlebars – In particular, where to hold them. For racing, an aerodynamic shape is essential, and riders must familiarise themselves with the streamlined but less stable position that comes from using dropped handlebars or aerobars.
- Slipstreaming – A key skill for track, road and speedway cyclists. The slipstream is the pocket of air behind a rider where wind resistance is greatly reduced. Learning to slipstream effectively saves riders a great deal of effort, making a group more effective in a team event or maximising gain for less effort in a one-on-one scenario. Effective use of slipstreams is essential for road racers to master.
- Sprinting – The ability to accelerate quickly to a high speed is essential for road, track and speedway cyclists. Effective sprinters tend to have a bigger build, and upper body strength is as important as bulging thigh muscles.
Your local club is often the best source of advice on how to get started and maintain a training programme, learn skills and improve your performance. For advice on finding your nearest club, see the later section “Ready to get into the saddle?”