Speed and strength are two things that most cyclists want to attain as they become more serious about the sport. They want to get stronger and faster and they want it to happen now. They ride hard, climb big hills and push themselves until they start to achieve these goals. However, sometimes they forget that with great speed comes great responsibility. If you are strong enough to hang in a pace line at twenty eight miles per hour, that is wonderful, but if you can’t do it safely then it is extremely dangerous to you and everyone else around you. The faster you go, the greater the risk to yourself and others. Accidents happen, anyone can make a mistake, but sometimes it is lack of skill and knowledge that leads to a high speed, serious accident. Being a cyclist who can handle their bike is just as important as being a fast one, if not more so! Speed and handling skills should go hand in hand, but many times they do not and this can cause dangerous situations in races and even fun group rides. No one wants to ride in a group with someone who can’t hold their line (basically meaning to follow a line similar to those around you). If you are making unpredictable movements constantly, you will become that “sketchy” rider that is talked about and avoided by other cyclists and you do not want to be that person! Try to be very aware of who is riding around you and make careful and predictable movements within the group. Learning how to ride safely in a group is the foundation and then you can build up your skill set from there.
I personally spent several years being extremely focused on getting faster. I wanted to be strong, wanted to keep up on rides and I wanted to win races. It was only in the past year and a half or so that I started to recognize that my real weakness was in the smaller skills and nuances of my riding. I was able to ride safely in a group and, while my handling skills weren’t terrible they definitely needed improvement. In a mass start race I would be sitting comfortably within the group until we came to a turn. At that point, I didn’t have the skills or knowledge necessary to take the best line through that turn at a high rate of speed and many times I would find myself off the back, fighting to get back into the race. You could be the strongest person in a race, but if you do not ride smart and cannot take a turn quickly and handle your bike properly, you will waste energy needlessly. This could lead to you being the cause of an accident, getting dropped or even just finishing in twentieth place when you could have been on the podium. Even in a triathlon or time trial, losing a few seconds here and there in turns or turnarounds, will add up and can mean the difference between winning and losing the race. These skills can even mean the difference between getting dropped on your weekend group ride or being able to hang with the pack.
Being a fast rider is great, but good handling skills can take someone from being a good bike rider to being a great cyclist. You need to be confident in what you are doing and if you need help, look to the more experienced riders. Ask for advice. Mimic what they do. Watch the Tour de France or other professional bike races, and see how the pros take turns, watch them descend and think of those things when you are out on the road.
Many times now, I watch more experienced riders and I try to follow what they do with the hopes that eventually I will get a better feel for what the fastest and safest line is through that turn or on that descent. No matter how much I have learned, I know that I can always learn more and always improve my riding. Some people forget the small skills and let their egos get in the way when others try to give them advice. Always be humble. Always know that no matter how fast and experienced you become there is someone better and more knowledgeable out there. Listen to the advice of others, you don’t always have to follow it, but at least listen and see what you can learn. These riders may have been in situations that you have not yet experienced and their advice may come into play later on when you least expect it. If you become a skilled rider and then pair that up with speed you are well on your way to becoming a truly amazing cyclist.