Updated: Oct 30
Are you a novice cyclist planning a bike-packing trip? If so, I have created this list just for you! These are some of the key lessons about cycling technique that I learnt while training for and cycling King Alfred's Way with my friend Alison. All these things helped me significantly. Hopefully, they will help you too.
If you're a more experienced cyclist, please add your top tips in the comments below.
On the bike, when I allowed myself to be confident and relax, I found that things started to go right. Looking back on this ride, I can see that I tried to force my will on the bike. It is only with hindsight that I realise that cycling should be more like dancing, bike and rider working fluidly together towards success.
#2/8 Don't hold on for dear life
Not long into the ride, pain shoots up my arms. My hands are already bruised, and my neck gradually stiffens... That evening, I ask Alison about the pain in my wrists, arms and neck. "The same thing happened to me when I started cycling. You need to relax. Stop holding onto the handlebars so tightly, and don't slump forwards."
#3/8 Keep your weight distributed between the wheels
As I ascended a steep hill on an early training ride, I was alarmed to find that my front wheel left the ground. The last time I had wheelied a bike, I was a child - and it was intentional. On the next hill, I leaned forward so that the front wheel stayed firmly on the ground, only to wheel-spin the rear wheel and lose all power.
There's a balance to be had here, keeping your weight somewhere in the middle, perhaps slightly more to the back as you are using the most power. I found that this started to come a bit more naturally with practice.
***Note this only holds true going uphill - see note from Neil Pitts in comments about cycling downhill.
#4/8 Set off diagonally uphill
When I started training and found myself stalled on a hill, I struggled to get going again. Ali taught me to set off diagonally if I could, and to start with the seat dropped. It worked. Of course, it's better just to cycle all the way to the top, but I found this to be a useful intermediate technique.
#5/8 Drop the seat when going fast downhill
I had never come across a seat that drops before, so at first, I was pretty shy about using it. It didn't take me long to realise how much more you can dance with your bike on downhill stretches if you don't have the seat in the way.
#6/8 Don't change gear while the chain is under tension
I know, I know - I should have known this already. And I did, I had just forgotten. I was reminded the hard way and thought I'd spare you the same embarrassment!
Climbing a short uphill section, I hear a grinding noise and lose all power. I look down. The chain is dangling off the sprockets, broken. Bob has ridden this bike in all sorts of crazy conditions. I thought that it was unbreakable, but I have proved that it is not.
#7/8 If you brake on a steep sandy slope, your back wheel will try to catch up with your front wheel
I found this out the hard way too!
Ali suddenly whoops and disappears. Rather than blindly following, I stop and consider what lies ahead. She is already a long way down the steepest slope yet. I watch her careen around the bend at the bottom... There is no way that I can follow at that speed.
I decide, instead, to go slowly, with some modicum of control. Bad idea! It doesn't take me long to discover that if you brake on a steep, sandy hill, your back tyre will try to overtake your front one. As slowly and with as little control as thick, sticky treacle running off a spoon, I drop to the ground in slow motion.
PS. It was much steeper than it looks in this video!
#8/8 Learn how to bunny hop - and land!
Oh look, I think. There's a twig across the path. That's OK. My bike can handle that. I cycle on. Then my brain wakes up. That's not a twig, it's a slow worm. I wouldn't want to hurt a slow worm. How can I avoid it? Oh no, it's not a slow worm, it's an adder! If I hurt it, it'll bite Ali! What can I do? No space to cycle round it. I know! I'll bunny-hop over it. I have no idea where that last thought came from. I have never bunny-hopped a bike in my life. But I am milliseconds away from hitting the snake. There is no time to hatch another plan. So, I lift the front wheel and jump.
Everything with blue lines down the side is an excerpt from my book Cycling King Alfred's Way: A Piece of Cake? Grab a copy now to find out more about the route and further lessons you might find useful. It's available as a paperback, e-book and audiobook from wherever you usually get your books or here.
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