Yesterday I participated in a skills clinic for novice female cyclists organized by my local female-centric cycling club – Sturdy Girls Cycling. I’ve ridden my (super-sexy) road bike for about a month now so it’s a perfect opportunity to break my bad habits before they take hold.
A wide range of women participated – some on hybrids and urban bikes, some preparing for a triathlon or two, some who just bought a bike and others who just wanted to know how to make their ride more efficient. I fit into the latter two categories – my bike is a pretty recent acquisition and I’m still learning how to use her optimally.
We started out the day with a short jaunt to an empty parking lot for basic drills. Like starting and stopping. Riding a straight line. Looking behind you without weaving your bike all over the place. Basic stuff that most of us don’t really think about but can have an impact on your success.
I learned that I did indeed need to switch the foot I un-clip upon stops (and managed to fall spectacularly in the early attempts to remember which foot to un-clip and which way to lean).
At least I got that out of the way early. And I like to think it broke the ice for the rest of the group – there were a few more falls. But most people don’t seem to have a problem with deciding when to un-clip as they roll to a stop. It’s just me over-thinking it.
Note to self: find your comfort zone anticipating the need to un-clip.
We then headed out for a short ride to learn hill climbing skills. The hills we were climbing were manageable and achievable – all good things when you are working on building confidence on your bike. We discussed gearing and how no one can tell you what gear will feel best except through time and practice – but that you will find a gear or a range of gears that will help you stay in motion.
Hills are your friend!
We also discussed Constant Motion – always keeping your legs moving. This builds your ability to keep going, even on super-tough climbs, because your body is accustomed to staying in motion. You can also work on not only using your muscles but also your cardiovascular and respiratory systems to keep from fatiguing your muscles too quickly.
The biggest take-away for me from the hills/gears section was just that – smooth, fluid motion the entire way up the hill. Not how fast or hard I could mash the hill – but how smoothly I could do it.
I spent the rest of the clinic at the back of the group as we practiced riding in lines of two and three. How to merge, not surge. How to find a bail-out point if you need it (and regroup at the top). Common group-riding lingo like” GAP” and “ON.” Why “UP” means getting into an easier gear and “DOWN” means getting into a harder gear.
Being in the back meant I needed to monitor my cadence to maintain a smooth, silky cadence. It was tough for me – I like to just GO already, to get up the hill as fast as possible, effort be damned! Plus, I hate riding behind someone as close as I really need to in a group ride. So worried someone will stop suddenly, causing me to either hit them or veer off and crash or fall down.
Not like I haven’t fallen down in front of a bunch of strangers a few times now or anything.
Quite frankly, riding in a group formation – listening to the hum of the wind in our spokes, hearing the clink of cartridge changes – is pretty sweet.
We ended the clinic with a brown-bag lunch and bike anatomy lesson. How to clean and lube your chain and cassette. Different hand positions on the handlebars (for those of us with road bikes). The importance of having a bike that fits you – frame first, everything else can be swapped or upgraded. Recommended timeline to buy new tires (2000-2500 miles). Taking the reflectors off your bike (dorky – I’m guilty as charged!) and replacing them with bike lights to stay visible.
One more quick group ride around the park and we all went our separate ways. It also sounds like there may be a longer group ride scheduled for those of us at the clinic so we can get together again to practice our skills in a low-key ride.
I can’t stress how happy I am that I did this clinic – one of the goals was to feel more confident on your bike and I definitely feel better about my skills and how to handle myself in a group ride environment. I met a bunch of other awesome women who a new to think like me.
Now to go find my next group ride …