Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Balance Tips

* Some singletrack trails are really exposed, with huge, deadly drop-offs to one side. Others run through the woods and feature narrow passages through trees. Trying to ride this stuff is fun. Dying isn't. So if you feel uncomfortable, step off and walk or if you feel like people will snicker at you, step off and run while shouting: 'I used to race cyclocross!"

* Beginners ride as if they're riveted to the centre of the bike. The actual relationship is more like when the bad guy in a western walks on top of a train. While it rolls along, he can move to the front of the car, or the back, or just stay in the centre. Of course, his movements won t affect the train. He doesn't weigh enough to alter its motion. But put that same size body on a bike and see what happens.

* When you're trying to balance at a standstill the instinct is to saw the handlebar back and forth. This is bad. It results in something called oscillatory steering instability. Instead, control the bike by moving your head and shoulders sideways. This results in something called coolness.

* The best way to improve your on-bike balance is to learn to do a trackstand which means you just balance in place looking all cool. Here are six steps for mastering this important skill.

1. Relax and ride loose (light grip on the handlebar, elbows and knees bent) as you coast to a stop or lightly apply the front brake, whichever feels more comfortable. A slight incline is the best learning surface.

2. The pedals should he horizontal (in the 3 and 9 o'clock position) with your "good foot" forward. This is the foot you favour. It's usually on the same side as the hand you favour, but not always. If you’re unsure, think about which foot you automatically put forward when you're coasting with the crankarms levelled. That's your good foot. Apply slight pressure to the pedal with this foot first enough to inch the bike forward.

3. At the same time, squeeze the front brake hard enough to prevent forward motion.

4. Also at the same time, turn the front wheel in the direction of your good foot. You'll probably over-steer at first. You just need enough angle to bring the bike into a stable position. You'll feel it when you're in the right spot.

5. Maintain equilibrium between these forces. You want to keep yourself in a kind of suspended state between rolling and tailing. It's like an isometric exercise where muscle groups push against each other but don't move.

6. It you begin to fall in the direction of your good foot, turn the wheel straighter and ease of the brake and pedal. This rolls your weight (and sometimes the bike) back slightly and returns your balance. If you begin to fall in the other direction, put more pressure on the pedal and lock up the brake. This shifts your torso foward.

(When you get better you can move to the flats, and you'll learn how to point your knees to maintain balance. None of this is difficult to understand once you're on the bike, but don't expect much hang time in your first 20-30 attempts.)

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