In part one of our winter series we talked about keeping the winter chills at bay, in part two we spoke about staying safe and avoiding winter spills. Now in the final part we talk about using winter as a time to develop or hone your various bike skills.
Firstly winter generally means poor road conditions and often a dirty bike. Learning how to clean your bike quickly and effectively is a skill in itself. Don’t use a high pressure hose like he pro teams do, unless you also have similar access to free spare parts and a team of mechanics. YouTube is your friend when it comes to finding the best way to achieve a good result without cusin any additional problems. Most of the products you need for a shiny, well kept bike should already be lurking around the house so there are no excuses. A shiny bike and a quick lube means less noise, less wear and ultimately less dollars to spend on replacing worn parts.
Cleaning your bike is also a good time to run your eye over the bike to check for any possible problems. Even if you aren’t mechanically inclined, being able to notice small problems before they become big problems can save a lot of hassle. While washing the paintwork closely at the paint or clearcoat especially around the areas where the tubes join and if any areas appear to be chipped or cracked then an expert opinion is usually in order. Brake pads can pick up a lot of road grit in wet conditions, make sure they are clean after wet rides to prevent any foreign bodies damaging your expensive wheels.
Have a quick look over your tyres. Regardless of brand or style of tyre the best protection against punctures is having tyres that are in good condition. There is a false economy in persisting with worn tyres that continue to sustain punctures and forcing you to spend precious time and money replacing tubes. Keep good tyres on your bike and reap the rewards. Also spend the time to check your tyres for cuts and nicks or embedded glass. The embedded glass can be picked out using tweezers or the like and will save you from having to do a cold, wet roadside change when it eventually pushes through the casing. If the cut happens to be on a pretty new set of tyres than a bit of super glue in the cut can keep the tyres rolling for a little while longer.
When washing my bike, regardless of how frequently I do it, I make a habit of always undoing the pedals, greasing the threads and replacing them. While this may seem a little anal, it’s only a two minute job and if you have ever struggled to undo a stuck pedal you will know that it is a small inconvenience compared to the swearing and knuckle scraping that a seized pedal can cause.
Another few minutes you can spend that is a great return on investment is a few quick skills drills. There is an old standing joke about Triathletes and there bike handling skills and while I generally don’t think it’s true, what cannot be argued is that a lot of triathletes come to the sport having not ridden a bike for some years. This is then compounded by the fact that the majority of tri training is carried out by riding a long way in a straight line, turning around then coming back. I had a friend who had qualified for Kona but was worried about her ability to do a u-turn at Hawi without having to dismount. So whether your skills are genuinely good, or whether you mistakenly think they are, one thing is for sure we can all do with practice when it comes to keeping our skills honed. Once your bike is washed, keep your street shoes on and find a quiet part of the neighbourhood and get cracking by learning how best to handle your bike. Tight u-turns, figure 8’s, slow riding and practicing holding your heel or picking up a drink bottle can teach you to better balance while riding. (google “cycling skills drills” for some good examples.)
Hard braking is something that seems simple enough, but depending on the circumstance and the road conditions how you should go about it can vary greatly. A quick test, while you are reading this, raise the hand that you use for your front brake. If that isn’t an almost reflex reaction then that is one thing that you can start with. Learning which hand does what and what that respective brake does is a good start to effective braking and the best way to learn the way your bike reacts under various braking scenarios is to practice it in the safety of a controlled environment. On the way home after a wet ride if you can think of it and aren’t in too much of a hurry to get warm and dry and have a hot cuppa a few controlled wet road emergency stops before packing the bike away could also be good experience, experience we hope you never need to use.
While slow riding and skill development may not seem exciting or give you Strava PB's to brag about with your riding buddies, these foundations can make you are better, safer more confident rider and hopefully allow you to avoid sticky situations that can really mess up your day.