Easy does it for a smooth ride

you have to learn how to ride as easily as you walkThe most remarkable thing about professional athletes is how easy they make their sport look. They’re working hard but they have such a relaxed style none of their energy is being wasted.

It’s the same on your bike – the more you relax, the less energy you use and the less pain you suffer. If relaxing while cycling seems like a paradox, so is the fact that you have to work hard at relaxing.

Most of us take walking for granted – we’ve been doing it for longer than we can remember. When it comes to riding, though, you have to learn how to perform an action that’s not “natural”. Unfortunately, it’s easy to become tense without realising and that can cause discomfort if not pain.

Try walking around with your fist clenched and your arms wrapped tightly around you. Keep your head looking straight ahead. How hard it is to negotiate objects? How tiring is it?

It’s the same on your bike. If your arms, neck and shoulders are tense, handling your bike becomes more difficult. It’s harder to react well to unexpected things. And it’s tiring. You’re using a lot of energy keeping those muscles tense.

How do you develop a smooth style? Get some basics right first. Correct bike set up is vital. Learn to use the right gears – you don’t want to push too hard or spin too fast.

And make sure you’ve got a comfortable saddle. It’s very hard to learn to relax if you’re in discomfort or pain just sitting on your bike.

Once you have all the mechanics taken care of, it’s time to start on your mental attitude. This can be tricky. You need to remain alert in order to navigate traffic, bumps in the road, dogs on the path, unexpected gusts of wind. At the same time you need to consciously relax.

You need to consciously focus your mind on relaxing until riding that way becomes as natural as walking. Let your concentration slip, get distracted and you’re liable to slip back into your old ways.

As you get better at relaxing, you’ll notice that riding isn’t nearly as tiring. You’re also a much safer road user. Being relaxed allows you to react more smoothly to adverse events.

Look at any toddler to see how much hard work it is learning to walk. But we do learn. With practice your cycling style can become second nature like walking.

See you on the road soon, God willing. Eddie Barkla

First published in the Bendigo Weekly Friday 29 December 2006

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