There’s a huge variation in seating positions depending on your experience, personal preference and the type of bike you ride. Many hybrid bikes allow you to maintain an upright position, which naturally helps you keep your head up. Road bikes, on the other hand, are designed for a more aerodynamic, forward-leaning position, where it’s tempting to put your head down and pedal.
Keeping your head up opens your airways, which helps keep your breathing rhythmic. When your breathing is easy and rhythmic, your upper body, legs and feet relax. Then you and your bike work as one machine.
Even the most relaxed cyclist needs to keep an eye on road and traffic conditions ahead, though. Keeping your head up is a good start; you also need to look far enough ahead to be prepared for whatever is coming your way. A motorist about to open a car door, a dog or child about to dart onto the road, a pot hole, wind gusting around the corner of a building – you’ll be ready for anything if you look far enough ahead.
There is an exception to always looking a long way ahead – long hills. Looking all the way to the top of a hill can be downright demoralising. That gasp when you realise how far it is can be all it takes to break your pedalling and breathing rhythm. Breaking your gazing distance into small manageable sections can really help. Then it comes as a pleasant surprise when you top that crest.
Head up is really important if you’re riding with other cyclists. Watching the wheel in front is important, but you also need to be aware of what the other people in your group are doing and what they’re approaching. That gives you a little bit more time to react as well.
Keeping your head up allows for the job in hand to be kept in focus. Looking down can actually slow you down. We talked about bike computers and heart rate monitors last week. These can be marvellous distractions that you have to learn to ignore. In those few seconds that you look down to check your cadence or how fast you’re going road conditions can change dramatically.
“Head up, bottom down” might be a more rewarding adage for cyclists. See you on the road soon, God willing.