Novices and experienced cyclists alike often marvel at the lycra-clad fellow balancing his bike at the traffic lights. All cyclists need to develop some level of slow handling skills because starting, stopping, cornering and climbing are all situations where you’ll be moving relatively slowly.
The best way to get to know how your bike handles at slow speeds is to go somewhere quiet and practise. Ride in circles around a cul-de-sac or court as slowly as you can. Go both ways, as you’ll probably find you’re more confident in one direction than the other.
Once you start feeling a bit more confident, set up a little slalem course. Line bottle tops or cans up spaced around 2 metres apart. Now steer your way through the course as slowly as you can, turn at the end and come back again. Once again, go through in both directions.
It might take a few sessions of practice to get the hang of it. Don’t worry. That’s why you’re practising somewhere safe.
Approaching traffic lights slowly can be achieved by shifting your weight to keep the bike upright. Stand and gently ease on the brakes. This creates resistance and reduces the likelihood of wobbly steering. It also changes your centre of gravity.
Cornering is one situation where this is important. When you’re seated at slow speeds, most of your weight rests on the saddle. This is means your centre of gravity is relatively high. It can take just a little unexpected lean to one side to overbalance. Lifting yourself slightly off the saddle transfers your weight to the pedal and lowers your centre of gravity at the same time. So it’s safer to lean further into the corner.
Remember to keep the pedal up on the side you are turning into.
When you’re climbing hills you might get right out of the saddle. With each pedal stroke your weight shifts from side to side. Get the feel for how your bike behaves as you do this. Leaning the bike slightly away from your weight makes you more stable as you climb. Once again practise, practise until you’re really comfortable with what your bike does when you shift your weight around.
If you’re carrying a load – shopping or a child – you’ll find the bike behaves differently again. Get to know how it handles at low speed in all circumstances and it’s less likely to catch you off guard.
See you on the road soon, God willing.