AKA Tips and tricks from the EVCC Level 1 Road Skills Course
By Jenia Tishkina-Norman
My first Granfondo is now under my belt and what great fun that was! We picked the Penticton Granfondo Okanagan as our inaugural event because we’ve heard so many great things about it: from the scenic course to the amazing volunteers and the skilled organizing committee. Throughout the event I couldn’t help but be thankful for the skills and tips I gained from four weeks of technique instruction with the EVCC in collaboration with TCR Sports Lab and their superb coaching crew of John and Dan.
…but let me backup a bit first…
We declared the summer of 2023 to be the Summer of Cycling. And, because it was indeed a family undertaking, ever so gently my husband reminded me early in the season that I actually ought to go out and cycle, and not merely “think” and visualize myself cycling, in order to “be trained up enough for all of us to enjoy spending time on the bike together”. Which meant I had to throw all my resources into cycling and bike-related activities.
When the rubber hits the road
I am a fair-weather cyclist, and the weather had to be well into the high teens/twenties before I braved going outside (nigh on perfect, according to hubby). My amazing sister-in-law suggested that hopping on a trainer early in Spring, if nothing else, would toughen up my tush. I busted out my old and not very smart bike trainer. The first tip of the day: when working at home, having a sit/stand desk and getting the trainer under it works magic for being able to attend training sessions, “listen in” meetings, watch podcasts or movies. The time flew fast and before I knew it, I had a self-declared 20k effort. Kilometers kept adding up at about one hour at a time. I was well on my way!
Then April rolled around and I was called on to actually put the proverbial rubber side down on the pavement. I quickly realized I could do much better with just a bit more technique knowledge. Lo and behold one of the emails from EVCC called for participants for its foundational level 1, 4-week technique course. I jumped on the opportunity. While I am not an absolute beginner cyclist and have many kilometers under my belt, I very consciously decided to be open minded about every tip offered by the coaches – I am thrilled I did, because it allowed me to become a sponge for the extensive knowledge Dan and John were so happy to share.
Photo: Our Level 1 Road Skills Class - June 2023
Without further ado, here are the highlights from the course that helped me most and the ones I keep practicing in my Summer of Cycling:
Safety first: Make sure your bike is fit for riding:
- Check tire pressure before every ride, referring to the indicators for optimal pressure on your tires. Note: the latest thinking is to go a bit softer for higher comfort.
- Check brakes – front and back
- Make sure there is no wobble in the headset (and tighten if there is)
- Listen for “funny” noises and address those before heading out!
Know your signals:
Learn the common signals and practice them on every ride. The critical ones are indicators of stopping; turning left/right; slowing; and pointing to obstructions or potholes/debris. If you are not able to point it’s OK to shout out the upcoming situation to the riders behind (and sometimes ahead of you)!
- Right hand extended right = turning right (who knew! I didn’t have the rotational flexibility in my left arm for that bent-armed limp thing to mean much to anyone but me)
- Left hand extended left = turning left
- Either arm elbow bent down = slowing/stopping
- Either arm elbow bent down hand moving left/right = speed bump
- Arm down finger pointing at “something” on the right or left = watch out for an upcoming hole/rock/ “thing”
- Arm/hand swooping behind the back (typically on the right) = obstruction ahead, e.g., walker or slower cyclist / road narrows / parked car / move “the other way” (typically to the left)
Discuss the conventions and the expectations for your group (even when casually riding with friends) before setting off: Cyclists may be familiar with different practices than yours and it’s good to set the ground rules beforehand!
Never “overlap” wheels:
When riding in a group following other riders watch out for the tire of the rider immediately ahead of you – stay clear because if you accidentally touch it with your own, the rider behind goes down hard; don’t overlap the tire of the rider ahead with your own.
Climb like a champion:
- Look up, anticipate a hill and the imminent change of effort. The more you practice with purpose, the more you will be able to predict the “right” gear for you.
- Gear down into an easier gear (especially if you remain seated when climbing).
- For longer sustained climbs, start gently with about 6/10 effort for the first quarter of the hill, progressively upping the effort to 7, 8, 9/10. The idea is to not red-zone it from the get-go. Continue downshifting as it becomes harder.
- When ready to change gears, ease the pressure off the pedals a touch to shift effortlessly and smoothly.
- When riding uphill, initiate the push from your glute muscle and hip, not just the quad. Another way to try it is to drive your pedal stroke by pushing your heel forward (not driving your toes down). I tend to remember “drive forward with my heel” and magically the glute engages while I am at it!
- Gear up a couple of gears / go into harder gear if you want to stand up on your pedals and power up, typically a punchy, but short-ish hill. On a longer hill switch back and forth between standing and sitting (remaining seated is also great!)
- Keep your elbows slightly bent and ease off the handlebars/hoods. Have relaxed and “low” shoulders when riding – keep them away from your ears! (I struggle with this one – all my photos look like I progressively tense up/ raise my shoulders!)
- The back should be neither hunched nor bowed: think neutral and natural! Similarly, don’t stick the pelvis bone out nor pull it in.
What goes up, must come down!
Putting on the brakes:
- Coming into a corner going downhill – look past the corner!
- Keep the outside foot down (or, inside knee up)
- Don’t initiate the turn with the handlebars -- angle the bike slightly in to the turn
- I’ve been practicing pushing into the outside (low) pedal for added stability and keeping my torso more upright than the lean of the bike
- For emergency braking, brake hard with BOTH front and back brakes and throw your body weight back behind the saddle
- For bikes with v-brakes, braking off the drops gives significantly more leverage/strength of braking than from the hoods – test out both in a safe spot to assess the effect!
- For bikes with disc brakes, the stopping power is about the same from either hoods or drops
Fuel on the go:
- Practice drinking and eating while in motion:
- Start by moving hands “in” and “out” on handlebars
- Progress to taking each hand off
- Advance to touching the water bottle in the cage
- Then, pull it out and put it back in without looking
- Finally, alternate hands
- Tip: keeping shoulders relaxed and not putting a lot of weight on handlebars allows for steadier ride while fetching a snack or a drink!
When things go flat:
And finally, we spent a session learning how to pump and change tires and bike tubes. We all did it! And, it was my first time ever doing it by myself -- though I must admit, I still rely quite heavily on the cell phone as my main tool in my toolkit. Jokes aside, having a spare tube, a patch kit, levers and a pump or CO2 cartridge would get you to safety/home if there is a poor reception/no cell phone coverage.
All in all – a great line up of tips and tricks from the experts and I hope you enjoyed coming along for this ride with me! Now, let’s go riding!
Photo: Me (waving) on my latest EVCC ride, the "200 Glaciers" on July 29, 2023