Lots of people are starting to bike in record numbers. And anyone who has ridden a bike knows there is plenty to worry about. From heavy traffic to high downhill speeds to potholes, knowing what to do and being comfortable in various situations is a must to stay safe. Make the most of your time in the saddle by learning how to improve your confidence on a bike.
Gaining confidence, however, requires lots and lots of practice and patience. To help combat some of these fears and learn to gain more confidence on the bike, we spoke with Hunter Allen, CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group, for his advice for anyone battling some of these mental aspects of the sport.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO RELAX
Overreacting to hazards or constantly worrying something bad is about to happen can put your safety at danger on the road because being tense is the last thing you need.
“A lack of confidence can be seen with how well a person holds their line on the road,” Allen says. “Instead of being stiff, it’s important to learn how to relax on the bike. Softening the shoulders and chest and allowing your triceps to act as shock absorbers will help you react to the number of scenarios that can pop up.”
When you’re tense or don’t have the confidence you need to react properly, oversteering and even veering toward a hazard instead of away from it can happen. This is because focusing directly on a dangerous object or area of the road you don’t want to go is counterintuitive.
“It’s important to look up the road at where you want to go and not at the dangerous stuff right in front of you,” Allen says. “Looking too closely at hazards results in poor bike-handling and a lack of reaction time.”
OVERCOMING COMMON FEARS
You can improve your confidence and make cycling as fun as it should be. Like anything else, though, it takes practice. Though it might take getting out of your comfort zone, the more you put yourself into any particular scenario, the more comfortable you’ll become.
“You don’t just get good at typing on the computer in the first week you started typing,” Allen says. “Just going out and riding more often isn’t necessarily the answer. Spend some time actually practicing the skills you lack confidence in, even if it’s just one day a week.”
Here are some of the ways you can practice and gain confidence at some of the most common cycling fears:
Solution: Almost everyone has taken a spill or two when they learn to use clipless pedals, so don’t worry if this happens to you. Instead of heading out for a ride when you aren’t confident in getting in and out of your pedals, practice how to do it right. Head to an empty parking lot or another safe area away from traffic until you get the hang of it.
Solution: Before you ride in heavy traffic, get comfortable on the road in light traffic. Stick to streets where traffic is lighter, and there are bike lanes. Once you’re confident here, progress to busier streets until you’ve gained enough confidence to handle traffic.
Here are some of Allen’s tips for riding in traffic:
- Ride on the right side of cars’ right tire tracks instead of riding too far to the right. If you ride too far to the right, it encourages cars to try to squeeze by and makes an accident more likely. If you ride farther out into the road, you will be safer and more visible to motorists.
- Use a bright rear light, even in daylight. Remember you get what you pay for, and because of this, splurge on the best light you can afford.
- Be predictable. Try to ride in a straight line, always keeping the same distance between you and the side of the road. “Holding your line” is critical to being safe, predictable and ready to ride faster.
- Make your intentions known. Use hand signals to alert other cyclists and motorists whenever possible.
Solution: Going fast on skinny tires can be scary. But before you put yourself in this situation, take baby steps. Find a gradual decline and practice handling this scenario using the correct technique. Once you’ve got this down without any issues, progress to a short downhill section of road that forces you to reach greater speeds. Once you can handle flat descents, progress to a longer descent with a few corners. This helps you build these technical skills slowly in a less tense environment rather than encountering them randomly on your first group ride.
Solution: A lot of cyclists shy away from cycling in the rain. If you live in an area where it frequently rains during fall, winter and spring, this severely limits how much you can ride outdoors. To gain confidence, go out for short rides in the rain and stick to slower speeds on flat roads. Start to brake well before you need to stop, keep your carbon wheels at home, and use a wider tire at a lower tire pressure to increase contact with the pavement when cornering. Here are some other wet-weather tips you can follow.
Solution: Group rides can be incredibly fun, but your first couple of times can be nerve-wracking. Instead of jumping into an unknown group your first time out, start out riding with one or two other cyclists. Get used to drafting, using hand signals and avoiding hazards. Once you feel confident, increase the group by a few people. Keep progressing the size of your group until you’re sure you’re ready to handle larger groups traveling at faster speeds. Here are some tips you can use to handle common group ride scenarios.
Solution: Without a doubt, crashing your bike can create a lot of fear and make getting back on the bike hard. In this scenario, it’s important to take as much time off the bike as you need. Go for a ride whenever you feel you’re ready, and start slow. Short, slow rides on streets you feel most comfortable on are the way to go. Go during less busy times of the day and invite a few close friends to go along with you, as there is greater safety in numbers. If you’re still having a hard time, consider speaking with a professional such as a sports psychologist to overcome any lingering fears. Here are some other tips you can use to get back on the bike.
Solution: Cycling races are hectic, which is why being nervous and more tense than usual is expected. But riding in an organized event can be a lot of fun and shouldn’t be avoided. Since the only way to get comfortable and be confident racing is to do it, signing up is the first step. Instead of registering for an ultra-competitive event where there’ll be thousands of other racers creating a more dangerous environment, sign up for touring events that are more casual, have fewer cyclists, and are more focused on having fun instead of winning. Get a few of your friends to sign up, too. This makes it feel more like a familiar weekend ride. Once you’ve gained comfort, you can sign up for more competitive events down the road.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you have problems gaining confidence in any of the scenarios above, Allen recommends seeking advice from a coach.
“One of the best things you can do to improve your confidence and bike skills is to hire a cycling coach or go to a cycling camp or skills weekend,” Allen says. “Just one session with an experienced coach can make a huge difference in your abilities and confidence.”
Originally published November 2020, updated August 2023
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