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8 Pro Cyclist Tips to Improve Your Next Ride

By Molly Hurford | April 24, 2018 | Rally Health

Whether you’ve been riding for decades or you’re just starting to pedal around the neighborhood, there’s always room for improvement in your cycling. Even members of the Rally CyclingSM team who have been racing for nearly two decades are still learning new tips and tricks. Here’s some great road riding advice from members of the men’s and women’s teams, sharing  tips that they wish someone had clued them in on years ago.

1. Corner Like a Boss

Corners can be the trickiest part of riding for new cyclists. Almost every cyclist deals with some trepidation when heading into a turn, but if you follow this advice, you’ll be cornering more smoothly in no time. To start, focus on the entry to the corner.

“Cornering and braking go hand in hand,” says Erica Allar, who’s been racing for 17 years. “You want to slow down before you’re actually in the turn: You don’t want to brake while turning.”  She’s absolutely right. Braking in a corner can be dangerous, as you’ll lose traction and run the risk of crashing.

Erica-Allar-cornering.jpg#asset:58130Erica Allar demonstrates the fine art of cornering.

She also reminds riders to focus on where they want to go, not where they don’t want to go! “In a tight turn, if you look at the trees to the side, you’ll likely end up in the trees,” she says. Make sure your tires have a solid connection with the ground, and stay steady by pushing your outside foot down on the pedal. Longtime Rally team member and former National Criterium Champion Brad Huff says this will offer you the most traction and stability.

2. Find Your Tribe

Tribe.jpg#asset:57855

Riding with the right group makes all the difference. 

Even pros just wanna have fun. Nigel Ellsay’s top tip is to focus on making riding fun, not a grind, by riding with other people who know what they’re doing, and who make you enjoy the time spent pedaling. His sister and teammate Gillian agrees, saying, “Be comfortable with the people you’re riding with: Don’t ride with 30-year-old elite men if you’re just starting!” You may need to try a few local group rides before you find a crew that feels like a good fit, so don’t be afraid of testing out a bunch of different groups.

3. Get Comfortable Riding in the Drops

Keeping your hands on the hoods of your handlebars for the easiest shifting and braking access — and comfortable upright posture — might seem like the best idea, but you actually lose some of your control. Riding in the drops (the lower part of curved handlebars) offers the best stability, especially at high speeds and going down hills, says longtime pro Ryan Anderson.

Drops.jpg#asset:57856Sara Bergen, riding in the drops.

“It’s something you can work on on a straight road to get used to it first. Riding in the drops isn't the most comfortable position at first, so just do it for a few minutes at a time,” he says. Core work off the bike can help make this feel more comfortable, says Anderson.

4. Spin It to Win It

Gillian-Ellsay-Preshift.jpg#asset:57858Gillian Ellsay, saving energy on the climb.

“Anticipate the climb… and then spin to win!” says climber Gillian Ellsay. While the rider next to you on your group ride might attack a hill in the big ring and mash up, pedaling super slow in a hard gear, that’s not the best strategy — and you’ll never see a pro do it. The fastest way to the top of a long climb is actually pre-shifting to an easier gear before the climb starts, and spinning your way up it — that’s Gillian’s brother Nigel’s best advice. You save energy, and by the top, the guy in his big ring will likely be grinding gears trying to shift down while you effortlessly pedal past.

5. Speed Up Your Descents

Downhill-group.jpg#asset:57859Downhill racers.

Going downhill sounds simple, but most cyclists can recall a time when they felt tentative on a winding descent. And that’s absolutely fine, according to Anderson. “You have to build into it. Do what makes you feel comfortable,” he says. You want to feel in control at all times, and if that means creeping down a hill at first, that’s absolutely fine. To practice adding some speed, Anderson recommends finding a descent that you do regularly, timing it, and then, “trying to do it just a little faster every time.” As far as where your eyes should be, Anderson cautions that looking at the ground directly in front of you isn’t the safest: Always look ahead of you to see what’s coming!

6. Get in the Draft

Being in the draft — riding directly behind someone in a group in order to create a “slipstream” effect — is a wonderful feeling. It makes riding a lot easier and a lot more fun, but it can be a tough skill to master. Longtime racer Danny Pate recommends starting small if you’re new to the concept: Get a friend to ride with you and practice with one person. Then, gradually, increase to a few friends or a small group ride, and get comfortable there before tackling large rides or races.

Draft.jpg#asset:57860With Robin Carpenter and Ryan Anderson in front, Matteo Dal-Cin (rear) drafts off Kyle Murphy.

“Give the person in front of you a little space — you don't have to be an inch from his wheel like the guys racing on TV!” says Anderson. “Pay attention to the wind, too. If the wind is coming from your right, try to stay a bit to the left of the bike that’s in front of you. It’s a little safer and it’ll be a lot easier.”

Finally, Anderson advises against staring at the wheel in front of you. Instead, you should be constantly looking around the person ahead of you, so you can see what’s coming up.

7. Learn About Cadence

Are you a gear masher who refuses to drop out of your big ring? If so, you’re losing out on valuable speed and power. If you have a cycling computer that tracks your cadence, take a look at it while in-ride so you can see what rate you’re spinning. If you don’t have one, you can use a timer for one minute and try to count the rotations per minute (rpm) that you’re pedaling. It won’t be as precise, but you’ll get an idea as to whether you’re way down at 50 rpm or spinning like crazy at 120 rpm.

Computer-Improve-ride-tips.jpg#asset:57861Whether you use a computer or a timer, be sure to track your RPMs.

“Getting comfortable with the right cadence can be hard. It goes along with knowing when to shift, but if you focus on maintaining a cadence of 85 to 95 rpm, that will help you know when to shift down or up,” says rider Allison Beveridge. “Start off with five minutes of making a conscious effort to spin in that 85 to 95 rpm range, and focus on a smooth pedal stroke. Do that on and off during a regular ride, focusing on it part of the time, and the more time you spend pedaling at that higher cadence, the more natural it will feel and become.”

8. Seek Expert Advice

“There’s always someone who has more experience than you,” says Danny Pate. Even after 18 years racing as a pro, he says that he still learns new tips every year — and so can you.

Danny-Pate-2018.jpg#asset:57862Cycling veteran Danny Pate, still learning.

“If you can seek other people’s input and help, you’ll get great advice,” he says. “That’s why it’s better to ride with people who are a bit better than you — you’ll learn more.”

To find great people to help you improve your riding, Pate recommends going through local channels like club teams and bike shops to find rides. But there’s one caveat: “Be truthful with yourself about your ability level when picking — you want to be with people a little faster, not getting dropped every ride.”

Molly Hurford is the author of “Fuel Your Ride,” “Saddle, Sore,” and the upcoming “Shred Girls” series. She also writes for Bicycling magazine, and co-hosts “The Consummate Athlete” podcast.

Molly Hurford
Rally Health