How to improve bike handling?

Doing almost 100% indoor training at the moment, using a combination of TR and Zwift. Under normal circumstances I’m about 65-70% indoor anyway, as I can get more done in less time, but I do enjoy outside rides and workouts, however I crashed quite badly due to what I believe was lack of handling skills on my bike and having stronger legs. I crashed on a sharp bend on a descent - basically ran out of road as I drifted right (turning left) and then hit a stone wall. Because of the pandemic I’ve been racing on Zwift and doing TR intervals and am quite a bit stronger than I was in the summer when I was last out, and then I was nervous about descending (enjoy going up the hills and am fine on the flats and rolls). I really want to improve my bike handling so that I can descend safer and faster, both on my TT and road bikes. Can anyone offer tips on how to do this? How does one corner properly? Descend properly? Can anything be done indoors or must I just practise and practise outside as soon as the weather improves? (As an aside my Canyon Speedmax TT is fast as hell but handles like a van.)

You’ll find some useful discussion here:

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I’m not going to offer any specific tips, but I will say from my experience that indoor riding is probably a net negative toward bike handling. Engine gets stronger, but your body isn’t practicing the agility part so that declines a bit.

There’s a reason why everyone is a little off in the spring, and it takes a bit to get comfortable in groups. You’re going to have to practice outside.

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The biggest tips to improve cornering are

  1. All your weight on the outside foot
  2. Counterweight your inside hand (some people find this helps balance, others not. so test it out)
  3. Look all the way through the corner. Look where you want to go and not what you want to avoid (target fixation).
  4. Line choice. Outside - inside - outside. It widens the radius of the turn. This changes though due to public roads, debris, and road conditions

Beyond those points, the rest comes down to practice. Start slow and exaggerated and on a road that you are very familiar and comfortable with. Even a parking lot or other closed environment is good. Starting out you will have to really check yourself and that you are looking as far ahead as you can. Not only does your body tend to follow your head and eyes but it also tends to lower your perception of speed.

Edit: Outside of maybe some strength training like core and a bit of upper body stuff there isn’t a ton of stuff you can do indoors to improve your handling.

Also many people will recommend either cyclocross or MTB to help road handling. The slower speeds, lower grip, and ‘typically’ lower consequence crashes can all help you push and explore your limits. But I also recommend it just because they are damn fun.

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To add to this, looking ahead is critical. If you look at the wall, you will hit the wall. Look at cone drills that mtb racers use, even just doing a figure 8 between say 5 parking spaces at low speed and getting used to alternating your weight from side to side and slowly decreasing the number of spaces you are in from 5 or 6 down as low as you can will get the muscle memory there. Off road riding will teach you a ton about bike handling as well in a low grip environment.

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Get rollers

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Rollers can help for working on “line holding” skills, aka straight line stuff.

But they do nothing for real cornering skills or anything else.

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I was in the exact same situation a few years back @pawill, if it helps. I was indoor fit with poor bike handling skills. The main difference is that I ran out of road on a dead flat 90 degree bend with one of Flanders famous tailwinds in my back at 45km/h while chasing a KOM :face_with_head_bandage: :sweat: Lessons learned huh?

I spent most of the following year dreading corners despite reading/trying out all the advice I could find on the internets/youtubes/the podcast etc.

It only really clicked about one year later for me, when an elite rider kindly offered me to follow his wheel on a descent near Mt Ventoux on holidays. He was a “heavier” rider like myself (75kg), so he routinely had to let the climbing featherweight go on the climb knowing he’d often be able to chase them down on the descents. Dude could descent like a madman :blush: When he showed me he took it pretty easy :wink:

Once I saw and experienced for myself the lines and the flow of good descending, it became so much easier to descend confidently ever since. Even of the flats, I could easily put a good gap into my group ride fellows in corners, round about with hardly any force on the pedals (until COVID ended group rides that is :face_with_hand_over_mouth:)

So… try to find a local rider to show you around a few corners maybe? (if that is safe to do in your circumstances, of course)

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That is not quite correct. Rollers allow you to correctly control your bicycle, which is the basis of good bike handling.

Yes, balancing your bike without falling over is the basis for cycling, but just because rollers require more control and focus to ride doesn’t mean they will teach you how to corner faster or descend with confidence.

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I say this with only a small bit of facetiousness - crash more.

Now…this is a lot more practical in cyclocross than road riding…but the core principal applies I think. Learn the limits of your traction. I dont think there is anything inherently difficult about basic cornering/bike handling…it is more a matter of experience with understanding how fast you can take corners in which conditions.

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Ride outside more. There isn’t another way to improve.

…also, this may be just me, but watching descents on zwift always make my skin crawl. The lines are just completely wrong. Don’t descent like you’re on zwift!

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Rollers get over sold in this regard. My experience is that they seem to improve my slow speed bike handling skills in very specific instances, spinning up (not mashing) a technical climb (obviously off road), I think maybe that translates for me. For road, I agree with Chadd, it can help hold a tight line. I think there are many benefits to rollers and I’m a huge advocate, I just don’t think I’d sell them as a way to improve bike handling, at least in most cases. Just my experience and opinion, I much prefer rollers over trainer so I’m on the roller club for sure.

Agreed with the general sentiment here, go outside and practice. I think I’m echoing this maybe but try some grass drill on your road bike, they can really help and the penalty for crashing become very low.

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Hello again. I will now attempt at a more complete reply.

I do believe that rollers are a good first step, as they help you to connect you better with the bicycle. By this I also mean an often disregarded issue, which is the ability to hold your position using your lower back and core. Unfortunately, this can require a lot of time on the bicycle because those muscles have to adapt. Without this adaptation, too much weight is on the handlebars, leading to handling issues. Typically, this is judged by how much your stomach is bulging, the more the better, as Greg Lemond said, you should look slightly pregnant.

A second issue is bike fit. The bicycle has to fit you relatively well so that you are well balanced on the bicycle.

Finally, there is the bicycle itself. While I consider such terms as “climbing bike” to be a bit ridiculous, I believe in judging a well built bicycle by its behavior on descents. Of course, this is affected by replaceable equipment. When I bought a Ritchey road bike in 1997 after my Marinoni frame disintegrated, I had a big surprise on my first descent: I had to completely change my body position due to the radically different geometries. That said, a good descender will probably adapt to any bicycle.

I personally improved my descending from terrible to acceptable (necessary in Northern California which is renowned for good descenders) after a couple of years of riding motorcycles. This allowed me to get used to higher speeds. However, I remained a very mediocre motorcyclist…

Good descending is a bit of a vicious circle, in my opinion. In order to descend well, you have to feel confident and relaxed, yet have an aggressive attitude confronting corners. However, this requires you to already be a good descender. Tension affects cornering as does fear. In particular, breaking actually hinders your ability to corner. In other words, when someone is afraid he is going to fast in a corner, it might actually be safer to lean more than to brake more.

Trying to go faster than your comfort level is a recipe for disaster When I don’t feel confident, I reduce my speed drastically, to my embarrassment I’m sometimes going slower than I would be on a flat road. However, this avoids serious injury, and I get home to descend another day. I therefore either go at a pace that I feel is fairly fast or very slowly.

I did help someone two years ago to drastically improve descending. I convinced her to adopt an aggressive low position as if she were continually trying to accelerate. After a while, I had problems following her, as opposed to waiting 5 minutes at the bottom of the hill.

I hope that helps.

-ilan

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  1. know that most of the turning happens from the tire being “leaned” over and not turning your handlebars. (this why people say weight the inside hand or counter steer - that leans the bike).

  2. therefore brake while going straight, before starting the “lean”. if you must brake in the corner, rear brake only. braking makes the wheels want to stand up right and diminishes your turning ability. since the front brake has most of the braking power, it will stand the bike up a lot quicker while cornering.

  3. look where you want to go.

  4. enter wide, exit wide - to the best you can on open roads.

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I have found that doing a majority of workouts outside has greatly improved my bike handling. I do all the intervals on a single hill and get multiple attempts at the descent. Each time I get a little faster because I know what’s coming, but it has also helped me learn to read unfamiliar roads and judge my entry speed and line better.

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Great responses. Thank you. As soon as the weather brakes I’ll just make more of an effort to get outside consistently. I don’t have a power metre on my bike, which doesn’t help, so I’ll start saving I guess. I will look into the cornering and car-park style drills as well. That will come in handy for a sprint tri I’m considering anyway, as that is three laps up and down a straight stretch of road with a U turn at each end.

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All these tips sound great.

A drill I really like is picking up a bottle from the ground while riding—give it a try when you get outside. There is a ton of room for variations. Get the bottle with either hand, try it at different speeds, experiment with the angle of attack (coming at it straight on vs turning around the bottle), and finally hard mode—picking up the bottle off its side rather than standing it straight up and down.

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I’ve been doing all my TR workouts on Elite quick motion rollers since ~November (not my first use of rollers, but first time I’ve used them consistently for anything other than recovery spins). Saturday I hit a squirrel at ~19 mph. It flipped the squirrel into the air, sommersaulting like some kind of furry Cirque de Soleil act. It briefly bounced off my crotch then hit my left shin (I had unclipped by this point), and I managed to swing my leg and flick him away. I stayed upright during all this, despite the “speedbump” effect of hitting the hairy little rat, and the ensuing panic that he was going to bite my privates. I credit the roller training to keeping me upright. I highly endorse rollers if you have any plans of running over wildlife

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