All of us have things that we think we are good at on the bike, and others where we know there is room for improvement! Here we offer some suggestions for five areas that often stop a cyclists performance and ability from being as efficient as they could be, and tips for quick improvement.
1) Keeping your hands always on top of the handlebar
More comfortable and easier to control the bike, this is the position of preference for most cyclists in normal conditions. But don't forget the substantial reduction in air resistance when you cycle with your hands in the drops - generally you can change to a gear higher and cycle faster with the same amount of effort.
Although it is uncomfortable for many cyclists to maintain the position for long distances, it is worth practicing. Your body will adjust and you will go faster for less energy used.
2) Using the back brake too often
The front brake acts faster and more efficiently at slowing and stopping the bike, but many cyclists (especially newcomers to the sport) use the rear brake for slowing down, because they have always known that if you use the front brake on its own you go over the handlebars! Apart from very steep hills or very high speeds this won't happen as long as you keep your weight 'low' on the bike and apply the front brake smoothly.
Practice only using your front brake on the flat and gentle slopes, and in no time at all you will almost forget that you have a rear brake!
3) Staying too far behind the cyclist in front
When cycling in a group we all know there are substantial advantages, due to the reduced wind resistance, that make cycling much easier than cycling alone. These advantages are proportional to the distance between you and the cyclist in front - the closer you are the bigger the benefit.
When cycling with someone you know to be a 'smooth operator' (i.e. a cyclist who isn't going to brake or swerve unexpectedly) try and cycle with just a few centimetres between your front tyre and their rear tyre. It does require a bit more concentration but the advantages are substantial.
4) Learning to sprint
Next time you are out try sprinting like Mark Cavendish - hands in the drops and pedalling fast. It's pretty hard to keep your balance until you get used to it! Sprinting with your hands on top of the handlebars is easy to do though - albeit tough on the legs - and gives a valuable improvement to your leg strength. There are also various circumstances in 'normal' cycling when sprinting is a useful ability.
Whatever your hand position, try sprinting 100 metres at maximum effort from time to time
5) Riding too often
To retain your hard-fought for cycling strenths you need to cycle quite often, usually at least twice a week. But if you cycle too much you can do more harm than good, your muscles don't have a chance to recover properly, and you can start to suffer from overtraining - tiredness, frequent aches and pains, general fatigue and apathy, and eventually a loss of enthusiasm to cycle at all. If you feel these symptoms starting take a few days or even a couple of weeks off the bike.
Strike a balance. Two to four outings a week is plenty for most people, and if you do more you should make sure some of the rides are easy rides for pleasure. It's better to be left wanting to ride more!