If you want to be faster and more confident on your bike, it's not just a matter of putting the miles in and getting fitter. You also need to think about good technique and preparation.
Simple mistakes can cost you valuable time and effort on the road or the trails, but with a bit of practice these can be easily corrected, resulting in more confidence, less energy consumption and higher speeds, so you'll no longer be lagging behind your mates or limping over the finish line way off the pace.
Poor cornering technique
You want to be able to take corners smoothly and without losing too much pace, so adjust your speed as you approach the turn – do not brake while cornering.
Make sure your inside pedal is up and press down on the outside pedal. Lean the bike, as opposed to steering it, keeping your body weight centred over the bike. Always look where you’re heading.
If you're on a road or track that's closed to traffic then use the whole space: drift across to reach the apex of the corner and then accelerate out of the turn.
Sharp braking on descents
Applying light gradual pressure on both brakes at the same time is more effective when you're learning to ride than slamming them on. Braking too sharply on a descent can make you lose control.
Try the on/off technique to prevent brakes overheating. On the road, try sitting up instead of braking, as this increases wind resistance and will slow you down.
Practise on hills you’re familiar with, each time applying the brakes a little less. Also practise with experienced riders and try to follow their line of travel.
Wrong gears on climbs
You must be in the correct gear approaching a climb. Don’t leave it too late. If you have to switch from a high gear to a low one once you start climbing then you risk dropping the chain.
Cycling up a hill in a high gear means your muscles recruit more fast-twitch muscle fibres. Fast-twitch fibres fatigue quickly and take a long time to recover. If you change to an easier gear and higher cadence, you conserve energy and save your fast-twitch fibres for later.
Saddle too high or too low
The correct saddle height is crucial. You risk injury if it’s too high or too low, and reduce the power you can generate. Here’s a simple test: sit on the bike, and at the bottom of the pedal-stroke the leg should be almost straight but the heel should stay on the pedal without stretching.
Bike isn't prepared or maintained
Now that you’ve improved your skills, don’t mess it up with poor pre-ride or pre-race preparation. Ensure you’ve checked your bike over – that all bolts are tight and pedals are secure, chain is oiled and saddle is at correct angle.
Check tyres are free from cuts or glass and tyres are pumped up. Ensure brakes are not touching the wheel and that it spins freely. Check that brake pads/blocks aren't worn. Finally, the caliper brakes found on road bikes can get knocked in transport, so check before setting off.