Libby Ellis staring down bike season. Not quite ready to give up this unbelievable winter we have been having.
Virginia Solomon is PCBR's resident PMBIA Certified Intermediate and Advanced MTB Coach. They work locally with Momentum Mountain Bike Instruction, Women in the Mountains, WomenMTB, and nationally with Ninja MTB Performance, Norco Dirt Series, and Ryan Leech Connection Online MTB Coaching.
Hey! It's winter!! While for many folks that means putting up their bikes, barring a trip to the desert here or there, this actually is the time of year where you can make a MASSIVE difference in your riding without a lot of effort. Leaving lots of energy for skinning, skating, or even letting the lift help you earn your turns.
Yeah, it's cold. Going out for a ride might not sound exciting, and we're not here to talk about fat biking. There's no need to even change after work, or any of your activities! Unless you're in ski boots. Maybe take off your ski boots...
Because winter is the perfect time to work on slow speed balance skills. Trackstands. Brake hops. Rocking. Fakies. All of these are skills that can be done in your driveway in a sleeping bag onesie. Or in a garage stall. Or, in a pinch, in your kitchen. Slow speed balance is cool in the parking lot, and a great way to make a playground out of any random park or parking lot in which you might find yourself. But it also is a game changer and will help you hit the trails come spring significantly less rusty than if you just let the bike collect dust for the next couple few months.
Virginia Solomon in their puffy and winter boots doing the work.
First, let's talk about trackstands. Contrary to what many people think, a trackstand isn't about standing STILL, it's about making constant micro-adjustments to maintain balance in place. Work on your track stands in all possible combinations. Wheel turned to the left, right foot forward and left foot forward. Wheel turned to the right, same with the feet! Everyone has a favored combo, but it pays to work on them all.
Choose which combo you want to start with. Turn your wheel 45-60ish degrees, and think about having your shoulders parallel to your bars (see pic above). From there, think about putting a bit more weight into your hands, so that you make sure you have some weight on your front wheel. Position your front foot, whichever one it is, a bit higher than three oclock, so it is easy for you to keep pressure on it. And you'll want to focus your vision on a spot 2-3ft in front of you. That's your starting position for a trackstand!
Now let's talk about those constant micro-adjustments that are how you keep your balance. Remember how you're standing with your front foot a little bit above 3o'clock, with weight in your feet but also in your hands? This will feel a lot more natural and comfortable if your hips are a bit on front of your saddle - this is different from your normal standing ready position. You actually want your bike to move forwards and backwards a little bit, putting a little bit of pressure into that front foot and then backing off and shifting your hips back a hair to let the bike roll back a little (this is why it's MUCH easier to learn a trackstand on a hill, as the gravity of the hill makes the bike roll back, but we're hoping no one's garage or kitchen has much of a slope. We can approximate this a little bit by using our brakes to push against instead of a slope, but see if you can work towards doing this without using your brakes). Having the bike roll forwards and backwards is the first plane of movement we use to maintain balance. The second? Side to side! Move them shoulders, them elbows, them knees and hips. Many people, maybe even you?, have experienced their front wheel flopping back and forth trying to keep side to side balance. Try and keep that wheel still and move your body to keep balance instead. Notice the difference it makes to move your shoulders vs your elbows, or your hips vs your knees. The more you practice, the quicker you'll feel the need to make an adjustment, and the smaller adjustments you'll need to make!
Give this a shot and see how it goes. You can see a lot of benefit from just 5-10 minutes at a time. Slowly build up how long you hold your trackstand before pedaling out of it, and eventually challenge yourself to not pedal out of it at all, just move your bike and your body to stay in the same place! And when spring comes back around, appreciate cresting a hill, stopping to choose your line, and not having to take your feet off the pedals :D.
Come back for more of the slow speed balance skills in future blog posts, and hit those comments if you have any questions!