Bike handling drills to turn you from passenger to pilot

Try out these six exercises to elevate your skills and confidence on the bike

ClockUpdated 09:00, Thursday 18th January 2024. Published 13:00, Wednesday 23rd August 2023

Being a good cyclist isn't just about how hard you can push the pedals. It's also about having good bike handling skills. Good skills on the bike will help boost your confidence out on the roads, both when riding alone and in group situations. Perhaps most importantly, improving your handling will make you safer too.

To see what good bike handling looks like, just take a look at the professionals, especially the interdisciplinary riders like Tom Pidcock or Mathieu van der Poel, although you don't need to go 100kph down the Col du Galibier or take a World Championship title to call yourself a good bike handler.

For us mere mortals, developing our bike handling skills will make riding our bikes more confident, controlled and enjoyable. To get there, here are six drills you can practice to boost your skills and confidence.

Read more:

Riding slowly

This might seem like one that a lot of us out there don’t feel like we need any more practice doing, however, riding really slowly will help develop balance and control. Riding around a small flat area in figure of eight, gradually getting slower and slower will develop the reactive motor skills to keep the bike balanced underneath you.

Practising riding at slow speeds in a controlled manner will translate into far greater control at higher speeds. This is because the body will be reacting to things out of muscle memory. As this develops it makes for a far more natural feeling and will increase the flow out on a ride.

Riding no handed

Of course, when riding no handed, you have far less control of the bike than usual, so this is a skill to be practised and used at your own discretion and only when the roads permit. That said, riding no handed does help you with your bike handling skills. To steer the bike no handed, you need to engage your core and distribute your weight properly. That's a skill that will improve your cornering even when you've got your hands on the bars.

To start off, begin with the easier steps of getting used to taking one hand off the bars at a time, but importantly remember to practise with both hands individually. It is natural for you to have a side that feels more comfortable than the other so really work on the side that feels less natural.

Once this feels comfortable, start lifting both hands off the bars, but keep them close whilst you get used to the sensation. Over time you can relax and move your hands further from the bars.

Read more: How to ride a bike with no hands

Looking behind you

Looking behind you whilst riding is actually a harder task than it may sound. Without looking ahead to see where you are going it is almost certain that you will start to deviate and drift away from the line you were riding. This is an essential skill to develop whilst riding out on the roads as it allows you to to check for traffic and other riders you might be riding with.

Start off small by looking under your arm to get a glimpse of what might be behind you, don’t look away for longer than you need as you can still drift across the road doing this. Once you feel confident with this you can practise looking all the way behind you. You might need to let go of the bar with one hand to allow the bike to keep going in a straight line whilst you turn around.

Riding in a straight line

This might seem like something pretty much all of us probably consider to be well within our skillset. Nonetheless much like with the riding slowly drill, the slower you go, the harder it becomes. Try riding along a white line in a carpark or along a curb at slow speeds, and you'll see how hard it is to ride dead straight. Get the hang of it, though, and it will translate to greater control on your bike at speed.

To make things easier for yourself, look further ahead than just down at your front wheel. By looking a few metres ahead, it allows your body to balance and stabilise a little easier, which should keep you going in a straight line no matter what speed you are travelling.

Getting your wheels off the ground

This is by far the most technically challenging skill to develop but it's a really useful one. Learn how to bunnyhop the bike, and you can save yourself from punctures, potholes and all sorts of issues. This is a skill that will take some time and practice before you can do it with confidence, so start off by trying it over a flat object like a white line in a car park.

Here's the steps for how to bunnyhop. As you approach the obstacle, lift your front wheel by shifting your hips backwards over the rear wheel. This will unweight the front of the bike, and make it easy for you to lift the front wheel off the floor with your front arms extended. At this point if you do nothing else, the back wheel will now roll into whatever obstacle was in your way.

The next step is to lift the rear wheel as well as that front wheel. On a road bike with clipless pedals this is just a case of pulling upwards with your legs and the bike will follow. The tricky part of the bunny hop is the timing of when to initiate it, and then joining both elements together.

So there are six useful drills that will bring on your control of the bike at any speed in any situation. There is no shortcut to developing these skills and the secret really is just to practise whenever an opportunity comes up. They can be great to try in a group at a café or outside your home after a ride as part of a cool down.

Related Content

Link to UCI World Championships: Mathieu van der Poel takes rainbow with a commanding solo win
Mathieu van der Poel had enough time to sit up and celebrate his biggest road win yet at the Glasgow World Championships

UCI World Championships: Mathieu van der Poel takes rainbow with a commanding solo win

Dutchman survives late crash to win in Glasgow after aggressive race, Van Aert and Pogačar complete podium

Link to UCI World Championships: Tom Pidcock takes the cross-country mountain bike title in Glentress
With a third-place finish in the short track followed by the gold medal on the XCO course, it has been an eventful few days for Tom Pidcock

UCI World Championships: Tom Pidcock takes the cross-country mountain bike title in Glentress

Sam Gaze comes from behind to take second, whilst Nino Schurter takes the bronze for his 13th cross-country medal

Link to Five basic cycling skills for beginners
YouTube video IyZPPEgEWnc

Five basic cycling skills for beginners

The five most important things beginners should learn to have a safe and enjoyable ride

Link to How to convert a road bike to a 1x set-up

How to convert a road bike to a 1x set-up

Single chainrings are taking over, but the simplicity of the set-up is complicated to achieve when dropping from 2x, so we've got some pointers to follow

Subscribe to the GCN Newsletter

Get the latest, most entertaining and best informed news, reviews, challenges, insights, analysis, competitions and offers - straight to your inbox