When I bought my road bike three years ago, I was getting the cursory fitting common to bike stores. The salesperson doing the fitting stepped back, and with a scowl, said, “Relax! Your shoulders are hunched. Your arms are locked. That’s not the position you want to be in.”
She was right, of course. “Relax” is probably the best advice you’ll ever get about cycling. Not only does it apply to your position on the bike, but just about any other aspect of riding.
Let’s take the basic riding position — the one I was having trouble with in the shop. If a rider adopts that position on a long ride, it’s likely to end badly. Your neck will be sore. So will your arms. You’ll be tiring out your muscles when you don’t have to. Your upper body — neck, shoulders, and arms — don’t move the bike forward, so you want to take them out of the equation. No side-to-side motion. No up and down motion.
The relax advice applies to other riding moves, too. You’re climbing a hill? Relax. Be still from the waist up. Cycling coach Andy Applegate says you don’t want even an ounce of unnecessary tension. You want whoever is watching you to be unaware of the effort you’re putting into the climb.
Descending? Relax, too. It’s easy to tense up when the bike points downhill. Sometimes those runs can be pretty scary. Tenseness can affect your ability to control the bike. Drop your shoulders, loosen the death grip on the handlebars, bend your elbows. Tilt your eyes upward to look forward instead of craning your neck.
Here comes a corner. Relax. Coach Carl Cantrell says tensing up causes the bike to pull to the outside. You can lose control, and might have to brake to get control back. And we all know how jumpy a bike feels when you brake in the middle of a turn. Relaxing while cornering should become instinctive, says Cantrell. “It is the single most important thing most people can do to improve their cornering.”
Are you falling? Relax. “As you hit the ground,” said one commenter on a biking forum, “try to stay as loose as possible. If you’re tense or stiff, it’s easier to get hurt.”
Starting that first century? Or a big race? You’re probably tense with anticipation. Relax. Smile to relax your facial muscles. Breathe. Calm yourself by thinking positively. Then maintain that relaxed attitude once the ride begins.
For me, a relaxed position isn’t easy to come by. I catch myself from time to time with hunched up shoulders. But I’m getting better. I remind myself every so often to relax. I shift my riding position. I shake out my shoulders. I shift my hands on the bars.
We recently featured several guest posts on the most important thing the posters learned about biking. I’ll add my two cents to the mix. The Most Important Thing: Relax.