Spring is here and my local park is full of young people practising their skills on skateboards, bikes and scooters, kids of all ages helping each other to learn new tricks and even the odd parent having a go. When I was younger I loved to ride my BMX with my older brother and cousins around an obstacle course that my Dad set up from old planks and pieces of wood.
Skills games and drills are a really useful way of improving your balance and control on the bike and regular practice will improve your confidence and performance when you are out on the road or trail. I use a wide variety of activities when I am coaching but here are a few of my favourites for you to try. You just need to find a quiet corner in your nearest superstore car park and a bunch of friends to impress.
1. Slow Ride
Goal: To ride slowly into a track stand.
Technique: Start off by pedalling slowly, free-wheel to slow down and almost stop. Without putting your feet on the ground try to hold your bike in a track stand position for as long as possible, then pedal out of it to regain your balance. The length of time that you can hold a track stand will improve with practice and the distance that you move forward to regain your balance will decrease.
Key points: Stand tall on the bike and try to shift you weight through the cranks to maintain balance. Look ahead to the horizon and turn your front wheel into your lead (or strong) foot. Avoid using the brakes, instead shift your weight to control the bike.
Progression / regression: If you’re struggling to keep your balance try this drill on a shallow up-hill rise, like a driveway.
2. Ride the Line
Goal: To lean your bike over to one side and remain travelling in a straight line.
Technique: Pick a white line which covers a couple of car park space lengths. Start off with a few pedal strokes then freewheel while symltaniously leaning your bike over to the left hand side. You need to roll along the white line and keep the bike travelling in a straight line. Turn back and repeat in the opposite direction, this time leaning your bike over to the right.
Key points: This drill will help you find your centre of balance and understand how to manipulate the bike by leaning the bike in the opposite direction to stay balanced.
Progression / regression: If you’re finding it tricky to stay on the line, try simply rolling along and shifting your bike in the opposite direction to find the centre of balance. When you feel confident try it along a line.
3. Ankle Grab
Goal: To grab hold of one of your ankles and ride in a straight line.
Technique: Start by pedalling normally, then lean down to your left and use your left hand to grab onto your left ankle. Continue to hold your ankle as you pedal. After a few pedal strokes, put your left hand back on the handlebars. Next try taking your right hand and grabbing your right ankle, holding onto it while pedalling.
Key points: The key to this drill is to keep your weight centered. Your weight will naturally go off to one side depending on which ankle you are reaching for. As in the previous drill, you need to lean the bike in the opposite direction to stay balanced.
Progression / regression: You can start off by holding your calf then move down to your ankle. The further down you reach, the more you need to lean the bike in the opposite direction.
4. Figure 8s
Goal: To ride your bike in a figure 8 within one car park space.
Technique: When turning, lean your bike into the turn and put your weight on your outside pedal. For example, if you are turning right, you should put all your weight on your left pedal. You should be aiming to do the drill without putting your foot down or touching the white lines.
Key points: This drill uses the same counter-balance technique as ‘Ride the Line’ and ‘Ankle Grab’.
Progression / regression: Use car park spaces to map out a practice grid and reduce the size of the grid as you improve. Start big and gradually make each figure 8 smaller and smaller with every lap. Eventually you will be turning really sharply and making a very small figure 8 on the ground. It becomes increasingly difficult to maintain balance and/or speed once the Figure 8 becomes very small but with time and practice you will notice a big improvement in your balance and control.
5. Bottle pick-up
Goal: To take a water bottle and put it upright on the ground, then pick it up from the ground.
Technique: Place a water bottle on the ground and ride towards it with it on your left hand side. As you ride past the bottle, lean over to pick it up off the ground. Pedal on a few strokes, then lean over and put the bottle back down on the ground upright. Now turn around and ride back towards the bottle with it on your right hand side so you can reach down and pick it up with your right hand. Keep repeating the drill, each time changing hands and adjusting your speed as necessary.
Key points: ‘Bottle Pick-up’ is a progression of ‘Ankle Grab’ so make sure you can comfortably ride holding your ankle before starting this drill. As before, you need to lean your bike in the opposite direction to maintain your balance. Filling the bottle with water will help to keep it stable and prevent it getting blown over.
Progression / regression: Beginners can start with a tall bottle and progress to a shorter bottle. You could also start off by using a chair or upturned box to pick-up / put the bottle down on so you don’t need to lean down as far initially.