Don’t Make These 15 Common Bicycling Mistakes
By Coach John Hughes
Recently I was in Boulder, Colo. for several days and rode each day. The Boulder area is home to literally thousands of riders ranging from pro road, mountain and triathlon racers to pleasure riders out for 15 or 25 miles. Except for the pros, many of the riders exhibited one or more mistakes:
1. Chin strap too loose was the most common. This one always scares me. I saw a rider crash and his helmet was knocked back but not off. That evening his grieving family took him off life support because of the severity of the head injury. Your helmet strap should be tight enough that when you open your mouth to chew you feel the pressure of the strap.
2. Saddle too high was also common. If your saddle is too high then your hips will rock up and down, which may create a saddle sore. As you rock your weight distribution shifts from one sitz bone to the other, which increases the pressure on each sitz bone. The increased pressures may cause a pressure sore, similar to a bed sore. The rocking also creates friction on each side of the groin as it slides up and down. To tell if your saddle is too high, ride without a jersey with someone observing you from behind. If the top of your shorts line is moving up and down, then your saddle is too high.
3. Shorter leg. If just one hip is dipping, then that leg is shorter and the hip dips as the foot reaches the bottom of the stroke. This may cause a friction sore on the side of the groin with the shorter leg. The fix is to put a shim between the cleat and the shoe equal to one-half the amount your leg is shorter. If it’s 1 cm (10 mm) shorter, then you’d shim it 5 mm.
4. Too stretched out. If your handlebars are too far from the saddle or too low, you’ll be stretched out on the bike, which often causes neck and shoulder fatigue/pain. If you’re more comfortable riding with your hands on the top of the handlebar near the stem or on the curve just outside the top, then your bars are too far away and you need a different stem. The most comfortable position should be with your hands on top of the brake hoods.
5. Knees kissing the top tube. These are less common and results from anatomical issues. The knee doesn’t track straight up and down over the foot, which may cause knee issues. If the rider’s knee kisses the top tube, then the rider may have a weak gluteusmedius, which is the prime mover of abduction at hip joint. This keeps the thigh at the proper alignment to keep the knee over the pedal. This video demonstrates the clam exercise to strengthen your glutes. Clam Exercise
Alternatively, the fix is a wedge-shaped shim placed between the cleat and the shoe with the thicker part of the shim toward the crank side of the shoe.
6. Knee bobbing out. If the rider’s knee bobs out and back in with each stroke it may be because his seat is too low. Or anatomically his knee may track outside of rather than over the pedal. The fix is to move the pedal(s) outward, which increases the Q factor (the distance from the outside of one crank to the outside of the other crank). Take off your pedal, put a thin washer around the pedal axle and screw it back into the crank.
7. Hunched back was another common mistake. If your back is hunched rather than flat you have to flex your neck more to see down the road, which creates neck fatigue.
8. High shoulders are a similar problem. When your shoulders are up rather than in the normal alignment with your neck, this also increases the stress on your neck.
9. Straight arms help contribute to problems with your hands and potentially your upper body. With straight elbows all of your upper body weight is on your hands unless you have a strong core to support your upper body. In addition to the strong core riding with your elbows flexed will help absorb road shock.
10. Rocking upper body. How does this help you move down the road? It doesn’t; you’re just burning energy that could fuel your legs.
11. High cadence but not smooth. Many of the pros spin at a higher cadence and this is the best way to ride, correct? Maybe. The pros spin with a smooth round stroke. A rider with a choppy cadence is wasting energy. In the following column, scroll down to the section on technique for drills to improve your pedal stroke:
12. Too big a gear is the opposite problem, someone grinding away climbing a short (or even long) climb instead of down shifting. This could be a rookie mistake. Or not progressively down shifting as your speed slows. If your cadence is around 60 or 70 rpms you should shift to the next largest gear(s). This column goes into detail:
13. Signaling a right turn. Good cyclists know to signal turns and when turning right many use the standard motorcycle and car signal of left arm raised, elbow bent, forearm pointing up. This isn’t as visible as simply pointing your right arm straight out to the right.
14. Cutting across traffic to turn. I couldn’t believe it. I was riding on a highway with traffic going 60 mph. To make a left turn from the shoulder, I watched a guy wait until he was even with the street he wanted to turn into. Then he cut from the right shoulder across the traffic lane, across the left turn lane and across the oncoming traffic lane. He would have been much safer to signal the left turn well in advance, move the left turn lane when safe and then complete the turn when it was safe.
15. Riding against traffic may seem safer. However, as you approach an intersection the driver in the intersecting street will look left for oncoming traffic and may not see you.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio. This article comes from Road Bike Rider