I recently took part in a multi-day bicycle tour in the South of Thailand. Road damage (i.e. potholes, potholes, and potholes) from recent heavy rains in the area kept me alert and tested my reaction skills as I was the only one in the small group doing the trip on a thin tire road bike, making me the only rider who was overly concerned about pinch flats and bent rims putting an end to an otherwise beautiful and scenic tour.
Navigating the uneven road surface, dodging fallen storm debris, and more or less remaining tucked safely along the shoulder of the lane to keep from becoming a hood ornament had me pulling from my full repertoire of bicycle handling skills. All of these hazards were compounded by the fact that I was cycling in a group and was not always afforded a clear view of the road and its potential trouble spots. Being able to position myself properly in anticipation of road hazards, make quick decisions, and finally to control the bike to put it where it needed to be allowed me to have a safe, fun, and damage (to myself and my bike) free tour.
Practicing these easy to perform bike-handling skills will make you more confident when the road conditions become less than ideal or the next time you’re faced with a “Where did that pothole/tree limb/curb/small dog/asphalt crack come from?” moment.
Assume the position. The “ready” for anything position. Weight evenly distributed on your leveled pedals while your bottom hovers over your saddle. For added control you can shift your body slightly to the rear of your bicycle and grip the nose of your saddle between your thighs. Your head is up and your eyes are looking forward.
Your body, and more specifically your arms and legs are shock absorbers. If you are going to roll through a particularly rough section of road you should allow the bicycle to “float” underneath you, absorbing the movements of the bike with your elbows and knees. This will help to avoid a pinch flat or bent rim if you strike a small pothole or other obstacle.
Larger obstacles on the road may require you to lift your front wheel over them to avoid an unplanned dismount (a crash!). Bend your knees and push down on your handlebar as you approach the obstacle, then quickly pull up and back on your handlebar, shift your weight to the rear of the bike and extend your legs. Once your front wheel is over the obstacle your rear wheel will follow. Absorb the impact to the rear wheel by flexing your knees, shifting your weight forward and keeping your bottom off of the saddle.
Sometimes clearing a deep pothole or a fallen tree branch is as easy as cycling around the hazard. But if you’re faced with these types of hazards in a situation that prevents you from getting around them, then going over them may be your only option. Use your legs like big springs. Crouch on your bicycle and compress your legs in anticipation of the jump. Push down on your handlebar, and immediately pull up and back on them. Then unleash your compressed “spring” legs by extending them fully and shifting your weight up. Practice jumping your bicycle over safe obstacles (i.e. painted lines, shadows, road reflectors) with your hands in several different handlebar positions in order to perfect the technique.