Sunday, October 13, 2013

Conquering those Hillz & Skillz

Today a friend of my put on a Hillz & Skillz class in Portola Valley. I'm all for learning new skills and practicing old ones (especially when it doesn't cost me anything, other than the gas to get there).

Since I was heading down later in the morning than I usually do for my weekend rides I made sure to leave about half an hour early. Well, I guess I didn't really hit any traffic because I got to the meet-up point half an hour early. We were meeting at Roberts Market in Portola Valley, and when I got there I noticed a bunch of signs warning on no parking for anyone other than customers or employees. Well, I didn't want any trouble so I decided that I was going to park my car at the Arastradero Preserve parking lot if I could find a space and then just bike over to the meet-up point. The Preserve is only about 2.5 to 3 miles away, so it was a good warm up ride.

The class started with a general overview of what the plan was for the day. We talked about how often, new cyclist tend to be very scared of hills and after seeing the upcoming route's elevation chart back out of the ride. I used to get nervous about hills after seeing the elevation charts and then I realized I was being dumb and just stopped looking at them. Most of the time the chart makes the hills look worse than they are. We also went over the ways we mentally get through long tough hills. There are so many times that I've almost talked myself out of doing a hill when I know a round-about or decided to get off and "cross train" AKA walk my bike when I still have the power in me to actually bike up the hill. I've begun realizing just how much of a mental game it is. When I get to that point I start to remind myself that if I get off my bike its just going to take me longer to complete my ride. This tends to work, because by the time I'm usually too tired to complete a hill its towards the end of my ride anyway and I have gotten to that point were I'm just ready to be done.

Next we headed to a nearby school and took over the parking lot. We went over some basic riding skills including balance, positioning, and handling. Utilizing the cones that happened to be there already, we set up a little obstacle course to practice counter steering. It was actually pretty fun to weave in and out of the cones. I was happy with how well I did.

One of the skills we also practiced was 'bumping'. I am not a fan of this but, it ended up going pretty well. For this skill practice, we partner up and then ride close enough to each other to bump elbows. This is to help you keep your composure when you are riding and someone comes up very close to you unexpectedly. This doesn't happen often when you are riding (unless you are racing, I believe). 

With about an hour or so left we headed out to practice climbing and descending. Nothing is more fun than going up and down the same hill, over and over and over. I hope you sense the sarcasm. It really wasn't that bad. Going up hill seated and then changing to standing isn't too hard, until you find out that you are supposed to push your bike forward when you stand up. That felt odd, but that was the skill that we were learning. I also found out that I need to ride more like a duck! I know that seems odd, but the idea behind that is that your upper body should remain calm while your lower body does all the work. I tend to bob in my upper body when I get tired and try to push myself up the hill. I learned today that actually uses more of your energy. So no more bobbing... more ducking. Wait, that sounds wrong, but it's right. 

When it comes to descending, I usually fear going fast. However, today I actually think I hit a new max speed. Looking at my bike computer I hit a max speed of 37 mph. I think that practicing handling and getting more comfortable in the drops is really helping me to gain some confidence in descents. Also knowing how to perform an emergency stop properly helps because you know that if need be, you can lean on that skill to help you stop.

All in all I think that today's class was a great success. It was the first time my friend has done this and I think that he did an amazing job. I learned some new things and got in some good practice. I ended up doing only 14 miles of riding this week, but that is fine by me.

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