Bicycles, Scooters and Motorcycles-It’s in the Hands

The handlebar, that is.

This will be the first of several articles and videos that will address a question that came up on Coach Dan John’s forum. Vegpedlr (his forum name) asked about something that is unique to bicycles.

I’d never really given it any thought until he brought it up. I learn something new every day, lol.

So here’s the issue with riding a bicycle:

As a person pedals a bicycle, particularly if pedaling hard, the handlebar and frame begin to flop back and forth. Is there a technical term for that?

I don’t know, lol.

I’m not referring to what’s known as a “tank slapper” on a motorcycle.

If you’ve ever pedaled hard and fast on a bicycle, you understand what I’m talking about. Most of us have probably seen this happen as people pedal their bike down the road and suddenly start pedaling harder and faster.

As the person applies force and bodyweight to the pedals and handlebar, the bike begins to lean from one side to the other in response to the rider input.

In some cases the bicycle is really leaning back and forth quite a bit. 

Why do we want to minimize this?

And how do we build the requisite strength to control and minimize this from occurring?

It’s important for a bicyclist to minimize this affect, because allowing the bike to flip-flop back and forth wastes energy and this flip-flopping creates a longer line of travel.

Essentially, a cyclist needs to improve their upper body strength and the strength of their midsection. A coordinated interaction must occur between the upper body, the lower body and the bicycle in order to mitigate the “flip-flop” of the bike.

A weak midsection and a weak upper body will negatively affect the riders output. 

On a longer ride, or during a competition, not having enough reserve of upper body strength will allow this flip-flop to become more pronounced as the miles add up.

Vegpedlr brought up the salient point that merely riding the bicycle will not really improve cyclists strength and ability to minimize this occurrence on the bike.

It would seem that a certain amount of upper body semi-stiffness is needed to add to the bikes frame/handlebar stiffness and stability.

The upper body in a sense becomes an extension of the bicycle frame.

An added ability to stabilize the frame through the upper-body-handlebar-connection would allow the lower body to impart force more effectively compared to a loose, lax upper body.

If we are pedaling hard and have the strength to keep the handlebar from flopping around, we can “wedge” our body into the pedals more effectively and transmit more pedaling force to the wheels.

Of course, the amount of upper body stiffness would be predicated on numerous factors, such as whether a person is coasting, simply maintaining a pedal cadence or sprinting on the bicycle.

A weak upper body allows the bike to squirm around, so-to-speak, underneath the rider and this equates to a power-leakage when pedaling hard. 

Now this next part may seem unrelated, but it is a very important part of riding any two-wheeled form of transportation.

In taking an initial look at Vegpedlrs question, I thought it pertinent to the discussion to first look at how two-wheeled forms of transportation are steered.

This information applies to scooters and motorcycles even more, because they out-weigh a bicycle by sometimes many hundreds of pounds.

Many people that ride scooters and motorcycles believe that steering is all in the hips.

Often this is what they are told by ignorant riders, some of whom may have years of riding under their belt.

An interesting point was made at a Motorcycle Foundation Safety Course (MFS) that my wife and I took years ago:

Many people have six months to one year of riding experience and they merely repeat that same knowledge over many years. They never learn anything new.

They never practice basic skills nor learn new skills. They simply go out and ride.

So even though they’ve been riding for 40 plus years, their total experience really amounts to one year of riding.

Not too reassuring if you’re a passenger on their motorcycle, lol.

The truth is, above a particular speed, counter-steering is the MOST effective means of steering a scooter, motorcycle and in some cases, even a bicycle.

Body-English does come into play, especially on lighter bikes and two wheeled vehicles that are ridden fast on pavement or off-road in rough terrain.

Counter-steering is important when negotiating turns at speed and when swerving around objects in our path.

Those who do not understand this concept and fail to implement it will often run wide going around corners and are almost always the persons that run right off the road and have an accident because they “couldn’t take the corner”.

Properly counter-steering a bike, scooter or motorcycle can literally save a persons life.

Thus, in looking at Vegpedlers question concerning a unique aspect of bicycles, related to the fact that we pedal them to impart forward motion, I thought it was the perfect time to also address this issue of counter-steering.

For a more in-depth look at all of this, check out this video on my YouTube channel:

And in regards to merely repeating our one year experience in riding skills over and over for 40 years and never developing greater or newer skills, is that how we approach training in the gym or our backyard?

Next week we’ll delve deeper into specific exercises for the cyclist.


©Copyright 2018 Walter Dorey




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