I dream. I dream of the day when the MFCC train rolls up to a red light and perch in unison at top their bikes in an almost wobble free track-stand, the light flicker to amber and the peleton disappears into the distance whilst onlookers marvel at the elegant synchronicity and proficiency. Weird dream I know.
Track-stands as the name suggest originate on the track, the velodrome. Competitors would track-stand against each other each trying to catch a surprise advantage, either a shock getaway or a perfect slipstream. To me though track-stands are part of the advanced commuter skillset. You’ve cheeked your way forward amongst queuing traffic and you want a quick getaway to help you fold seamlessly back into the traffic flow.
In the velodrome the bikes have fixed wheel – so if you pedal backwards the bike goes backwards, there’s no ‘free-wheel’ option. Any fool knows that in order to balance you need to be able to wobble. The fixed wheel bikes make it much easier to ‘rock’ the back and forth, to ‘wobble’, to maintain balance. You might also notice that the rider invariably has the steering cocked to one side, meaning that as the bike rocks back and forth it also rocks a little left-right too. Hey-presto the 2-dimensional wobble we need for balance!
So what about a road bike with free-wheel gears?
The big challenge with free-wheel is going backwards. Pedalling backwards does nothing and sees you on the ground faster than the MFCC can burst into laughter. So here’s the trick: make sure your front wheel is pointed slightly up hill, that way when you ‘pedal backwards’ the bike rolls backwards. With practice the camber on the road can be used as the ‘up hill’.
Enough theory, let’s get practicing?
First, practice in trainers. You don’t want to be clipped in when your first wobble turns towards a fall.
Second, find a quiet piece of tarmac with a slight rise.
When you track stand on the bike you want to be stood on the pedals with your hands on the outside top of your handlebars. The pedals should be horizontal. You turn the steering to the right, around about 30 degrees and you lean the bike ever so slightly so that the cross bar rests against your right leg. Eh, what, how? I just described the static position, to get into it get on your bike and ride steadily towards your test tarmac, stand on the pedals and maybe use a little brake to come to a stop. You’ve got the right pose, you’ve come to a stop, now all you’ve got to do is balance.
It’ll take a few goes but you’ll soon see that a slight pressure on the front pedal pushes you forward and moving the pressure to your back pedal (the left one) rolls you backwards. Gentle is the word. The bent steering and crossbar will help you keep control. Very soon you’ll have conquered your first seconds of stationary, and from there on it is it just practice.
If you’re finding it difficult to control because its too jerky or you’ve got too much movement, then chances are you’re in the wrong gear. I suggest using your ‘start line’ gear. Experiment to find what works best for you.
And remember, you can’t balance without a bit of wobble.