Coach’s corner: Balance on the bike

Standing still seems to be the single most important skill to learn when you embark on your journey with trials. It takes some time to really get it under control, normally a few years. After that point, keeping feet on pedals starts to be intuitive, and almost unconsciously you can do correction moves to stay on the bike. So is it necessary to work on standing still separately in your training? Or you can just train it while you practice all the other things on the bike?

Can you progress in standing still?
Yes you can. To check that, you can try to stand still, keep the brakes squeezed and straighten the front wheel. This exercise alone is not easy to hold for any longer period of time. If we add a rule that you can’t take your feet off the pedals, then it starts to be really hard. This simple exercise shows that technical skills like standing still, precision moves, rear wheel balance and accuracy are often harder than any pure jump up to 85% of your max.

By investing your training time into balance, you’ll improve not only the balance, but also everything else.

Balance is a skill that depends on a few systems of the body: The vestibular system, the vision, proprioceptors and muscles. Core stability is emphasized because of its big contribution to achieving a stable body position. Generally in sports, balance can be divided into static (body is motionless) and dynamic (body is in motion). It’s a fully trainable skill, and what is more important, it’s crucial for all the movements. 

Best thing is that by investing your training time into balance, you’ll improve not only the balance, but also everything else.

Studies in other sports have been made, showing that better balance provides for more fluidity in the movement, and more fluent movement gives economy and better power execution. Basically you don’t waste energy while keeping your body in good position, so you can use more of it in targeted movements. I would say that these two are what everyone wants in trials, right? 

Making the technical part of the section a lottery, puts you far from success.

If we analyze it in the battle field, then it’s easy to see that top level riders move more fluently. But when riders are on a similar level of power, often times balance and precision are decisive, because lack of them may cause either easy, naive mistakes, or waste of time and energy. From my perspective as a coach, there is a huge room for improvement in this area. Some of you will probably say that it is boring to train the balance that much, and I would say that this skill is definitely very different from jumping. But it doesn’t mean that it has to be boring. From my perspective there is much more to it: It’s difficult, annoying and that’s the real problem. Here the big picture comes to help – mastering the balance will make all your riding better, doesn’t matter the level you’re at  – isn’t that motivating?

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Photo: Caleb Bjergfelt / Rider: Thomas Pechhacker

You’ll need these balance skills on everything: Balance beams, edgy sharp rocks, logs, small obstacles, when you’re on the rear wheel, when it’s slippery and most importantly – when gates in the sections are narrow.

Here we also have the mental aspect that determines how good we are in that particular skill. First, making the technical part of the section a lottery, puts you far from success.

If you practice enough you will have a vision of what to do, imagination of feeling being there, in the moment, and confidence, because you have already experienced how to control the body in terms of balance. So if a balance beam causes stress, that is a useful piece of information on what you should put more attention to in your training. 

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Photo: Caleb Bjergfelt / Rider: Thomas Pechhacker

Practical tips for balance

  1. Jerky movements are undesirable – quick and sharp change of position will most likely cause imbalance. Too much tension will be counterproductive as well, especially squeezing the handlebar like a barbell in the gym . Try to be smooth, relaxed in hands and feet, and fluid on the bike. Bruce Lee used to say “ Be water my friend”.
  2. Try to experience how lowering the center of mass of your body (lowering position on the bike – a few centimetres) affects your balance. Balance should be easier to control when being lower. 
  3. Body/core tension is crucial. Core is usually the weakest point of the body, and works as a connector, so when it’s not working properly, the stability level is poor. It’s directly connected to point 1, because if you are too relaxed/loose then it is very easy to lose control with jerky moves. Also it’s working together with point 2, that when you lower your center of body mass you’ll get more tension in the muscles -> more control -> more fluent. 
  4. Forward leg and the opposite hand are more important to keeping balance than the two remaining limbs. Please don’t misunderstand  – they are MORE important, not the MOST important. This is the main connection between upper and lower body in the position on a trials bike, which gives stability. I suggest to put more attention to it, together with body and core tension it might give great results.
  5. Prediction of movements – easy to imagine, hard to master. The thing is that if you predict what is going to happen with your body then you can react much earlier to avoid losing balance, especially using tip from point 4.

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Photo: Nikola Radovani / Rider: Oliver Widmann

Exercises tips

  1. Practice balance some more! Especially when you’re having a low energy day, so instead of hundreds of useless jumps, just go for balance and precision and try to feel it.
  2. Never go too fast through balance beams – it’s a waste of time during training, and it’s like putting yourself into a lottery machine.
  3. Use your imagination to put yourself into difficult, crazy positions. This way you will explore way more. It doesn’t have to be too serious – take it as pure fun. 
  4. Don’t base only on your ideas, use your training partner to set the lines, you can also play the B.I.K.E Game only with technical/balance sections.

Featured image by Leo Zhukov / Rider: Thomas Pechhacker

Karol Serwin is the expert when it comes to professional trials specific training. Over his long and successfull sports career he gained more than 25 years of experience as an athlete himself. A walking lifetime study so to say, and now head coach at The Life Cycle.

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