Thursday, March 08, 2007

How To - Trackstands

I promised in an earlier post to put something up on doing trackstands.

First, don't try this yourself. I can't be liable if someone tries to do a trackstand and falls over in front of a speeding car or breaks their wrist. Capisce?

On to the theoretical how-to article...

A trackstand is simply when a rider, on the bike, stands still without putting a foot down on the ground. This skill gets its name from match sprints on the track. Since there was no advantage to being in front in a match sprint (the second rider is drafting and can jump when he wants), in the old days the leading racer would stop and try and force their opponent to get to the front. This led to some ridiculous races where racers just did trackstands for hours. Modern sprint rules force one rider (based on random drawings) to lead the first lap. This helps the race move along.

Trackstands are useful for a bunch of reasons:
1. Showing off (being honest here - I've even seen pros who can't do trackstands).
2. You can't unclip (say due to a pedal malfunction).
3. You'll stop only a short time and don't need to unclip (you were about to roll past some slow traffic when you realized there's broken glass all over the shoulder - so you need to wait a second to merge with the cars).
4. Skill building to enhance overall cycling skills.

This last reason is the true reason to learn trackstands. Although it's fun to show off a fluent trackstand, the way you do a track stand means you'll be able to learn and execute other maneuvers.

One cool thing about trackstands is you simply need a bike and your personal gear you wear. No carbon cranks, aero wheels, or the latest and greatest components will help you do a trackstand. And when you can do a trackstand and the rider next to you (who's laid out all that dough to buy that really cool stuff) can't, well now.

Trackstands are done by overcoming a natural (but incorrect) instinct on the bike. There are a couple of these instincts. I don't know how we learned them - perhaps from our first wobbly rides when we were kids. Regardless, in teaching many people how to do trackstands (and other skills), the instincts have always been there in the cyclists.

The first thing you have to learn when you rock climb is to trust the rope. To do so you have to do something which is completely against your instincts - let go of the wall. Once you feel comfortable doing this (this implies you trust your belayer and the gear), you open your horizons on the rockclimbing front.

In trackstands, you must overcome your instinct to "avoid going backwards". It is critical that you be able to roll backwards.

Remember - virtually any cyclist can do a trackstand! Send $19.99 to me to learn the 4 easy steps and I'll also send you instructions on how to pick up a bottle off the ground, bunny hop, and beat McEwen in a sprint!

Okay maybe not the last one.

To do a trackstand you need to be able to do three things:
1. Control the amount of force you exert on the pedal to a very fine degree.
2. Have enough leg strength to roll forward from a dead stop.
3. Roll backwards.

You know how there are those "How to draw" articles? They draw a rough oval, put some little edges here and there, and suddenly it's a face? Well track stands are sort of the same deal.

Get your bike, some normal shoes (to begin with), and put on clothes that you can fall on. This means thick long sleeve clothing. Get your helmet, gloves (really thick long finger ones), and also bring your cycling shoes.

If you get somewhat comfortable trying trackstands with sneakers, try it with the cycling shoes. They actually make it easier since you can (lightly!) pull up on the pedals.

How to do a trackstand:

Gradient (for beginning trackstanders and for those who are risk averse)
1. Find a very slight uphill, one that would allow your car to barely start rolling if you parked on it. The hill will be used to allow the bike to roll backwards a bit.

2. Pedal uphill on it slowly. Start in a low gear (try a 39x19). Roll up until your pedals are horizontal and let the bike slowly come to a halt (or almost halt). Horizontal pedal position is important because it gives you power to pedal the bike forward when you need to go.

Note: since I learned to do a trackstand with my front wheel pointing left, my left pedal is forward. For those of you aspiring to be track racers, you should learn with the front wheel pointing right and your right pedal forward. "Right-handed" trackstands are harder to do in the real world of roads whose crown goes uphill to the left (i.e. left hand drive cars). Aussies, Japanese, Indian, Brits, and a few other places I'm sure will be the exception to the rule.

Engage the chain/cassette
3. Without frantic pedaling, ease your forward pedal pedal down slightly so you engage the cassette in back (i.e. you feel some resistance and if you stomped the pedals, you'd go forward). This fixes your foot/pedal position in relation to the rear wheel. Basically you have reached your trackstand position.

Roll backwards, reset pedal
4. Allow the bike to stop. If you've pedaled too firmly for the gradient, use your brakes slightly to help the bike stop. Later you'll learn to judge your pedal "easing" so that you will rarely use your brakes. Lighten up the force on the pedals just enough to allow the bike to roll back. You should allow the bike to pull the pedals backwards too. This "resets" your pedals so you can pedal forward again. Without allowing the pedals to reset, you'll end up at the bottom of the pedal stroke and unable to roll forward.

Roll forward using pedals
5. As soon as you lose your nerve, stomp on the pedals to roll forward. Initially you'll roll back perhaps 5 millimeters. Later you'll find yourself rolling back 5 inches. The limit is really set by what gear you selected - if you roll back too far, your pedals will end up vertical and you won't be able to accelerate unless you "reset" them by pedaling backwards another 1/4 turn. In certain gears your chain may derail so I don't recommend doing this.

The theory being used here is the one that dictates how you balance on your bike. Your bike balances because it rolls and it is steered. It has nothing to do with wheel inertia, wheel size, wheelbase, etc. Once you lock up a bike's steering, it's unrideable. And it seems only circus performers can balance on a stationary bike with its wheels in a straight line.

Your "trackstand" is actually going to be very short forward rolls separated by very short backward rolls. Initially you'll use gravity to roll you backwards. Most roads have a crown so you can simply point the bike a bit up the crown as your hill.

Later you'll use inertia. You probably weigh about ten times the bike (15 times if you laid out dough for your bike or you're really fit). If, while on your bike, you jerk your body forwards an inch, your bike will roll backwards about 10 inches (or 15 - it's the ratio that counts). Use this action to roll the bike backwards. First you can do this on flat roads with no gradient. Later you can do this on downhills. In these cases you'll need to apply your brake when you finish jerking the bike back, especially when doing a trackstand on a downhill.

Although I keep both hands on the bars for the most part, it's not necessary. Skilled riders can even do no-handed trackstands. One-handed is nice if, say, you want to scratch your nose or wipe the sweat away that's slowly but surely trickling into your eyes while you're waiting for the forever red light to turn green.

If you have questions or problems let me know. And when it's a lot warmer than the 7 deg F it is right now, I'll make a short video on this, with my four basic steps clearly laid out.

Good luck!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

mate, thanks a lot! I was learning to do trackstands myself, and for me time varies at the moment. sometimes it's a few seconds sometimes it's minutes. This actually helped me.
I never read tutorials on this subject, so it might be hard to relearn how to do it.
But time will tell
Thank You