When you’re a kid, riding with your hands off the bars is something done for thrills, for style, and to impress chicks. As an older, wiser Velominatus, it can be a handy maneuvre to aid removing or donning extra clothing, taking a feed from your pockets, and to impress women (because that’s how adults refer to chicks). Get it right and it’s the most Pro of moves; get it wrong, and there’s little chance the nurse picking the gravel from your face will be impressed.
Surprisingly, many Cyclists are inadequately equipped in this fine, yet fairly basic and useful art. If memory serves correctly, it was one of the first things I learned to do on a bike, right after balancing and pedalling, and just before wobbling and face-planting. Anyone could ride along with one hand on the bars, waving at the girls or flipping the bird at the guys, but if you could sit bolt upright and give the ‘up yours’ sign then you were a true badass. Making sure you could haul your bad ass out of there before being dragged off the bike and beaten to a pulp helped develop sprinting skills which would come in handy later in your cycling odyssey.
Another, more practical use of riding no hands was to remove the long sleeved flannelette shirt (aka the ‘flanno‘) so fashionable in the day and deftly tie it around one’s waist, hopefully without getting it caught in the rear wheel and necessitating another trip to the casualty ward to be embarrassed in front of that same nurse yet again. Getting the six buttons undone and the sleeves tied together in a double knot in under ten seconds was the stuff of legend, and only Mick Johnson could do it that quickly, surprisingly so as his IQ was roughly the same number as the time it took him to complete the task (or write his name). How he never went on to bag a Pro contract still baffles me.
While we can see clearly from the photos that the modern Pro is just that, professional, and would never use their arms or hands for anything but the cultivation of a clean image for the sport, riding no hands can still be a useful skill for the rest of us. Having to stop the whole bunch so you can peel off your arm warmers, hat or vest is not only inconvenient, it’s asking for a mini-pump beating. To avoid such ignominy, here are a few basic tips to help with getting your gear off (or on).
- Make sure you can actually ride no hands. Seems obvious, but you need to practice away from the dangers of cars, pedestrians and other riders to hone your no-handed balance first, before moving on to clothing removal/addition.
- Preparation, anticipation. Pick the time and place where you will perform the procedure. Descents aren’t good. Ditto in the middle of the bunch, when a paceline is forming, or when doing a turn on the front at 45kmh. On a wide, flat piece of road, with the speed comfortable and good forward vision, drift to the back of the group and leave a safe gap of a bike length or two. Stay away from the gutter and traffic, watching for road obstacles or debris.
- Get the job done in a flash. Now you’re sure everything’s clear, whip those arm warmers off quickly; grab the top of the right (or left if you prefer) warmer and roll it down the arm and over your hand. Keep hold of it and grab the top of the other warmer and repeat. This should result in one warmer perfectly inside the other; now fold them twice, flat, and stuff in a jersey pocket (which you would have made clear to accommodate them).
- Don’t attempt too many items at once. Unless you’re totally badass and skilled, of course. Removing a cap from under the helmet can be a more difficult, and dangerous task. You want to get this one done real quick, but stuff it up and you may leave yourself without the most important piece of protection for the resulting crash; your helmet. First, unclip the buckle and remove your eyewear, with one hand still on the bars. Place eywear either in your helmet vents (Pro) or in your mouth (not so much, but easier). Now take the other hand off the bars, sit upright, lift the helmet off your head with one hand while whipping the cap off with the other. Replace the helmet immediately and stuff the cap in jersey pocket. Buckle helmet chin strap and replace eyewear in accordance with Rule #37.
- Vested interests. Like Johnno and his flanno, this can be a triumph or total disaster. You need to be aware of the vest or jacket at all times throughout the procedure. Again, sit upright, hold the bottom of the zipper with one hand and quickly unzip with the other. Now use both hands to peel the vest apart and around to the back of your hips. Gather both pieces into one hand, bring to the front of the body and fold three or four times until you have a fairly neat square to stuff into the jersey pocket. Count your teeth. All there? Still riding? You got it.