Who’s got the zapper..?

14 October 2013

How often have you been watching your child race and wished they would change gear? One lap they are spinning along, legs a blur, going nowhere fast, the next they are stalled on the little climb in the biggest gear they’ve got. I was helping at a Go-Ride Racing cyclo-cross event one day and fellow coach Lindsey Foulkes said “I wish we could have remote control for gears. We could then just zap them into the right gear.” I laughed and said it was a great idea, if only it was possible. Hold on, I thought, it probably is.

I’ve often chatted away on clubruns about how it must be possible now to create automatic gear change for bikes based on measuring cadence. Fit a cadence sensor, programme in your optimum cadence and allow the electronic shift to change whenever you drop below or above the range specified. Surely it wouldn’t be a major step to create a little control unit that a bystander could use to change the gear of their rider at the appropriate time? Instead of the shift button being based on the integrated brake lever it could be incorporated into a little remote control box. Now where is that number for Shimano’s research lab?

That could bring a whole new dimension for Team Managers and Coaches. Instead of having to shout “change gear” to persuade your riders to change down you could get involved in the action and use your expert judgement to select the right gear for your little dynamos. That should banish the “use your thumb” shouts from parents on the sidelines at races.

On a more serious note, learning when to change gear is a crucial skill for young people to grasp and one of the most difficult to master. You need to allow your child time to make mistakes and practice away from races. Shouting instructions from the side at races will often confuse them or induce panic. It’s better to just go over the course afterwards discussing where they could have improved selection. Some children will take longer than others to get to grips with it. Have patience, and here are a few ideas to help them learn:-

  1. If they have front and rear gears then get them to only change gears at the back to start with. Perhaps even restrict the gears so they cannot change the front gears anyway.
  2. Use terms like “easiest to pedal” and “hardest to pedal” rather than gear number or “change up” or “change down”.
  3. Green Arrow RT coach Sophie Bruton suggests rolling out different gears on the ground to show riders the difference in how far the bike travels with one complete turn of the pedals.
  4. Set up a mini course on a gently rolling area. Put out a marker of one colour/shape for when you want them to change up a gear and a different colour/shape for changing down.
  5. Time them from a standing start over 50m. Get them to try from gears 1 to the biggest and see which one was quickest. Get them to explain which felt quickest and why.

But, if all of the above fails, then the next step is to ask “who’s got the zapper/thingy/doodah/changer..?”

Mark Wyer has worked in Cycle Coaching and Development for over 15 years. He currently works for British Cycling as a Go-Ride Coach in the Eastern Region and is a Level 3 Road and Time Trial Coach as well as holding various Level 2 awards. He is also a Regional Cyclo-Cross Commissaire, judges at races and regularly organises cycling events.


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Who’s got the zapper..?

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