Just like any other motor skill, cycling skills only improve if you exercise regularly. However, repeating the same exercise often is boring. This applies not only to senior citizens that are working on their cycling skills, but also to top athletes who want to work on their technique.

Because there is a risk of quitting, it is important to keep up the motivation of a practicing cyclist. There are three ways in which a cycling instructor can do this:

  1. Explain the purpose of the exercise.
  2. Building up the exercise in such a way that the cyclist receives clear sensory feedback about the extent to which he does the exercise correctly.
  3. To let the cyclist experience a reward for a particular performance.

These three ways to motivate a cyclist are now discussed in more detail, and they are illustrated by means of an exercise on staying upright.  The precise details of this exercise are only important to make concrete what we mean by “Explanation, feedback and reward”. It is useful to first review the exercises on staying upright before reading on.


1. Explain the purpose of the exercise

The explanation of the purpose of an exercise must be given orally at the practice location, and it must be repeat if necessary. That is why the explanation must be brief, and it must consist of standard sentences. For the exercises on staying upright, this is a possible explanation:

We are now going to do an exercise in which you learn to keep your balance by feeling your handlebars. This skill is very useful because our balance (vestibular) organ becomes worse as we grow older. That is why an alternative way of maintaining our balance (by feeling) comes in handy.


2. Sensory feedback

Sensory feedback means that the cyclist experiences to what extent he performs an exercise correctly. Sensory feedback differs from verbal feedback: sensory feedback is experienced through the senses, and verbal feedback is given by someone else (i.e., a cycling instructor) who observes how a cyclist performs an exercise. The big advantage of sensory as compared to verbal feedback is that the cyclist does not need anyone else to determine how well he performs an exercise. Of course, a cycling insructor can make an important contribution by explaining how best to experience this sensory feedback and what one can learn from it.

For the exercises on staying upright, the most important sensory feedback is proprioceptive: if the cyclist no longer feels pressure from the handlebars, the bicycle is in balance. By using the soft handles, this proprioceptive feedback is dosed; because of the soft material, also small differences in pressure can be observed. This dosed proprioceptive feedback is better to use than the all-or-not feedback of the hard handles.

To experience useful proprioceptive feedback, there is a need for a variation between much and little pressure on the soft handles. This can be realized, for example, in an exercise in which the cyclist rides from place A to place B in a straight line and stops there. On this straight path are five pylons, one blue, two yellow and two red, and in this order: blue, yellow-1, red-1, red-2 and yellow-2. The instruction for this exercise is as follows:

  1. From standstill at the blue pawn and with squeezed soft handles, speed up.
  2. At pylon yellow-1, the soft handles must no longer be squeezed, and your hands must lie on top of them.
  3. Between red-1 and red-2, ride with your hands a few centimeters above the soft handles.
  4. At the second yellow pylon, start braking and come to a halt.
Making speed, cycling without hands, and stopping

3. Experience a reward

People experience a reward when delivering a certain performance. The experience of a reward requires that this performance can be quantified, because only then is it clear whether a particular performance has been delivered or not. For the previously described exercise, the performance can be quantified as the distance between pylons. Specifically,
  1. One is better in making speed as the distance between the blue and the first yellow pylon decreases.
  2. One is better in maintaining balance (staying upright) as the distance between the two red pylons increases.
To make it possible to experience a reward, these distances have to be adjusted in the course of an exercise. The extent to which the distances are adjusted and the time at which this happens is determined individually: if a cyclist almost always achieves certain distances, then it is time to increase the difficulty level. The assessment of the required individual difficulty level is done by the cycling instructor.