Essential Mountain Bike Skills


If you can ride a bike you can ride a Mountain Bike but whatever the discipline you choose to ride, there are some skills all MTB riders need. Getting them right takes practice and it’s entirely worth the effort. Better Rides, Improved Fitness and Endurance and Fewer Crashes . . . well, maybe a few.


Fitness matters and is worthy of serious consideration whether you are new to the Mountain Bike Scene or not. Just Riding will improve your fitness but like any other physical activity, you can always take steps to improve.

If you’re looking to improve your fitness, this great reference by Lee McCormack is going to help. It’s very well written and to the point. Offering plenty of training schedules for many MTB disciplines, it’s easy to follow and will bring results if you stick with the program.

I published a post recently about Mountain Bike Fitness so if you don’t have the time or funds for a new book right now, you can explore some of the fitness benefits here.

Pedal Power

Gear Selection

When you’re riding your mountain bike you can click through to a big gear to get going faster but that’s not the best or most efficient way to ride most of the time. It may cause you to stop & start often and that’s never going to be helpful to ride quality or your health.

Sticking with a fairly easy gear will enable you to deal with the typical hazards of the terrain. On the other hand, if the gear you select forces you to pedal like crazy and go nowhere quickly, you will be using too much energy and chances are your traction and control won’t be that great either. You may even pick-up some unnecessary muscle injuries too. So, always aim for some tension when you push down on the pedals. This enables you to keep good momentum and is less energy sapping on your legs.

Smooth Rotations

Where is the power in your pedal stroke? If you’re new to MTB, you might be stomping on the down stroke and letting each foot drift back to twelve o’ clock. Instead, imagine each pedal stroke as a full circle and practice pushing and pulling the pedal round the outside of the circle.

Find a long clear trail or quiet road and focus on pedaling in circles for two minutes at a time to start and build it up to 10 minutes. After some practice, you will notice the difference in your pedaling power.

Clipless Pedals Make A Difference

I’m not going into the pros and cons of clipless pedals here but there are a couple of worthy points to think about.

  • Clipless increase torque (pedal power) by around 30%Clipless Pedal
  • They make it easier to apply power throughout every degree of pedal rotation

Knees Up

Focus on lifting your knees faster and higher with every pedal stroke. This will lead to greater efficiency on the ‘up’ of the pedal stroke and you will pick-up speed from an all-round pedal stroke not just on the down phase. Find your practice space and do it for two minutes aiming to build up to 10 minutes.

Up the RPM

On a plus one-hour ride, practice 20-minute blocks of pedal speed. Time yourself in single minutes to start with and count how many crank revolutions you manage. Aim for 100 per minute on flat ground and stay on the saddle. You may find yourself slightly out of control in the pedal stroke to begin but after doing this a few times you’ll feel in control and speed will increase. It’s a great cardio workout too.

Moving On

Watch out for posts coming very soon relating to the following core skills. Once developed, these will improve not only your abilities but your riding enjoyment too.

If you bookmark this page and check back, links to the headers will be added soon, taking you to those specific sections.

The Attack Position

This out of the saddle riding position is where it all starts.Attack Position A correct attack position enables greater control of the bike and is also the basis of all techniques. Click on the header to this paragraph to explore The Attack Position.


Learning basic braking techniques and how to use them efficiently in a variety of different situations leads to improved safety and faster riding.


Approaching fast and slow corners with confidence and control has an awesome feel-good factor.


Techniques and skills to climb the steepest of trails are essential unless you like to walk.


Staying in control when the trail points down is a great confidence booster.


Improving your balance at low speeds gives you time to think about what’s coming without having to stop.

Rough Terrain

Use your body’s natural suspension to glide over rough sections of trail.

Pressure Control

Learn how to unweight the bike over rougher sections.

Roll Downs

Safely ride down a single step or sudden drop in the trail.

Plenty of Great Books

If you like to read, I highly recommend the following books no matter what level you’re at today.

Please know that if you buy any of these I may receive a small commission although this in no way affects the price you pay and it does help me to keep building this site and improve resources.

Comments and Questions

Engaging with readers matters very much and your comments, questions or experience shares will always receive a prompt response.

Just Ride Hard, Ride Fair, Nobody Hurt

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