Like most activities, mountain biking has some basic skills requirements. Knowing how to ride a bike on the street is one thing but knowing how to ride a mountain bike on often difficult and challenging terrain is another thing altogether.
All riders, beginner or experienced need a basic skill set that even those of us who have been riding for years need to be reminded of and practice. Developing these skill sets leads to better safety, greater enjoyment, improved fitness and outstanding rides. You can read about it, watch some great videos but, there is no substitute for getting out there and doing it but before we do, let’s think about a few things that are often forgotten.
MTB is Physical
Once you get into the flow, it gives an outstanding full-body workout although it can be extremely hard and punishing. Tiring too and statistics show that many accidents occur due to fatigue.
I have two sets of weights on the floor by my desk and when thinking I do simple arm exercises or put my feet through the loops on the 4KG weights and lift and hold. Simple exercises that make a difference to my strength. Or, sit with a stress ball and squeeze, hold, relax. You don’t need any fancy equipment for this, just don’t exceed your limits.
In short, any activity that promotes your core strength is positive and pays dividends.
Physical Meets Mental
It can get a bit stressful out there on the trails and the physical isn’t always enough. We often must call on our mental skills to deal with situations as they unfold. It all starts with the belief that you can ride the trail and overcome it’s challenges. Once you learn to apply your skills and keep a level head, confidence grows, and you will enjoy a smoother and flowing ride.
Relaxing and breathing are crucial. If you’re too tense, you will crash more often or get tired quickly. Any tension you provide will transfer right through to your tires and traction and grip will be something you can’t find. Be in control of your breathing.
A simple exercise to help with this is to sit in a comfortable place with your eyes closed. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for five, breath out for five. Practice until it’s automatic and then increase the time by a few seconds and repeat. Keep repeating until you reach a time that is your limit and go back to an easier set. Keep practicing.
You won’t always be able to breath in a neat time set out on the trail but this system does help you stay in control of your breathing and as a result, your body gets plenty of oxygen and you will feel more relaxed.
Read The Trail – It tells a story
Look for the smooth line because that’s where you will find speed, traction and control. This is particularly important on hills. The photo to the right looks innocent enough but when I rode up it this morning, heavy mist and recent rain had left the trail extremely slick, especially the first ten meters. The photo doesn’t show it too well, but the hill also has a left / right slope (as you look at it) of about 10°. The hill is steeper than it looks and the only line in these conditions is to use the grass in the center otherwise I would have lost traction thanks to the sandy mud that would have provided extra diameter to my tires. The line I chose kept me moving.
During hot, dry weather, the sand turns to powder and provides an entirely diverse set of challenges. Learning how to read the trail is necessary for all riders.
OK, I’m not going to say when but, when I was about 10 years old, my mates and I used to ride a quiet road circuit of about 15KM over 3 laps. The rider who could apply the greatest amount of pedal power longer than everybody else, always won. This is not the case on mountain bike trails.
Loose, soft, muddy, sandy surfaces demand different gears and varied pedal strokes to maintain traction and control. The goal is to maintain a smooth pedal stroke on every surface and the only way to really get this is to practice until you feel the bike nicely connected and moving forward.
Sat on the saddle and pedaling all day is not the way of mountain bike trails. Sudden sharp climbs will appear, and you will need weight forward to keep traction on the front wheel until you realize you need to shift some weight back because you’re losing traction at the rear. Challenging and energy sapping.
Going downhill, you will need some weight over the rear wheel, a lot if it’s very steep and, this will save you from an “endo” and potential injury. Once uphill or down levels out, you need to get the weight back to the bikes center of gravity.
Cornering too demands a whole other set of position and skills and I have talked about these in recent posts. Once you’re done here, scroll to the bottom of the home page and click the “Categories” link and select “Skills”.
Getting the right pressure for the trail you intend to ride is a skill. Lower tire pressure returns better traction but too low and you risk damaging tires or rims. Too much pressure and you will experience less grip.
Correct use of the brakes brings control and the front brake is your new best friend. Again, go to categories on the Homepage for a post about braking.
These are some of the basics to get you started or to remind more experienced riders of the skills that matter. I will be covering more of these in another post very soon.
There’s no shortage of places to practice
Check out this video and hone your skills in a familiar environment.
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