When you first get hooked on mountain biking, it is easy to become impatient with your progress as you strive to catch up with your fellow riders. Mountain biking is such a great sport because it has so much to offer at so many levels. As a beginner we find ourselves in a new world of awesome dirt while we learn about how fun and rewarding the sport can be. As we improve, we’ve found ourselves developing a new level of fitness and skill that allows us to ride faster and enjoy ourselves even more. The advanced riders among us find pleasure in mastering difficult techniques, riding highly technical terrain and being able to ride at high speeds thanks to a solid foundation of skill and fitness. In my experience that is shared with many others, the deeper you get into the sport of mountain biking and the more you develop as a rider, the more enjoyable it becomes. So if you’ve recently gotten into this great pastime I’ve got some tips that should help you get through that initial learning curve and have you riding faster and smoother in no time. I’ve also got a few pointers regarding care for your bike that will hopefully allow you to prevent learning things the hard way and reduce unnecessary financial costs.
The main issue riders have when getting started is handling the technical nature of the single track so I thought I’d better start with some mountain bike skills that will open up a whole lot of terrain for you.
A while ago I did a post that explains how playing around on your bike can be valuable in improving your off road skills. I love playing on my bike and still do it a lot. Messing around on your bike in a car park, you backyard or wherever will improve the way you balance, transfer weight and manuver the bike in obscure situations which really is the foundation of mountain bike skills. When playing on your bike try and work on a few of the things listed below:
- · The trackstand – balancing on your bike without moving. Improving your trackstand will directly improve the way you handle technical rock sections, narrow lines and technical climbs. The secret to a trackstand is to gently rock the bike backwards and forwards; you’re not actually completely still in a trackstand. Start out facing up a bit of a gradient and stand up on the pedals while gently applying and removing pressure on the front pedal. This will let you rock gently and help you keep your balance. As you improve, move to a flatter area and try to minimize the amount of backwards and forwards movement. When you think you’ve mastered that, take off one arm or leg.
- · The wheelie – I’m not saying you need to be able to pop a massive wheelie to be considered a good mountain biker, but the ability for you to lift your front wheel on top of or over obstacles will open up a lot of terrain for you. Practice throwing your weight backwards while making a strong pedal stroke to lift up the front wheel. Be careful that you don’t flip backwards – grass is a good place to practice. You also want to practice pulling your front wheel up without peddling which requires you to throw your weight backwards and pull up on the handlebars. Work on climbing up a curb or ledge by lifting your front wheel on top and letting your back wheel gently roll over. If you can get yourself to a point where you can start getting some distance with your wheelies that’s awesome. Try to use the rear brake to stop you from flipping backwards – this will be good for developing brake control.
- · Endoes – aka. Nose stands, front wheelies etc. This is a great exercise in brake control and improving your weight and balance on the bike. To pull an endo you need to slowly roll forward and apply the front brake to lift the front wheel. As you improve, you will be able to pull an endo at higher speeds and travel some distance on your front wheel.
- · Lifting the back wheel – this is useful for climbing or passing over obstacles like logs or big rocks smoothly. You can use lines on the ground to begin practicing this. Work on lifting your front wheel over a line and then lift your rear wheel over by preloading on the pedals and springing up/forward while rolling your handlebars forward and maintaining contact with the pedals. Many riders cheat by tapping the front brake to lift the wheel over and obstacle or relying on their clipless pedals to pull the bike up. The problem with the front break technique is that it is slower and you run the risk of face planting if you jam the break or if your wheel gets stuck on something. The problem with relying on pulling on clipless pedals is when your shoes unexpectedly snap out of the pedals you might find yourself leapfrogging the handlebars.