Mountain Bike Skills to Make Mountain Biking Fun and Save
Mountain biking can be exhilarating and scary at the same time especially for someone just getting into the sport. Mountain biking requires a distinct set of skills different from road bicycling. Yes, you need a road bike rider’s skills such as a good sense of balance, good cadence, strength, endurance and control of your bike, but you have to ride you bike on trails that go up and down abruptly and is littered with obstacles such as roots, rocks, logs, sand patches, mud and bumps.
Riding a bike on rough trails is not an easy thing to do when you are new at it. However, with some practice anyone can learn the basic skills to make the sport of mountain biking more enjoyable and safe.
You should practice and master the basic skills before you hit the trails or the dirt. Ideally, you should practice these skills on a hilly, grassy area where you won’t hurt too much if you happen to fall off the mountain bike. Moreover, be sure your mountain is working properly.
If you want to learn from the pros, look into mountain bike skill clinics offered by local bike shops, bike clubs, tour companies and MTB centers.
In no particular order, here are some of the basic mountain bike skills you will need to tackle most situations you will come across on trails:
Breaking: Learn to use both the front and rear brakes together when braking. The left brake lever is for the front brake; the right brake lever is for the rear brake. The front brake has more stopping power than the rear brakes. Regardless of whether you have V brakes or disc brakes on your mountain bike, try not to use the front brake by itself for abrupt stops, especially while going downhill. You risk flipping, or end-over, the bike and you over the handle bar. Try not to use the back brake by itself for abrupt stops or you risk skidding the bike and loosing control. Never abruptly squeeze the brake levers all the way; instead gently apply pressure to the levers to stop the bike.
When you are braking while going down a steep hill, use both front and back brakes and lean back of your saddle to prevent an end-over, also known as a front brake endo. Stay in control of your mountain bike during a turn. As you approach a turn, brake and slow down before you go into the turn, then release the brakes during the turn. Learn to use your back brake and lean inside of a turn to skid the bike for faster cornering.
Shifting gears: A basic rule of thumb to proper shifting is to shift before you have to. That means that when you are approaching a hill, shift before you get to the hill, not when you are starting to climb the hill. In this way you can us the momentum of the bike’s forward movement to give you that little boost to start up the hill.
Shifting to a lower gear (big gear in rear, small ring in front) makes it easier to pedal your mountain bike up the hill.
If you shift too late you will lose the momentum and you may need to use even more strength to keep moving forward and upward. On the other hand, don’t shift too early or you will lose the momentum, waste energy spinning the crank, and because you are pumping your legs up and down really fast without enough push down from the crank, you may lose control of the bike and crash.
Knowing the right time to shift gears takes practice. Practice shifting the gears on your bike and get a feel for different gear combinations for different situations.
Balance and pedal out of the saddle: Learn to control and balance your mountain bike by shifting your weight while riding. Basically, you want to shift your weight forward on the saddle when attacking a steep climb and shift your weight back on the saddle speeding down a steep descent; you want to be off the saddle when you are going over or around obstacles. Learn to let your legs absorb most of the road shock and lessen fatigue to your arms or body.
Practice coasting and pedaling while standing on your pedals and out of your saddle; keep your arms bent and don’t lock your elbows or your knees; grip the handlebar securely but loosely; keep your thumb under the handlebar so that you don’t loose your grip in case you hit a bump on the trail. Getting out of your saddle when climbing a hill will give you a bit more power that may just get you over the top.
Adjust your seat: Play around with the height of your saddle to find the most comfortable position for your style of riding. In general, the seat height is correct when you are in the saddle with one leg fully extended on the down stroke and your knees are slight bent. Lower the seat for steep claims to give you more room to be able to shift forward on the saddle and also to give you more crotch clearance in case you have to get off the seat in a hurry. Move the seat back or forth so that when you are on the saddle and your hands are on the handlebar, your elbows are slightly bent.
Look and think ahead: Learn to read the trail ahead of you, especially while going fast down a hill. Be alert to rocks, sand patches or ruts that may be on the trail in front of you.
When your first start out mountain biking, you may find yourself automatically fixating all your attention to the terrain just in front of you. Keep yourself save and train yourself to look far ahead on the trail and plan your moves accordingly. Learn to see “the big picture” in your mind and don’t focus on any one point on the trail. Don’t focus on your front wheel or the rear wheel of the rider in front of you. As your ability to read a trail ahead of you improves, you will find that you will be less hesitate in your moves and less fearful or obstacles on the trail. You will roll over these obstacles a lot faster without a second thought, and you’ll have less falls and crashes.
Dealing with obstacles: Your mountain bike will handle most obstacles without too much help from you. However, before getting on a trail for the first time, get a feel of how your mountain bike responds to various obstacles so that you know what to expect. Practice rolling over small obstacles and work your way to larger objects; jump off curbs while out of your saddle.
In mountain biking, there is no shame in walking you bike, even if you are an experienced rider. The shame is attempting a course or move that is beyond your skill or experience and getting hurt or killed. If you don’t feel 100% comfortable with a hill or obstacle, get off the bike and walk the bike down the hill or over and around the obstacle.
Choose your speed: Just as in dealing with obstacles, you need to go as fast as you feel comfortable going. If you are not comfortable with going at a certain speed down a hill, slow down until you feel that you are in control. It is that simple. How fast you can go or want to go depends on your bike handling skill and experience. If you go faster than the trail conditions allows or beyond your skill level, you not only endanger you own safety and well being, but you are also risking injuring other mountain bikers or other people that share the trail.
Dealing with crashes: If you intend to ride your mountain bike, accept the fact you’re your will fall or crash at some point. The crash may not be your fault but its one of those things that is to be expected with mountain biking. However, you can learn a few techniques to deal with crashes when they happen.
The idea of dealing with crashes is to learn how to fall in such as way that you hit the ground with the least amount of force. When you are about to crash, you will instinctively sense it coming. However, the last thing you want to do is to brake so suddenly that you fly over the handle bar of your mountain bike. If you do fall forward, head first, face down resist the urge to stick your hands out to try to break you fall. Instead, try to tuck your body and roll as you hit the ground. You don’t need to practice falling – if you want you can practice on a grass field; just go over in your mind and imagine what you would do in case of a crash. You’ll be amazed what you mind can prepare your body to do.
There are many other skills that you will want to learn to truly enjoy mountain biking; but for someone just starting out, the skills discussed above are essential as a solid base for most advanced skills.