I began mountain biking in 1995 with a couple of friends of mine. I can say that we were largely ‘self-taught’ and we learned a lot in the first few years through the school of hard knocks. We were all pretty proficient with our bikes but we spent the next couple of summers learning the subtle nuances of the art of mountain biking. Below we outline some of those skills that we learned with the hope of sharing this amazing sport with others.
Purchase a Bike That Meets Your Needs: If you are investing in the sport of mountain biking you will want to invest in a bike that meets your needs. There is a big difference between a CCM bike from Canadian Tire and an actual bike designed for mountain biking. Be warned that one of those differences is the price tag but there are many reputable bike companies that produce quality entry level bikes.
There are also a variety of styles of bikes on the market designed for different types of riding. While you may not know the exact style of riding that you are interested in, you can likely narrow your options down to a bike with just front suspension or a bike that offers both front and rear suspension.
A key part of purchasing a bike is test driving it. Local shops will be none too happy to let you take a variety of bikes out for a rip.
Know How Your Bike Works: Before you hit the trails you need to be comfortable with how your bike operates. This includes 2 major components of your bike; the brakes and the gears. If you can’t tell the difference between the front brake and the back brake, you’re not ready to hit the trails (right rear, left front). Play with your gears and dial in your understanding of hard vs. easy. You will be using both of your brakes and most of your gear ranges while mountain biking.
I would also go a step further and as you get more into the sport, I would make certain that you have a basic understanding of bike maintenance and repairs. Keeping your bike tuned and in good working order will greatly increase your enjoyment of the sport. And nothing spoils a ride faster than having to walk out because you don’t know basic trail repairs. This should include changing flat tires and chain repairs.
Learn The “Attack Position”: The attack position is a very important element of mountain biking. This position (demonstrated by Beary Porter and pictured above) allows the rider to quickly respond to situation and to maximize their control of the bike. Mountain biking requires riders to adjust and shift their body weight depending on a variety of situations; including corner, climbing, descending hills and braking. Mastering the attack position will set you up for success for so many other essential biking skills. Specifics of the attack position are:
Head up and eyes looking forward down the trail
Shoulders back and low
Back straight and level with the ground
Elbows out and wide
Knees bent and get low
Ass off the saddle
Pedals at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock
Weight distributed on the pedals evenly
Hands light and loose on the grips
Momentum Is Your Friend: A common problem amongst new riders is that they are tentative and because of this they kill the necessary momentum to tackle most obstacles. The ironic part is that in order to successfully ride most trail obstacles, you need momentum. There is however a balance between going too slow and having too much speed. It can take time to find this happy medium, but as a start, recognize the importance of momentum.
Look Ahead and Pick Your Lines: Much of one’s success in mountain biking is based on a person’s ability to anticipating and reacting to various obstacles. Speed plays a big factor in your reaction time but an even more important skill is scanning ahead and picking your path with the fewest number of obstacles. Many new riders have a habit of looking down at their front tire which does not allow for proper reaction times. Look up the trail and scan the obstacles and pick a line in advance. This will also allow you to react appropriately and spot hazards or obstacles that you can’t avoid.
Ride Within Your Limits: This is almost common sense, but every rider should know and ride within their own limits. If you’re not comfortable riding specific terrain don’t ride it. If you are riding with other, don’t feel compelled to ride out of your comfort zone to keep up with them. Feel free to push your own limits, but do so safely and at your pace. Reckless riding will only lead to accidents and injuries.
Know Where You Are Riding: Familiarize yourself with the area that you are biking in. There are a lot of great online resources that will breakdown the difficulty level of the trails and there are usually rider comments. Youtube can offer up some great videos of trails which allow you to get a visual of the terrain. If you’re not familiar with the trails, go slow.
It’s also worth mentioning that you should only ride on designated trails. Respect private property and whenever possible, please avoid damaging the trails.
Ride With A Buddy: It is not recommended that you ride alone. Mountain biking is an action sport and there is an increased likelihood that you could get injured. Riding with a friend(s) is the safest choice. If you are riding alone, make sure that you communicate your ride plans with someone else.
Just Expect That you’re going to get muddy, bloody, scraped, scratched and bruised. You’re going to fall off your bike, you’re going to hit trees and you’re going to damage your bike. But you’re also going to have a great time so embrace the sport and everything that it has to offer.
***Image credit to Mark Highfield***