When you’re first starting out with mountain biking, it can seem like there is so much to learn. Some skills are more important than others, though. Here are a few that you should master. Learn these and you will have the foundation necessary to go far with your biking.
Keep Your Eyes Up
Mountain bike trails can get technical and difficult, which is why it’s tempting to focus on where you are, rather than on where you want to go. However, looking up is infinitely better than looking down when you’re on a mountain bike.
Your body and your bike will eventually end up wherever you’re looking. If your eyes are on the ground in front of you, that’s where you’ll be, too. Instead, look ahead. Learn how to read the trail so you can accurately assess what is coming up and what you need to do to ride it. You may need to get ready to turn, brake, accelerate, shift your weight, and more.
Looking ahead also makes you a good neighbor on the mountain bike trail. When your eyes are up, you’ll be able to see others who have stopped or slowed in front of you, those who are struggling with a difficult section, and more. Over time, keeping your eyes up will permit you to ride faster and attack obstacles with more confidence.
Up Your Mental Game
Mountain biking is a huge mental game. Some of the obstacles and trails look scary, even if they don’t end up being that way. This makes what goes on between your ears one of the most important factors in mountain biking. If you think you can handle something, it’s likely you’ll get through it. If you know you’re up for the challenge, you won’t panic when something unexpected comes up.
Learning to relax your body and your mind is a huge part of biking. The more relaxed you are, the better you’ll be able to deal with whatever comes up. Practice slowing your breathing, especially your exhale. This dials down the parts of your nervous system that can get anxious and cause you to tense up. It sends signals to your brain that everything is okay and there’s no need to worry.
Shift Your Balance
Learning how to keep your balance in multiple positions, as well as how to shift it in key places, can make technical challenges easier and help you maneuver your bike in specific ways at specific times.
Start by learning to ride in the attack position. Instead of sitting on the seat, you’ll balance on your pedals with your bottom in the air. When you learn to ride this way, you’ll already have greater control of your bike and you’ll be more prepared for anything unexpected that happens while you’re on the trail.
Try finding a local bike park. These usually have fun obstacles, like riding over a teeter totter, that can teach you to balance in a safe, contained situation. You can also find some drills on YouTube that will help you learn and maintain the balance you need to become a good rider.
Learn Proper Braking
Many, many mountain bikers learn about braking the hard way. Whenever possible, tap your brakes instead of squeezing them hard. This will keep your tires from freezing and your bike from stopping entirely. Also, make sure you use your front and back brakes together, or that you learn the specific situations where you should use one over the other. Squeezing down hard on your front brakes when you get worried is a sure way to send yourself flying over your handlebars, face first.
Practice using your brakes on all sorts of terrain. Start on the road, the move to a packed trail. Eventually, try them in loose dirt, mud, and more. Gradually, you’ll get to know your bike and your brakes so you’ll feel confident using them in any situation.
Smooth Out Your Pedal Stroke
If you learned to pedal on the road, as most of us did, you’ll find that the hard, torque-filled strokes that you use there don’t serve you as well on your mountain bike. In fact, these type of strokes can often cause your tires to fill with mud, rather than glide through it smoothly.
Learn to use more pedal strokes with less force for each stroke. In general, you’ll want a higher pedal cadence for climbing than you will when going downhill or riding on the flat. You’ll also want to think about powering the entire circle of the pedal stroke, rather than just the downbeat. Over time, you’ll find the stroke that works best for your body and your equipment.
Practicing skills doesn’t always sound like fun but doing so is how you get better. If you want to learn to tackle harder trails and more difficult obstacles, you’ll want to put in some time working on these basics. Once you master them, you’ll be in a great position to expand your repertoire of trails.