Cycling

How to Navigate Obstacles on your Mountain Bike

A MTB rider raises his front wheel.

Does navigating trails with rocks, logs, and more make you nervous when you’re mountain biking? We don’t blame you!

These and other obstacles can be scary until you learn how to deal with them. After that, they will feel like no big deal and knowing how to deal with them will open the doors for you to ride a lot more trails in many different conditions.

Learn Two Key Skills

While there are many skills that are important for navigating obstacles and unusual terrain, there are two that most riders neglect because they seem difficult or dangerous.

However, controlled practice is not dangerous and having these skills in your toolkit will raise your confidence as a rider because you’ll know you can handle anything the trail can throw at you.

    • Lift the Front Wheel. Make sure you have plenty of speed before you try to lift the wheel. Then place the pedal under your dominant foot at the 2 o’clock position and push your foot down hard. Practice popping the front tire up and down like this.If you ever get nervous, just squeeze your rear brake and the tire will come back down. Keep your weight back and your elbows just slightly bent. Start by raising the tire just a little, then practice until you can raise it enough to get it over something like a fallen log.
    • Lift the Back Wheel. Crouch over your handlebars and get off the seat of the bike to take some weight off the back tire. With practice, this may be enough to raise it enough to clear most obstacles.If you have clipless or platform pedals, you can also kick back and up with your legs to pop the back of your bike up. This feels awkward at first but can help you get the back of your bike over larger obstacles.

Logs

Two men on mountain bikes
Photo by Film Bros from Pexels

For small logs, it is probably enough to raise your front tire, then your back one in quick succession. For larger logs, you may want to try to “hop” your bike over them. Approach the log at 90 degrees.

Crouch down, then pull up on the handlebars. Your rear wheel will likely contact the log but as long as you keep your balance and continue pedaling, you should be able to keep going.

Rocks

Unless the rocks are especially large, you probably won’t need to do much of anything. Just stay relaxed and keep pedaling. Let your knees and elbows absorb the shock (after all, that’s what they’re there for!). Make sure you keep your balance back by sitting in your seat. This frees your front wheel to go over any obstacles that might come up.

If you face large rocks or boulders, get off the bike and make sure you feel safe riding through the field before you attack it. If you don’t, go around. If you do, take it rock by rock, raising your front tire, freeing up the rear, and then moving on to the next one.

Mud

Mud can be slippery so it may be better to avoid it. However, if you like to take spring or fall rides, you probably won’t be able to do that.

Don’t go around the mud. This can make the muddy area even wider and can even erode part of the trail. Pedal as hard as you can without slipping and let your front tire part the way and get you through.

Water

Mountainbiking through a puddle, while its raining heavily outside
Image by Flocu from Getty

Be sure to check the depth of any water before you go through it. Use a stick and stand next to the water. Plunge the stick into the pool and see how high the water line is on it. Do this even if you can see the bottom of the pool or stream. Because water distorts depth, it may look more shallow than it is.

Once you’re sure you can get through the water, ride into it at a steady pace. Keep pedaling but don’t try to speed up. Your bike should carry you through without any problems. When you’re on the other side, tap your brakes a few times. This acts as a squeegee to get extra water off your bike’s rims.

Leaves

Layers of dead, wet leaves may not look like an obstacle but they can be more slippery than mud! If there’s no way to avoid them, ride through them steadily. If at all possible, don’t make sharp turns or try to corner when you’re on leaves. As long as you don’t try anything crazy, you should be okay.

Tree Roots

Some trails are covered in a network of tree roots! Ride at them at a 90-degree angle, raise your front tire if you need to, or simply pedal through them the way you would pedal through a field of rocks. Keep your balance back so your front tire is free to bounce up and down as it tackles the roots.

Learning to navigate obstacles takes some deliberate practice. Take yourself to a local bike park or find a field with a few obstacles and ride through it until you feel more confident. When you’re done, you’ll feel like you can tackle more and more difficult trails.


Do you have any suggestions for riders? Leave a comment below!

How to navigate obstacles on your mountain bike

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