How to be a better mountain biker

bicycleYou’ve seen it on TV. Some super talented jock cycling down a mountainside at a million miles an hour, taking every obstacle in their path like they were born to do it.

Mountain biking is a fun, adventurous and often quite painful sport. Painful in that riders come short. A lot. But that hasn’t stopped you from following your heroes on TV.

You’ve bought yourself a bike and you hit the occasional single track. But how do you become a better rider? Hit bigger drop ins? Be bolder in your approach to the mountain? Here are several tips to help you develop as a better mountain biker.

Be strong and flexible

When you’re climbing a particularly difficult hill or pedalling a smooth-ish trail, it’s probably best that you stay in your saddle. Descending is a completely different story. If it’s technical terrain then you want to be standing on your pedals with a slight bend in your knees, waist and elbows. It’s an athletic stance that acts as suspension for your body, absorbing every bump in the trail through your body. It also creates a shape that prevents you from being buffeted around as you move quickly downhill. This stance takes agility and it takes strength. Spend some time in the gym working on your core strength and your endurance in difficult, tight positions. Take up yoga if you have to. It’ll help make you more flexible and benefit your joints and muscles when they’re being punished by the bumps and twists of the trail.

Don’t be stagnant on your bike

A lot of being good on your bike is about balance. Whether you’re pushing yourself up a steep climb, slipping down a rock face or flying through a corner, you’re going to have to be moving and shifting on your bike. It’s important to know your bike. Know where the weight is and how it handles dips and dives. Keep your weight forward when climbing which forces the front wheel downwards and helps with traction. When you’re moving downhill, you’re going to want to shift your weight backwards which helps with the bike’s balance and keeps you from rolling headfirst over your handlebars. In tight corners, allow your body to counteract the natural centrifugal force by leaning outwards. The more time you spend on your bike, the more familiar you’ll become with how it reacts to your riding. It’s about complementing it and not fighting against it.

Where your weight is matters

If you’re looking to roll a log, fly through a trail or find some air off a ledge then the way your bike is weighted will matter. You’re going to need to be sensitive to weight. Sometimes you’ll only be attacking an obstacle one wheel at a time. Other times your weight will need to be distributed across the entire bike. At any rate, moving your weight around is about compressing and releasing your body so as to create different forms of pressure on the parts of your bike. The more responsive you are to your riding situation, the more dynamic and fluid your ride will be.

Use both sets of brakes

Young riders are often taught to just use their back brakes. The reality is that both sets of brakes can help you at different times. Use your brakes lightly. The term used is feathering. It’s not about slamming on the brakes, but rather using them to gain greater control. You’ll be able to adjust your speed downhill, adjust your direction more efficiently and correct your path in quicker time. Again, it’s about knowing your bike. The more familiar you are with the tightness of your brakes, the easier it’ll be to use them to your advantage.

Ride the right bike

These days, mountain biking is almost a science and the type of track that you’re going to hit will determine what mountain bike you should be riding. There are bikes built with cross country in mind, bikes built specifically for downhill and bikes built for all-terrain. Think about the type of riding that you most enjoy and try purchase a bike that suits your style or preferential terrain. Wheel size is also an important factor and will change according to your preferences, your level of fitness and the sorts of speeds that you want to achieve.

Take confidence in your progress

It’s no secret that success breeds confidence and that confidence breeds success. While it might be tempting to take a huge leap of faith one day, it might be more worth your while to take smaller steps. Try lesser downhill tracks or shorter cross country routes. Once you’ve mastered them, you’ll have built up a little confidence and you’ll be able to tackle more difficult elements. But trying them before you’re ready might lead to a complete erosion of any confidence and force you away from your bike. You’re also less likely to get injured if you progress in smaller steps as you’ll have given yourself the time to learn your bike and the terrain you ride on.

Keep your eyes on your goal

Your sight is a big part of riding. You ride a trail or a particularly difficult patch with your eyes before your bike hits it. And let your eyes guide the rest of your body. Your head, torso, hips, knees and body weight should all fall in with what your eyes see.

Acknowledge the progress you make, the miles you’ve pushed yourself through, the hills that you’ve conquered and the technical aspects of the ride that you’ve successfully passed through. You’re bound to be less anxious in the saddle and that’ll translate to your riding. You’ll be hitting the dirt with more aggression and push yourself that little bit more to get better.