If you’ve just begun your journey as a mountain biker, you’ve probably already discovered there’s a lot of skills you’ll need to learn and hone in order to really get comfortable on your bike and shred the trails. Don’t worry, simply getting out there and riding as often as you can will help you gain confidence, learn to stay loose on your bike, build endurance, and naturally build some of these skills.
Having said that, it is possible to pick up bad habits. Plus, wouldn’t you like a list of skills you should focus on during your rides? Have no fear, we’ve compiled a starter list for you below!
Just like when first learning to ride on two wheels, you understand that balance is the first and most crucial element to staying upright and maintaining control of your bike. You learned quickly that momentum is your friend when it comes to keeping your balance, and while that remains somewhat true on a mountain bike, you also need to learn how to keep your balance at low speeds and even when completely stopped.
First, let’s look at balance. Rather than bore you with a lot of explanation, we feel it’s better if you have visual explanations by skilled riders. So, it’s time for a slew of YouTube links. Grab your popcorn, relax, and bookmark these vids for future reference as you begin working on these crucial skills.
As mentioned above, learning how to maintain balance on your bike at a near or complete standstill is a vital skill to learn. Though mentioned in the Skills with Phil video above, here’s a bit more of an in-depth look from GMBN.
Learning how your body should be positioned in relation to your mountain bike can be one of the most confusing things to learn at first. Trust us, once you get the hang of it, not only will it feel natural but it will also unlock a completely higher level of ability and confidence. First is learning what’s called Attack Position, sometimes known as Ready Position. Once you’ve got the basics of that down, you’ll feel more comfortable moving around your bike and letting it do the work while your body acts as a shock absorber.
Learning how to brake correctly and responsively is yet another crucial skill. You’ll soon learn—to your surprise—that you make be using your brakes way too much in some situations and not enough in others. Braking isn’t all about pulling the levers to slow down. Good braking also allows you to control your cornering better, stay under control in loose conditions, and eventually ride faster and more confidently.
Now, you may not be into racing if you’re still a novice, but chances are you’ve seen a race or two on YouTube or RedBullTV and wondered, “How do they corner so fast?” There’s a saying that “races are won in the corners,” and it’s pretty true. Watch almost any MTB race and you’ll often see the difference between first and second place is how well the riders were able to negotiate one or two particular corners on the course.
As a beginner rider, you’re likely riding trails that are fairly tame with wide, flat corners that are hard packed. As you begin to progress and ride harder trails, one of the first changes you’ll come across is corners that are narrower, a bit loose, have shaper turn angles, and may or may not have a berm. Each of these types of corners must be approached a different way.
Unweighting your front wheel is an incredibly useful skill. It’s so crucial that it’s one of the first things taught at DORBA’s beginner clinics. Why? Because even on beginner trails you’re likely to encounter roots and rocks that are unavoidable—and you certainly will as you begin to venture onto more difficult trails. Don’t try to just muscle your way over these obstacles (you can, especially if they’re small) but rather use some finesse and control by learning to unweight your front wheel.
Learning this skill is also the first step towards more advanced skills like manuals and bunny hops, but that’s an article for another day.
Once you’ve got attack position figured out, the ability to roll down longer and steeper angles becomes possible. A roll down is simply riding down a somewhat steep to very steep angle where neither wheel loses contact with the ground. Keeping yourself from going over the bars or otherwise loosing control of your bike as the steepness and length increases is a combination of body position and proper braking.
Out on the trail you’re going to encounter all sorts of climbs, from short to long, gentle to steep, punchy to grinding, smooth to gnarly, and more. As you might imagine, there’s different techniques needed to climb all these different types of ascents. Don’t worry about learning them all yet, just get a feel for body position and gearing as you begin encountering climbs on the trail.
While similar to roll downs, descents are must longer, and not always as protractedly steep—think downhill. Just like with roll downs, keeping proper body position and learning how to feather your brakes (front and back) properly is a must when heading downhill.
Put all the above skills together and you’ll be well on your way toward being able to start tackling technical trail features on Intermediate-level trails.
Have fun, ride smart, and keep shredding!