One of the first—and hardest—rules for beginner mountain bikers to learn is trust your bike. What does that even mean and how does it apply to riding off-road trails? Let’s take a look at a few meaningful issues.
The Right Tool for the Job
First up, let’s state for the record that none of the information below applies if you don’t have the correct bike for the type of riding you’re planning. Meaning, if you plan to ride off-road trails, you can’t use a road bike. Well, you can, but it’s going to go badly for you, especially as a newbie.
The same is true if you go cheap. Keep in mind that cheap doesn’t mean inexpensive. Cheap means cheaply made, as in something you’d pick up at a big box store. We go more in depth on how to choose your first mountain bike in our post I Want to Mountain Bike but Don’t Know Where to Start.
So, don’t even think about learning how to trust your bike while you ride trail unless you’ve got a bike made for riding trail beneath you. You’ll never gain confidence on your bike if you’re constantly second-guessing whether your bike can handle what you throw at it.
The Right Setup
Next up is making sure your bike is set up and ready to go. Just as with having the proper bike, you’ll never trust your bike is going to carry you through if you have doubts about your bike’s readiness. There’s two areas to think about when it comes to making sure you have the correct setup for hitting the trails: bike fit and mechanical soundness.
When it comes to bike fit, first make sure that you purchase a bike that’s not too big or too small. Once you’ve got that figured out, you may need to consider whether or not you need to pay for a bike fitting.
Second, take the time to ensure your bike is mechanically sound—check the brakes, the shifters, the suspension, the chain, the drivetrain—anything that might need some attention. If you’re not competent enough or comfortable doing this yourself, take your bike to your local bike shop and drop it off for a checkup.
Overcoming Overcompensation and Rider Error
Let’s now assume that you’ve got a proper bike for the job and it’s mechanically set up and ready to go. Your next step is to make sure you ride within your skill level. If you’re just starting out then you shouldn’t attempt an Intermediate trail or harder. Even on a Beginner trail, don’t try to ride faster than you know you can maintain control of your bike, or attempt an optional technical trail feature that makes you uncomfortable. Be patient. You’ll eventually shred like your riding buddies given enough trail time to progress.
The fact is that the vast majority of crashes are caused by rider error, and many rider errors come in the form of overcompensation. Overcompensation comes in many forms, such as oversteering, over-braking, over- (or under-) shifting, and simply overestimating the difficulty of a trail obstacle. Again, all of these errors can be overcome by more saddle time. You’ll never progress if you don’t ride.
Let Your Bike Work for You
Despite all the info above, we really haven’t addressed the elephant in the room, have we? What does it mean to “trust your bike?” Simply put, your bike was made to roll down the trail. It wants to move forward.
Think about it. We’re sure you’ve already noticed how hard it is to maintain your balance when moving slowly. Momentum is your friend when it comes to cycling, and off-roading is no different.
Those roots coming up ahead? Trust your bike can handle them and just roll on over them. Is there technique to learning how to properly address riding over roots? Yes, but you’ll only learn by doing. Trust us, your bike can handle roots, rocks, turns, berms, drops, climbs, and pretty much anything else you can throw at it. Don’t believe us? Just go watch Redbull Rampage and see what those dudes put their bikes through. We guarantee you’re not going to be doing anything that extreme anytime soon.
Once you learn the basics of how to handle your bike, you’ll soon find that it can handle whatever you throw at it. Your tires were made to grip the trail surface. Your suspension was made to eat up those rooty sections of trail. Your frame was made to take a beating and keep on going. In fact, your bike will probably do a better job of staying on the trail without you. Don’t believe it? Take a look at the video to the right.
In the end, riding your bike along the trail is more about your skill than the bike’s ability to get the job done. If you’ve purchased a good bike and have spent the time to set it up properly, it’s going to carry you through and do whatever you direct it to do.
Have fun, ride smart, and keep shredding!