Mountain Bike: Top 3 Tips
We’ve teamed up with the guys over at Singletracks.com so that we can start brining our readers more articles on Mountain Biking. We try to cater to all types of riders of all levels and abilities here at Loving the Bike, but seeing as I’m primarily a road cyclist the focus tends to shift mostly in that direction.
Starting right now, we’ll be posting mountain bike articles each month courtesy of Greg Heil and Singletracks. They definitely know their stuff when it comes to mountain biking, and we’re so happy to connect with them.
Top 3 Mountain Biking Tips
by Greg Heil
The relation of mountain biking to road biking/cycling fascinates me. On one hand, they each seem to be just a different side to the same biking coin. But on the other hand, mountain biking is oftentimes so radically specialized when compared to road biking that it seems like a different sport entirely.
Since these sports are so different, transitioning from the road to the trail can be a daunting task. Specifically, while road riders often bring an amazing fitness base to the mountain bike trail, the technical side of the sport usually proves to be challenging. While I could write for days about mountain bike skills, here are the three most basic mountain biking techniques that you should have in your arsenal:
1. Look where you want to go
When they first start mountain biking, many beginners have the tendency to look down at their front wheel in an attempt to see where it is going, or they focus their on obstacles in the trail. These tendencies are detrimental to good mountain biking. When riding singletrack, it is imperative that you look where you want to go.
For instance, is there a tree that you want to avoid? OK, well notice that tree, and then look down the trail and past it to where you want to end up. If you stare at the tree the entire time, you will run smack-dab into it. Are you riding along a steep cliff? While it’s tempting to stare off into the distance and enjoy the view, if you do without coming to a stop first, your front end will probably plummet straight off the edge.
While I’ve attended a skills clinic that spent literally an entire day discussing and practicing good vision, the simple truth is that you need to look down the trail. Focus on where you want to go. And the faster you’re going, the further down the trail you need to look.
2. Brake smart
Many times when I’m riding with beginners, I’ll see them get up too much speed and lose control, careening off the trail until the underbrush finally stops their forward progress. When I ask them what went wrong, the conversation usually goes like this:
“I couldn’t stop.”
“Were you using your brakes?”
“Were you using both of your brakes, your front brake, or your rear brake?”
“Just my rear brake.”
“Why weren’t you using the front brake?”
“I’m afraid of flipping over.”
Since your weight is driving down the hill with the force of gravity and the momentum that you’ve gained, about 70% of your total braking power is contained in your front brake, with only about 30% of your total power in your rear brake. If you use just the rear brake, you are only using a fraction of the total braking power available to you.
Obviously, locking up the front brake is a bad idea: there is a reason many people are afraid of using the lever on the left handlebar. To keep from flipping over, it’s important to use both of the brakes together. Not only does use of the rear brake help mitigate some of the potentially harsh effects of the front, but you now have 100% power instead of just 30%.
Finally, when you brake, do not lock the brakes up. Avoiding locking the brakes will eliminate the fear of doing an “endo,” but that is not the primary reason to avoid it. If you lock the brakes up, the bike begins to skid and go out of control. In order to slow forward progress as quickly as possible, the tires need to maintain solid contact with the ground. This is the same idea behind anti-lock brakes on cars.
3. Let the bike flow beneath you: calm upper body
Suspension is an extraordinary thing, and it can really smooth out the trail and provide forgiveness when your skills don’t measure up to the challenges that the trail provides. However, no matter how much suspension your bike has, your arms and your legs have more—your body is your primary suspension.
In order to soak up bumps from rocks, roots, and other trail obstacles, it is important to let the bike move under you. If you can allow the bike to buck beneath you and jolt without having those jolts throw your body all over the place, you will ride with much more control. Some people ride so rigidly that every little thing jolts them off balance, but if you can learn to separate your body from the bike it will make for a much smoother ride.
Your Turn: What questions do you have about mountain biking technique?
Greg Heil started riding mountain bikes seriously in 2007, and since that time has ridden hundreds of trails all across the United States. He is the Social Media Coordinator and an editor for Singletracks.com, which is your source for everything mountain biking: the number one mountain bike trail map database in the world, a daily blog, gear reviews, forums, photo of the day, and more! Be sure to drop by the site and check it out, and “follow” them on Twitter.