Learning to MTB


20131023_165719I’m not a mountain biker. I love coming up to someones wheel and sprinting around them, catching the draft in a paceline and carving corners on a quick descent, but all on pavement. I’ve dabbled in off-road bits before on my cross bike, but never anything too technical or challenging. Off-road for me is just off-season fun and goofing around.

I did try to go mountain biking once with my now-husband and friends, but it lasted about 15 minutes before an ambulance had to be called (not for myself). Fast forward a couple of years, and in the middle of some seriously nice off-road riding here in Malaysia I have no excuse for ignoring the MTB that’s been loaned to me. My first two rides were this week, and I managed to survive them both without injury.

Both times I was following some friends and could follow their lines up and down the local mountain, with only a few poor choices on my part. I’ve gotten too good at hopping off and on the bike, but the second ride was much smoother and smarter, and this week I’ll be even better.

One thing I know for sure is I will never try to be as competitive on a mountain bike as I am on the road. While I am a Strava segment junkie on pavement, knowing where they start and end and how fast I have to go to win the QOM, I have zero interest in doing the same off-road. I’m not a huge fan of heights, so stopping at the top of a little climb and staring down brings back old memories of doing the same when I used to ski, with my appendages suddenly shaky and my brain confuddled. While I never had a major incident on snow, I don’t really want to chance it on the bike.

For now, mountain biking is still my off-season goofing around sport that I happen to do more often. I do find that it’s already helped my on-road bike handling skills as well as give me a heck of an upper body workout. As I said previously in Darryl’s post on cyclocross, working the core is one of the most important things, and it’s no different for MTB.

Here’s the whole point of this: learning a new sport is scary, and though I know tons of tips and tricks for road riding and try to share them with others, I don’t know the same about off-road. So, what are yours?


Enjoy Your Ride
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6 Responses to “ Learning to MTB ”

  1. MTBSanMarcosTX on October 29, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    The visual suggestion is definitely a great one. I suggest a the following skills that will make crashes/pinch-flats more rare and keep you flowing:

    Front-wheel lift, rear-wheel lift, bunny-hop, & cone-of-movement

    These will get you over most technical trail rocks & roots, etc. and help prevent Over-The-Bar (OTB) wrecks (with the addition of getting the butt off and behind the saddle when going downhill) and keep you from having to hike-a-bike as much. There are plenty of videos on the internet that you can view in case one or another explanation does not quite work for you. You don’t have to use clip-less pedals for bunny/rear, there is a technique to it, some videos have a good explanation on how to do it. Push-ups, pull-ups, and chin-ups will provide you some appropriate muscles and endurance to get the front wheel up and make longer/more technical MTB rides more enjoyable. You don’t have to do a ton, I do maybe 20 (hands handle-bar grip width apart) push-ups, 10 shoulder-width chin-ups, 5 handlebar-width pull-ups. Core muscles are also good; plank position (I do it on the elbows) is good for that.

    • Ashley on October 29, 2013 at 10:16 pm

      Thanks for the advice. I have a pretty strong upper body and have started working on low speed maneuvers in the parking lot before the ride. I do need to work on the core more, just saw a PT for my back yesterday. Mmmmm traction…

      I’m going to need to learn bunny hopping without clipless pedals for sure. I don’t think I’ll be riding with clips anytime soon (and few of the folks here do, either) but I do need to get better shoes that give some more grip.

  2. Shawn McAfee on October 29, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Awesome! MTB is where it’s at for bike handling. Glad you’re stepping outside of that comfort zone and engaging in something new and at the same time a little bit scary. You’ll learn to love it, just give it time.

    The first and always most important rule of mountain biking: Keep your eyes on the trail ahead, 20-30 feet ahead of you exactly where you want to go.

    When you start looking straight down or to the side thats when mistakes happen and you’ll fall.

    Second tip goes hand-in-hand with the first tip. Trust your bike to do it’s thing. Don’t worry about the rock you’re about to go over, thats what suspension is for.

    Keep your eyes on the trail ahead and trust the bike to be a bike. After that it’s all fun and smiles. 🙂

    • Ashley on October 29, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks Shawn! This is essentially the same advice I got on my last ride when I was following a friend down. I have my little mantras I tell myself when I’m out on a road ride, so this is good stuff to store away for off-road: look ahead, trust the bike.

  3. Dmitry Bokov on October 29, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Oh I see my old lovely Trek Fuel EX 5.5 2009
    Do you like your bike?

    • Ashley on October 29, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      Hey, well it’s a loaner bike for now, unless I decide to buy it…which I might. It’s more than enough bike that I’ll ever need and despite a larger frame and longer cranks seems very comfortable to ride on. I can’t really compare it to other MTBs, and I don’t even know how they’re supposed to feel anyway, but on my last MTB ride I stopped noticing the bike and started noticing the ride, so that’s a step in the right direction.

      TLDR: Yes, I like it 🙂


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