Mountain biking requires more skill than ordinary street or road riding. Riding over rough terrain presents challenges that aren’t present, or are only present in greatly diminished form, on flat and paved surfaces. Therefore it’s important to get familiar with proper mountain biking techniques before embarking on a mountain biking trip. Failure to do so could land a rider in the dirt with hand burns, or could even result in more painful or injurious collisions or falls.
Mountain biking technique has its basic, intermediate, and advanced levels. These levels depend mostly on the steepness and toughness of the terrain and the speed at which a rider want to ride. The most advanced riders are capable of navigating steep mountainous terrain at fairly high speeds safely (as well as performing jumps and other such advanced activity).
Let’s take a look at a few of the fundamentals of mountain biking technique at a basic level. These are skills and principles that all mountain bikers need and on which the more advanced levels are built:
In mountain biking it is always important to think several moves ahead and keep scanning for obstacles beyond those right in front of the biker. This shows the rider how to steer in an overall sense, not merely to avoid an immediate obstacle (such as a rock or tree). A rider must focus on the immediate vicinity of course, but if he or she becomes too focused on a single item, by the time he has passed it he could look up too late to find there is something treacherous just beyond it – another rock, a dip or crevice, or a bramble bush are some examples – and run into trouble.
Visualize a Line or Track
This relates directly to the tip above. The mental result of looking and thinking ahead is that the rider will have a picture in mind of a line going across the terrain. This helps to discourage hesitancy – hesitancy often leads to accidents because it wastes time, makes the rider change posture, may make the rider vacillate, and so on. Having a visualized line which he or she is following ties the whole forward looking experience together into a directional experience that fosters confidence.
Avoid Focusing on Rider Ahead
If riding in a group, riders should avoid the temptation to focus on the rider just ahead of them. This fits in with the other two items above. Focusing on the rider in front will distract a rider from being alert to immediate and oncoming articles. This habit is tempting because the rider ahead is seeing objects first. But just following a rider’s lead is not enough to make the rear rider responsive and prepared to navigate obstacles. He or she needs to be surveying the areas ahead on his or her own to achieve the best control.
Downshift in Areas with Less Traction
Patches of terrain such as mud, sand, or water offer less traction than solid dirt, rock, or grass. It is best to shift to a lower gear when attempting to ride through such terrain. The higher the gear, the more effort it takes on the part of a rider’s legs to make the wheels turn. The tricky areas will mean the rider probably slows down due to exercising more caution as well as having less traction and more friction. This, coupled with the greater pedaling force required, can make the bike come to a halt or even cause a spill. Reducing the gear makes pedaling easier and allows the biker to easily “spin through” the troublesome area.
Don’t Grip the Handle Bars Too Tightly
This is for the simple reason that gripping the handlebars tightly will cause upper body tension and eventually fatigue. The grip should be relaxed but not too loose. The rider should have plenty of contact with the handle bars, but that contact should be light and relaxed.
Stand Up Off the Saddle when Going Down a Hill
Standing up a little, with knees slightly bent, allows for better control in case of unforeseen features in the path of the bicycle. It also protects against groin injury. Finally, it allows the rider to “eject” to the back or side should there be a collision or upset.
Best Posture – Elbows Bent and Shoulders Relaxed
The best riding posture is with elbows bent. Remember this applies when standing up off the seat, when the tendency might be to have elbows straight, and with the shoulders relaxed rather than tense. This allows for optimal danger avoidance and absorbs the shock on big bumps or in case of collisions.
These are some of the main basic mountain bike points of technique. Serious mountain bikers should consult more thorough resources such as books, online tutorials, or mountain biking classes for instruction in these and more advanced riding techniques. Then when they feel ready, they should get out and do it!