You want to ride like the wind. You want to be fast. You want to roll over rocks, shoot up hills and smoothly descend near-vertical downhill sections. You want the fame, money and prestige that comes with being a pro cyclist. Or maybe you just want to ride your local trails without crashing.
Well, no matter what your ultimate goals are, you have to start with the basics. Whether you mountain bike for fitness or just to enjoy the outdoors, having good bike-handling skills and trail confidence will make it a much better experience. We'll get you started with these tips; the rest is up to you.
1. Maintain Your Bike
It is difficult to focus on the trail when you are listening to strange noises coming from your bike. Basic bike maintenance only takes a few minutes and it can save you from a long walk, or worse, a trip to the emergency room. Even if you can't fix your bike, checking it will give you the chance to take it into the shop before you hit the trail.
Go over the entire bike and look for anything that is worn out, cracked, broken or just not working right. Remember that minor problems at home can become big problems on the trail. Also, be sure that the bike is set up to fit you. A bike that is too big or too small will be hard to control.
2. Ride With Better Riders Than Yourself
Not only will this help you to push yourself a little harder, but it will help you learn some of the riding habits of people who have been doing it longer. Watch how they position their bodies when going up or downhill. Watch how they handle rough, rocky sections. Watch how they fix a flat tire when they're miles from anywhere.
These valuable skills can easily be picked up when riding with other riders. Check with local bike shops to find group rides in your area.
3. Focus on Where You Want to Go
When you are on the trail, look where you want to go, especially on trails with plenty of roots and rocks. If you look at the rock or tree that you are trying to avoid, you will probably hit it. Instead, focus on the line that you want to take.
This is called target fixation. There is a complicated explanation as to why this works, but don't worry about that—it just does. Always look ahead and find the line that you want, and you will ride smoother.
Whether you are riding a rigid bike or a full suspension, the best suspension you have is your arms and legs. Stand up, relax and allow them to absorb the bumps and ruts on the trail. Once you learn to let the bike move beneath you, you will be able to float over most obstacles.
It also helps to relax your grip a bit on the handlebars. Be sure to hang on firmly but not too tightly. A white-knuckle death grip will cause your forearms and hands to fatigue sooner and then make it tougher to be in control.
Cadence, or the rotation of your cranks, is a very important aspect of cycling. Professional cyclists spend a lot of time developing a good spin. If you pedal in squares, or with jerky downward strokes, you are actually throwing yourself off balance and working harder. Spinning is not only more efficient, but it helps keep traction on loose trail conditions.
Good cadence incorporates pedaling in circles and being in the right gear. If you are geared too high, it will be difficult to power over things, and if you are geared too low, you'll spin out and jerk the bike around. But if you change gears to keep the same pedaling RPMs, around 70 to 100, you'll find that it is much easier to climb and pedal through rough sections.