5 Things I Learned From Marla Streb

Marla Streb, nine-time NORBA national downhill winner and author of Downhill: The Life Story of a Gravity Goddess, attributes a lot of her success to her ability to suffer. (During her 16-year racing career she broke more than 20 bones.)

Today, Streb maintains that some skills can help reduce your risk of injury. She shared those skills at an all-women's mountain biking clinic sponsored by Luna Chix. Here are five guidelines Marla emphasized at the clinic that mountain bikers can use to become more efficient riders.

1) Lead With Your Chin

"When your head is up your body relaxes," Streb said. "When you look down, you micromanage and your mind gets stressed trying to process everything flying by under the wheels." If you look ahead you can see the whole picture, and your mind can more easily process what's coming.

Try this at home: On your next ride, focus on keeping your head up, lead with your chin and keep your eyes focused ahead on the trail. You will be amazed at how much you can see in your peripheral vision and how much more easily you can navigate obstacles.

2) Track Stands Aren't Just for Traffic Lights

Contrary to what you may think, track stands—where you balance on your bike while standing still—are handy for more than just showing off. They can:

  • Give you time to assess a technical section before riding through it
  • Help you maintain control at slow speeds
  • Make tight corners easier to navigate

Try this at home: face a concrete wall with your bike. Roll the front tire right up against the wall and position your pedals at three and nine o'clock. Push the front foot down as if you are pedaling and try to pick your other foot off the ground. If the bike starts falling to one side, push into the handlebar on that side and shift your center of gravity to the other side.

3) A Manual is More Efficient Than a Bunny Hop

A bunny hop entails lifting your bike long enough to clear an obstacle in one leap, whereas a manual lets you clear an obstacle one wheel at a time. Bunny hops are fun, but when it comes to clearing dips and logs they prove to be a waste of energy.

Try this at home: Start by practicing over a line or crack in the sidewalk. As you approach the line push your handlebars forward and employ a forceful pedal stroke—like kick-starting a motorcycle. Shift your weight back behind the rear axle. The pedal stroke will ask the bike to move forward, but transferring your weight back at the same time you push your handlebars forward will propel the front tire into the air. Remember, it's not about strength or pulling, it's about weight transfer.

To clear the rear tire over the obstacle, do a donkey kick, as if you are trying to hit your butt with the bicycle seat.

Once you master the crack in the sidewalk, take your skills to the curb.

4) Braking Is not Always Necessary

Streb might be taking it to the extreme when she said, "Braking doesn't usually do you any good", but in some instances, I can see what she means.

When cornering or riding switchbacks, you should release the brakes before you enter into the turn. Your momentum will carry you through the corner. At the apex of the turn you should be looking ahead, toward the exit. Again, lead with your chin and your bike will follow.

Beginners often think that turning the bike means turning the front wheel, but cornering is more about leaning. Point your hips toward the exit with your butt out, and guide the handlebars in the direction you want to turn.

Try this at home: Take two long ropes and lay them down on the ground side-by-side creating a track or path that you can ride through. Start with a wide pathway; then slowly tighten up the curve as you get more comfortable making the turns.

5) Practice for Big Drops on Little Drops

You don't have to huck yourself over massive boulders to learn how to go big. Start small by employing the big-drop technique on small obstacles, such as sidewalks and short sets of stairs.

Try this at home: Practice your manual over small curbs. On the approach, pop your front wheel slightly and land with both wheels at the same time, or with your back wheel first. Relax your arms and legs to absorb the landing.

Always assess the drop before attempting it so that you are familiar with just how big it is, and what the landing will be like.

Active logoPractice your skills at a mountain biking event.

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