It might be comforting for you to know that it's not unusual to be frustrated going from being a strong road rider to feeling like a disaster on the dirt. So what happened? Why isn't mountain biking just a natural extension of road riding?
What happened is there are a few things in mountain biking that are not intuitive and in fact some of these things you'd never consider doing on a road bike. Other things you just didn't know because no one told you. In short, "you don't know what you don't know."
I want to help you make the transition to mountain biking easier because I believe the mountain bike can make you a better cyclist—it doesn't matter if you like to tour, time trial or road race. I've spent a good deal of time with roadies looking to get dirty and this column contains some of the tips I've shared with them.
More: 10 Ways to Improve Your Mountain Biking
Pick a Trail That's Good for Beginners
Sadly, many roadies have been directed to a mountain bike trail that is much too hard for beginners. You'll have a better experience if you begin on a relatively easy trail and increase difficulty as you improve skills. If this isn't possible, for whatever reason, be willing to walk your bike across the hair-raising, death-to-the-left sections.
More: Learn to Bunny Hop
Pedal, Pedal, Pedal
Most of the time, power to the pedals and momentum are your friends. It is tempting to stop pedaling right before an obstacle. Your inner voice is telling you that the obstacle looks scary and you need to take a second or third look at the thing. Assuming you are beginning with a trail that is appropriate for beginners, much of the time just keeping the pedals moving and keeping even power to the wheels will get you around or over the technical section. Steady, even power will also help you climb a loose section of trail.
Tell yourself, "Pedal, pedal, pedal!"
More: Mountain Bike Skills You Need to Know
Look Where You Want to Go and Trust the Bike
You have to be looking well ahead of the bike. Decide where you want to go and keep looking ahead on the trail. Don't look at a section of trail and keep your eye on that section or obstacle until it's under your front wheel. If you're looking at what's under your front wheel, there's no way you can be ready for the next section of trail.
Once you've decided where you want to go, trust that your fork, shock and bike can handle the rough treatment. Mountain bikes, unlike road bikes, like it rough.
More: How to Handle Different Obstacles
Sometimes you Need to Aim for the Rock
This tip is completely counter-intuitive for roadies. On the road bike we all try our best to avoid obstacles—including rocks. In mountain biking, sometimes aiming right for the rock and riding over it is your best line.