The Basics: Mountain Bike Skills You Need to Know

If you have cycled with groups of friends, you will know what it is like to be left behind.

You may have found yourself lagging behind them during mountain biking sessions. To prevent this, you must know how to descend and ascend mountains fast. Of course, you will need to negotiate obstacles.

Mountain biking requires a separate set of skills from road cycling. These are some basic techniques that every novice cyclist should have at his or her fingertips.

1. Changing your body position

Going over mountains is not child’s play. You will have to shift your body a few times during a mountain biking session. The way you position your body determines its success.

Stay in a neutral position when you are moving over small sections of trail. Keep your pedals evenly weighted and your hands on the brake levers. Look 15 to 20 meters ahead and focus on where you wish to go.

When cycling over rough terrain, keep your back flat and nearly parallel to the ground. Again, train your eyes 15 to 20 meters ahead and focus on your destination.

Move into the ready or attack position when cycling over steep hills. Once more, your pedals should be evenly weighted. Bend your knees and elbows deeply. Make your arms look like buffalo wings. Sit on the back end of the seat, and move your hips backward.

2. Uphill Riding

Riding uphill is tiring, but these tips should make your journey easier.

a Lower Gear

Before you start to move uphill, shift your bike into a lower gear. Find the gear that is compatible with the steepness of the ascent.

b. Remain seated

Stay on your saddle. Doing so increases traction, which you need when you are mountain biking.

c. Move your body forward

When ascending, lean your body forward. Slide to the front of the saddle and lean over the handlebars. You will put your weight on the handlebars and be able to support yourself.

d. Pedal

Keep moving the pedals at all costs. Pedaling moves you over rough terrain.

3. Downhill Riding

Descending a hill presents a separate set of challenges. It causes you to cycle at a faster speed, so you must manage your bike well.

a. Move into the big ring

Shift your gears into the big chainring before you start cycling downhill. You will maximize your cycling power and cycle at a steady pace. Shifting to the big ring eases the load on your gears and prevents your chain from popping off.

Beginning cyclists should practice changing gears as often as possible. It builds muscle memory. Shifts will soon become automatic.

A rule of thumb is to prevent cross-chaining. Cross-chaining happens when the chain in the front stretches awkwardly to the cog at the back. The chain may pop off from the strain.

b. Stay calm.

Avoid being too tense on your bike. Do not clench your fists or lock your elbows. You need to bend them to absorb the shock of the descent. Gripping the handlebars will steady your bike.

c. Do not steer too much.

Mountain biking involves shifting your weight from one side to another. Do not steer too much, but allow the bike to follow your body’s movements.

Focus on your intended direction, and your bike will do the rest.

d. Position yourself above your saddle

When going downhill, straddle the seat and stand on the pedals. Your legs will absorb the shock instead of your bottom.

e. Pedals should be parallel to the ground

Have your pedals parallel to the ground, so that they will not catch in rocks on debris.

f. Focus

Getting to the bottom of a hill requires your complete attention. Each rock and groove can spell danger. Do not allow your mind to wander.

4. Going over obstacles

You will have to move your bike overs cumbersome rocks and nasty bumps on the ground. Hilly terrain is rough. To negotiate obstacles, you will need to get into the ready position and lift the front wheel of your bike.

As you approach the obstacle, stand up. Get into the attack position. Lift the front wheel by leaning back hard, extending your arms and pulling backward. To increase the “pull back” effect, tilt your head back.

You will bump into stones and other blocks if you do not prepare to get around them. Remember to lift the front wheel before you come to an obstacle. When you should start lifting depends on your speed. A good gauge is to lift it when you are about 20m away from an object.

5. Braking

Coming to sudden stops is dangerous. You must learn how to slow your bike down properly. Applying the right force is the key to decelerating well.

Apply pressure on the brakes evenly when you do not want to slow down too much. When trying to come to a drastic stop, put more force on the front than on the back brake.

If you are turning and stopping, put more pressure on the back brake. You will be able to make a slower turn.

Remember to get your body into the right position. As you brake, move your hips back and drop your knees. Bend your knees and elbows slightly. This posture allows you to stay in control of your bike.

If your bike has disc brakes, keep your index fingers on the brakes and the other fingers on the handlebars to get enough braking power.

6. When falling off your bike

No one likes to fall off their bikes, but the inevitable happens.

As you fall off your bike, fold your arms. You may want to reach out and prevent your fall, but you may injure your wrist or collarbone instead.

Examine yourself for injuries, then look over your bike. The seat may have dislodged. The handlebars may have twisted as well.

Carry a first aid kit if possible. Use a multi-tool to make necessary adjustments to your brakes and gears.

Each cycling experience will be a joy if you master these skills.

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