9 Mountain Bike Skills that you Really, Really Need to Master
You’ve learned the basics and feel secure on your mountain bike, now you need to develop those harder skills that make you look like a real pro. Here’s our list of top moves that will boost you from Sunday morning cyclist to seasoned veteran in no time at all.
Unweighting is all about navigating that rough ground, shifting your weight at just the right moment which means you go over that bump or obstacle with the minimum of difficulty. It involves being fluid in your movements and being aware of the ground you are on.
And it takes practice to get right. Check out the video below for a basic run through of how to get mountain bike unweighting right for your next bike ride.
Out on the street you have obstacles like the pavement that you have to get down, hardly a problem for most reasonably experienced riders. For those out in the wild, those drops are a little trickier but a good rider should be able to cope with anything up to a two foot drop without breaking into a sweat. The trick is getting it done at higher speeds and that takes technique and practice.
Start by trying a few drops at a slow pace. As you approach, extend and push forward your arms, keeping your weight back over the cranks, and bending your legs. As the back wheel comes down, straighten your legs and pull up on the bar, trying to keep your weight centred. Then return to the normal attack position and continue on your ride.
If you are a novice, this is one of the best skills you can develop. Our advice is to take things easy until you have it working fluidly, gradually increasing your speed when you become more adept.
Front Wheel Lift
One of the more challenging mountain bike moves, the front wheel lift is about more than just upper body strength. It’s about where you shift your body weight and takes a deal of practice to get right. The best way to develop the skill is to start on a flat or sloping surface that means you won’t have any other distractions. Check out the detailed training session below from BMX champion Alison Dunlap and the three basic steps to a good front wheel lift.
Cornering at speed is a mountain bike skill that will help you pick up valuable seconds especially if you are in a race to the finish line. The problem is that you’ll be dealing with dirty, uneven and muddy surfaces and it’s easy to lose traction if you don’t know what you are doing. You should assume a low, aggressive stance, with the pedal facing the inside of the corner upright and your knee pointing towards the corner. Whereas on a road you would lean into the bend, for mountain bike courses you need to lean more of the other way by putting your weight onto the outside pedal, unless you want to go flying into the undergrowth. The trick for getting good at it is, of course, plenty of practice.
A berm is a corner that has a bank on the outside edge which runs its whole length. The benefit of this is that it allows you to go much faster round the corner because it provides a base for the wheels, and the speed you can generate depends largely on how steep the berm is. Berms can be quite shallow and incredibly steep and how you handle them depends on how confident you are.
If you’re a beginner or just intermediate, one of the major obstacles you are going to encounter is the dreaded tree root. They don’t care, they grow just about anywhere, sticking out of the ground and waiting to send your mountain bike into orbit. Many beginners make the mistake of braking suddenly which provides no traction and causes the bike inevitably to slip. For roots there is one simple solution and that’s unweighting. If you’ve already learned that particular skill then you’re half way there. You simply need some practice out in the country.
Off camber is a great deal like cornering except that the landscape is slightly different and it’s all about when you use the breaks. An off camber is uneven which means that gravity is trying to pull you out of the turn. It’s a delicate manoeuvre but it you’re on any kind of trail there’s no way you can avoid them. Take a look at the video below on how to cope with an off camber turn from expert Australians Jess and Norm Douglas.
Bunny hops will set you apart from the competition and are pretty easy to learn on a standard road. It’s a good idea to be proficient with the front wheel lift and unweighting before you start. Bunny hopping is a mountain bike technique that is useful for getting over obstacles that you can’t just roll over such as larger trails of rock or roots. Basically, what you are doing is lifting your bike up and over the obstacle as this training video from Global Cycling Network shows.
Going up steep inclines takes energy, nerve and determination rather than a good deal of skill. It’s a great idea to get into the right gear before you actually hit that slope, to save trying to change it further up when things get difficult. You need to shift your weight forward as the front wheel rises, balancing the bike and you may even have to get out of the saddle and pull yourself forward to keep traction. If the back wheel loses traction and slips then lean back again – in fact, you will find that on most steep slopes you will need to move back and forth to keep the bike reasonably balanced. In the end it comes down to experience and practice as in anything else to do with mountain bikes, but the good thing is that you can always get off and push that bike up the hill!
Learning the basic and advanced mountain bike techniques not only makes you a better rider it also means you’ll get more enjoyment out of your ride. Remember, young or old, it’s never too late to learn a little more.