10 Tips to Being a Better MTB Rider, From a Coach

Who doesn't want to be more proficient on the MTB? Here are ten tips to improve your mountain biking, from a coach!

By Jen Kastes CPT |

When I was at university more than 20 years ago, an ex introduced me to MTB during a weekend trip to the mountains. For that random and unexpected adventure, I have never been more grateful. The romantic relationship may not have lasted, but my love for mountain biking only grew from that point forward.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate how the lessons of mountain biking have applied to other areas of my life. On a bike, as in life, it’s important to always look where you want to go, stay present in the moment so you don’t crash into a tree (or random moose on the trail), and remember you can always get up and dust yourself off after a fall.

I’ve also met some of my favourite people, and made lasting friendships, while biking or joining a bike event or clinic.

My passion for bikes kept growing and in 2016, I started a career as a full-time health and mountain biking performance coach when I founded Shift Human Performance, my online coaching business.

While I may be comfortable and more confident in the sport of mountain biking today, there are certainly some things I wish I knew when I started mountain biking two decades ago. So I’ve put together a list of my top tips for how to be a better mountain biker, based on the mistakes I made and lessons I’ve learned.

1. Take a lesson

I spent my first few years chasing my best friends on the trails. While following their lead certainly helped me learn the basics, I also picked up some less-than-ideal habits along the way. I would have benefited from a solid skills lesson.

Back in 2000, skills clinics weren’t nearly as popular as they are now. Today, you can even find women-only clinics that cater to the community and include lessons for every level. The sooner you can learn the basic skills (such as bike-body separation and body positioning), the better your riding will be.

2. Practice the skills you learn

While a clinic will certainly help you learn what you need, you have to actually practice the skills in order for them to stick.

When I eventually went to my first skills clinic in 2015, I failed to consistently practice my new skills afterward. I never gave myself the chance to implement what I had learned, which could have helped me have more fun on the trail.

Set aside a few minutes a couple of times a week to practice what you learn, and then keep progressing the difficulty so you continue to progress on the bike.

3. Find your community

You need people to ride with, not because you can’t ride solo, but because it is infinitely more fun to ride with others every once in a while. Plus, having a community to ride with and lean on will help you grow as a cyclist.

As a woman, I longed to ride with other women, but they were difficult to find. Today, there are more female mountain bikers, including all-ladies teams, rides, and even races. You can usually find these groups through your local trail maintenance organisation or through social media. If all else fails, search online for riding groups in your area.

4. Fuel for your ride

I certainly love my snacks, but when I started riding, I often failed to eat enough before my rides. And, to make matters worse, I also failed to bring any snacks with me. As a result, my energy often tanked during rides. I would grow more miserable with each pedal stroke, which didn’t make some rides as fun as they could have been. Often, I was fresh from a class, skipped lunch, and got to the trail as fast as I could—so, I was riding on fumes.

Don’t be like me—eat a damn snack! Eating something quick and simple that consists of mostly carbs (which is the best fuel before an effort like mountain biking) about 60 minutes beforehand you ride allows for better digestion. (You may need more time, so test it out on your next few rides.)

Some examples of easy snacks include some Greek or Icelandic yogurt (for added protein) with granola or fruit and a little honey, or a piece of fruit and some nut butter. To keep your blood sugar steadier, it is ideal to pair the carb with a little protein or fat.

5. Take more than a single water bottle

You’re often breathing fairly hard when you bike, and that only increases your loss of fluid, in addition to your sweating. So, don’t hesitate to bring another water bottle with you to have in your car after you’re done riding. Or, better yet, start to carry a water bladder in your backpack or hip pack for easy water access throughout your ride.

I’ve found it’s a lot easier to grab my mouth piece on my backpack as I ride, than trying to grab my water bottle while navigating tricky terrain. Plus, doing so means I drink more water while riding instead of going almost the entire ride without drinking an ounce.

6. Wear gear that builds confidence

There are rocks, logs, and even huge boulders on the trail while mountain biking, which can be intimidating, especially when you’re starting out. Having some knee pads would have made me less hesitant riding challenging terrain, and I likely would have attempted more technical features earlier in my cycling exploration, which means I likely would have advanced faster. I find that protective gear boosts confidence when you’re trying something new, so don’t be shy about wearing it!

7. Maintain your bike

My first bike (a 2000 Gary Fisher Big Sur) never had its fork, the part of the bicycle that holds the front wheel, serviced while I owned it. Yes, I’m ashamed of that fact since I service my car regularly, but I didn’t realise that my bike also needed basic maintenance every year. Now, it’s so obvious to me, but back then, I was oblivious. Take your bike into your local bike shop (or learn how to maintain your bike yourself) at least once a season, but perhaps more often depending on how much you ride.

Also, depending on what features are on your bike, your disc brakes, suspension, and drivetrain need to be inspected and serviced at least once a year. At a bare minimum, keep your bike (and especially your chain) clean and lubed regularly.

8. Pay attention to your menstrual cycle

Twenty years ago, there wasn’t a lot of research on the effects your menstrual cycle can have on your performance and energy. (And we still need more science on it!) It’s smart to pay attention to the natural ebbs and flows of your energy throughout your cycle to help you understand why you might be feeling tired on the bike. Research suggests that you may have less energy right before your period, but it’s important to pay attention to what’s happening with your body.

I recommend tracking your cycle and paying attention to when your energy dips so you’re not surprised when you have no desire to ride your bike, or are having a difficult time pedalling for longer duration or uphill. We’re all different when it comes to our periods, so keep tabs on how your cycle affects you from one month to the next.

9. Check your tyres

Your tyres are the contact point between you and the trail. How well they are designed for your specific trails in your area will impact how well they grip the dirt, roots, and rock you commonly encounter. When I moved from one part of the country to another, I quickly realised how important it was for me to switch to a tyre that had more knobs on the outside part of the tyre tread. With this change, I found I could grip the loose terrain in my new home so much better.

10. Focus on the skills, more than the gear

The fanciest gear or bike won’t be as impactful on your riding as developing the skills needed to ride and handle your bike well. As long as you keep your bike well-maintained, having amazing skills will impact the overall joy of your bike ride more than the most expensive bike. You’ll also have less anxiety about damaging an expensive bike in a crash or incident on the trail.

Focus first on your skills and only get the bike and gear that you can afford. Riding a less expensive bike doesn’t make you less of a mountain biker. You’re a mountain biker if you enjoy mountain biking, period.

READ MORE ON: mountain biking mountain biking skills mtb coaching mtb skills MTB tips self-improvement skills training

Copyright © 2024 Hearst