4 Tips To Fast-Track Your MTB Skills

Want to join your friends getting fast and dirty on the trail (and still get home in one piece)? Here’s how to get started!

Selene Yeager |

There’s an old saying about MTB: It gets easier – and more fun! – the more you do it. But as a beginner, you probably wish you had some way to speed up your learning. Look no further: here are the tips you need to fast-track mountain-bike fun.

Stay Loose

Your bike’s job is to roll over technical terrain. Your job is to let your bike do its job. That means keeping your body loose, so it can move beneath you. Hover your butt off the saddle when riding over obstacles like roots and rocks. The more technical the terrain, the more room your bike needs to move. When ripping down a descent, think ‘push-up arms’ and ‘cowboy legs’, and flare out your elbows and knees so your body lets the bike flow rather than fighting it.

Shift Your Weight

You’re going to hit some extreme terrain, including steep inclines and declines. When climbing a tough pitch, shift your weight forward and lean forward, to keep your centre of gravity over the rear wheel and maintain traction. When the earth tilts downward, go in the opposite direction, shifting your weight behind the saddle and over the rear wheel to avoid going over the bars.

Easy On The Brakes

You will be tempted, at some point, to grab both brakes and pull them to the bars with all you’ve got. Resist this temptation! Mountain-bike brakes are powerful enough that you need just one finger to modulate your speed. Adjust your speed before the tricky stuff, like rock gardens and corners, and then maintain your speed through them. If you do find yourself going into a turn too hot, stay off the front brake. Stopping your front tyre will send it into a slide, which is likely to send you to the ground.

Hit the rear instead; you might skid, but you’re more likely to stay upright.

Look Where You Want To Go

Staring directly at that rock you don’t want to hit will almost guarantee that you’re going to smack right into it. It’s called ‘target fixation’; your bike goes where your eyes are directing it to go. Rather look past obstacles, to where you want to go. Keep your chin level to the ground and your eyes forward, and try to look as far down the trail as possible, using your peripheral vision to
avoid and negotiate obstacles immediately in front of you.

Master Your Suspension – Keep your rides bump-free

One thing that can derail any MTB ride, no matter how skillful you are, is poor suspension set-up. Most mountain bikes have at least a front suspension fork, and many have a shock absorber in the rear as well. These make big bumps almost disappear as you roll over them. But they only work if you have them set to their active positions.

With time, you’ll learn the finer nuances of setting your sag (how much travel you use up just sitting on the bike) and rebound. But what you definitely should know is how to lock out and/or open up your suspension, so you don’t accidentally roll out onto a crazy-technical trail with a fully rigid bike.

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