The Ultimate Mountain Biking Skills Cheat Sheet

Behold the mountain bike trail. Thrilling adventure awaits, and so do rocks, roots, and heart-racing descents. Master them all with this expert advice.

Christine Bucher |

Ideas to Live By

Get loose. Prepare to carve around tight corners and ride over obstacles such as roots and rocks by standing on your pedals, lifting your butt slightly above the seat, and keeping your elbows and knees bent to absorb any impacts.

  • Trust in Momentum. On a mountain bike, momentum makes everything easier. Climbs feel shorter and rocks seem smaller. Try to maintain at least a fast walking pace, then speed up—instead of slowing down—before a challenging move.
  • Move your body. Before a steep climb, drop your elbows toward your hips and lower your chin over the handlebar for extra balance. On descents, you need stability: Level your pedals, move your elbows out, and slide your butt behind your saddle.
  • Shift, a lot. Zoom into the elevation profile of a mountain bike trail and it might look like an EKG readout—you’ll need to shift frequently to keep a good pace. Prepare for rapid undulations by keeping your fingers close to your shifters, and change gears prior to dips and spikes in the terrain.
  • Heads up. As you ride, try looking at least six metres up the trail. This will give you time to choose the best path around (or over) hazards, shift if you need to, and get your body in the right position to tackle any obstacle.
  • Support yourself. There are no convenience stores in the forest, and cell service can be rare—leaving amenities behind is one of mountain biking’s appeals. But be prepared: Carry at least a spare tube, pump, multi-tool, food, and water.

It’s OK to…

  • Try an obstacle again if you battle the first time. If you don’t make it after three tries, come back another day.
  • Skip a tough section of trail. Better to walk through a rocky field than to suffer needlessly.
  • Take a break. Even half an hour of riding can leave you exhausted. Stop, eat a snack, take in the scenery, and reset.
  • Use your brakes! The front brake offers more stopping power (60 percent of your total braking ability), so squeeze it a little harder than the rear. Just be careful: Using only your front brake can send you over the bar.

Do I Need It?

  • Trail-Ready Bike: YES. Bikes made for mountain biking (not just for roads or bike paths) have durable components, lower gears, wide grippy tyres, and powerful brakes – all of which give you more control.
  • Trendy Wheel Size: NO. There are three popular wheel diameters for mountain bikes: 26, 27.5, and 29 inches. Each has benefits, and they all perform well. It’s more important to find a bike that fits you.
  • Front Suspension: YES. A shock-absorbing fork will help you roll over bumps and other obstacles. Just make sure yours is designed for off-road riding and in good working condition.
  • Disc Brakes: YES. Mechanical or hydraulic disc brakes are substantially more powerful than older V-brakes, which makes them safer.
  • Clipless Pedals: NO. Flat platform pedals make it easier to bail should you misjudge an obstacle or lose control. If you’re already comfortable clipping in, go with double-sided models made for mountain biking.

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