Becoming a mountain biker means taking on a continuous journey of self-improvement and good times. You enjoy it the most when your skills are on par with the current challenge. This means rookies and more advanced bikers enjoy the same sort of rewards. When you pump your first jump, you will be as blown away as Eddy Merckx winning his third world championship. As your technical skills and bike handling abilities improve, the bike becomes an extension of your body. It becomes an instinct, and you’ll learn to take on the trails and other technical maneuvers the same way a gallant knight wields his sword.
Below is a list of tips and resources which will be the foundation of everything that you do out there. They help you develop an efficient pedaling rhythm, engage your mind and body, and get started on the right foot of achieving your best.
Choosing Your Weapon
There might be a temptation to just hop on and go on an impromptu ride and expect the unexpected. Indeed, spontaneity and adventure make mountain biking the most thrilling, but there’s also a lot of planning and learning involved that are absolutely vital for having a valuable experience.
Whether you’re buying a mountain bike for the first time or simply upgrading your existing one, chances are you’ll be faced with a huge variety of bikes available for mountain biking. They come in many different types, configurations, and sizes. They can range from a few hundred bucks to a whopping ten thousand dollars. But since mountain biking is an activity that heavily relies upon having the right bike, it’s of paramount importance to determine which type of bike suits you the most.
There are a number of different factors that can influence your choice of finding your ideal setup (e.g. riding style, weight, terrain, cost, etc) but everyone shopping for a new mountain bike will eventually face the decision of choosing either a full-suspension or a hardtail bike. Full suspension bikes come with both front and rear suspension while hardtails have suspension only on the front fork. Here’s how they both stack up against each other:
When they first entered the market, mountain bikes had no integrated suspension system at all. Nowadays, they come with at least suspension forks in the front, known as hardtail bikes. Some of the benefits of a solid front fork suspension include their inherently lower weight, which gives them a pedaling efficiency advantage and fewer moving parts, translating to fewer mechanical faults and less maintenance.
Additionally, hardtail bikes make you a better rider. They can be rough and less comfortable to navigate with, but they give a much more direct experience and teach the rider to move at a pace more appropriate to their skill level. Without rear suspension to cushion the bumps, hardtail bikes encourage riders to choose lines more cautiously and use their own legs as suspension.
A full-suspension bike provides riders better control over the bike and they bounce around less on rough terrain. With the combination of front and rear suspension, you get more grip and better traction thanks to its ability to retain tire contact with the ground especially during strong cornering or on bumpy descents. Full suspension bikes also have better climbing ability coupled with the general comfort of having suspension beneath your seat which translates to faster riding and efficiency.
Core Mountain Biking skills
To be a successful mountain biker, it’s not enough to just choose a bike that matches your body and riding style. You must also be equipped with technical riding skills and proper bike handling abilities to improve and progress in mountain biking. Whether it’s maintaining the correct body position, rapid braking, climbing/descending or knowing when to change gears, below you can find some mountain biking tips and techniques that help you be in control and keep the necessary momentum.
Perhaps the most essential factor to successful mountain biking is maintaining a correct body position. This will affect how well you can navigate the bike in relation to the changing terrain and how efficiently you can respond to potential obstacles and tricky sections of the trail.
While the seated position is certainly more effective in terms of better stability and pedaling power, the saddle (standing) position allows you to move freely in all directional dimensions and offers better maneuvering. A combination of on and off the saddle has the advantage of reducing saddle soreness and providing balance over a ride’s duration.
Mastering mountain biking skills also involves knowing when and how to change gears correctly. Depending on your bike model, your drivetrain has a large array of gear choices, both in the number of front chainrings and rear cogs. While making the right gear choices depends on your speed, balance, leg strength, and confidence level, there’s a correct gear for almost every situation. For instance, not selecting the gear at the right moment while climbing or descending means you might lose your momentum or damage the components. Here’s how you can change gears more effectively:
Anticipating gear changes beforehand by using what you see and feel will help you avoid bogging down or losing power production. Proper anticipation and shifting at the right moments translate to better efficiency during riding and optimal cadence range.
Don’t cross up your chain
Stretching the chain directly from the highest ring to the highest cog puts it in an extreme position, resulting in higher friction and causing it to wear and tear faster. Keeping the front and rear gears in the middle position will make it easier for you to move one up or down whenever necessary.
Change gears frequently
Changing gears frequently extends the chainring’s life by keeping the wear and tear from spreading out. So, don’t hesitate to shift to different gears as often as necessary.
Braking is pretty much self-explanatory: you press the levers, and the bike starts to slow down. But knowing when and how to brake goes a long way in helping you retain speed and control while avoiding mishaps and instability. The following mountain biking tips are fairly basic but are crucial in learning how to maximize your brakes.
Prior to braking, you should be familiar with the amount of force you need to apply on the brake levers. Note that knobbier and heavier tires demand more braking power than skinnier and lighter ones. When riding downhill, make sure to apply brakes equally between the front and back wheels, keeping in mind that the front wheel has more braking power.
Shift your weight
When you brake hard and abruptly, your body is weighted forward, and you risk going over the handlebars. So, it’s imperative to move your weight back when applying brakes. Doing so will increase braking power and balance, especially during descents.
Don’t brake in corners
By default, braking in corners should be avoided as much as possible. Ideally, you’d want to start braking and reduce the speed before approaching the turns and then let your momentum push you through.
Learning to properly harness your brakes’ power and applying them appropriately will help you improve your mountain biking skills and make your riding sound and safe across the trail.
Cornering involves three essential elements: line choice, entering, and exiting. When you take a turn, try to turn slowly, making your way to the high side of the turn and then switching to the lower part as you exit the turn and reclaim the speed. When you enter the corners, it is important to point your head in the direction you want to go. Make sure to look well ahead, both when entering and exiting the corners, while always keeping one finger ready for the brake. Doing so allows you to take your time and better deal with any potential problems down the trail.
Riding skills such as maintaining speed through technical sections, navigating rough and rocky sections, and climbing steep switchbacks are part of instinct and part planning. Knowing how and when to brake, maintaining the correct base position, and anticipating gear changes early are core mountain biking techniques that need to be learned and practiced before you throw yourself in the mountains.