Mountain Biking Skills
It would seem the humble bicycle is no longer humble thanks to advances in technology, so it can be daunting keeping up with the range of equipment, jargon and riding styles on offer in your local shop. Here we unravel the jargon, spell out what may well be obvious for experienced riders (although a reminder of the basics never hurt a sole), and hopefully provide simple tips to practice on your next ride.
Most of us are taught to ride a bike at a young age. We quickly work out the importance of pedaling to move forward, momentum to remain upright and braking in order to avoid obstacles or coming to rest.
Mountain biking has many disciplines including recreational riding to serious racing. This first article will focus on the basics of trail riding. Regardless of the type of riding or discipline of choice, a correctly set up mountain bike is crucial if you want to get the most out of your cycling but it is something that often gets forgotten or ignored in the rush to acquire skills particularly with novice riders. Not only does a good fit have a major impact on the efficiency of propelling forward but also can help protect against many common cycling injuries. Therefore, seek professional advice from your AvantiPlus Store who can guide you on the following:
- Frame size
- Saddle height and alignment
- Saddle type.
- Crank length
- Pedal alignment
- Handlebar width and position
- Brake and shifter position
Once your bike is set up correctly, there are other factors to consider.
To start with you need to be balanced in the middle of your bike and the three contact points (i.e. handlebars, saddle and pedals) need to be tweaked to make this possible.
Have you experienced riding over rough terrain and your head is shaking so much that your teeth are rattling and you lose focus with your eyes. If you answer yes, then you are not centred. You are centred when you can coast over rough terrain, your bike is moving beneath you, bouncing all over the trail but your head floats on one plane.
If you’re unsure, pop in store and politely ask the staff to check out your centering on the bike.
Whether you ride flat pedals, toe clips or cleats, you need a solid platform for balance. The correct position on the pedals may seem obvious but I often see poor set up by many riders. Without taking into account individual biomechanics it is difficult to give a formula for correct set up. If you have cleats position these at the furthest point back in the shoe. Now you can stand all day on your pedals without feeling like you are tip toeing in high heels at 30kms an hour over steep rough terrain.
When riding over rough terrain or down a hill your pedals should be horizontal, sitting at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock. If you have one foot lower than the other then you are now unbalanced on the bike, leaving you unable to stay centered in the middle of the bike as the gradient increases and you risk clipping a stump or obstacle with your lower foot, especially if you are cornering.
Wide riser bars are best for stability and leverage. Set your levers so you can reach it with your index finger at the end of the lever (modern brakes are powerful enough to allow one-finger braking leaving you firmly secured to the handlebar). Roll levers around the bars so that when seated on the bike there is a straight line up from your index finger and across your wrist to your forearm. Your wrist should not be cocked on the bars.
Experience and practice will tell you when to stay seated and when to stand when the terrain gets rough or steep. Learn to stand on those pedals out of the saddle and balance your weight fore and aft on the bike to maintain traction through the wheels.
A tense body is getting bounced with every bump. Your loose, relaxed, limbs are the best form of suspension available – and they’re free!
Look as far as you can down the trail so your brain can make decisions about what is coming up then look at the trail just in front of you to negotiate and obstacles trail changes. Keep doing this.
Look at where you want to go and your body will follow.
Concentrate on what you want to do, not on what you want to avoid…usually trees and muddy puddles.
Concentrate on one skill at a time. Spend a whole ride or a trail focusing on one skill. When it becomes automatic move onto the next skill.
Try to keep them relaxed. Tuck your thumb under the bar and wrap all your fingers around the bar. Roll your hands over so your wrist is straight and not cocked on the bar. You may need to undo the brakes and shifters and roll them around so you can achieve this. Put your right and left index finger on the brake levers.
The palm of your hand below your pinky should be at the end of the bars and your index finger resting on the kink at the end of your brake lever. If you can not reach your lever or the end of the lever is no where near your index finger then your friendly bike shop can help set these up properly. This is one of the most important set ups of your bike. We all have different length fingers and incorrect braking is certainly going to put you off riding.
Bent and pointing away from you gives you stability and the ability to lengthen your arms as your front wheel drops away from you off a step or steeper terrain.
Need to be relaxed to let your front wheel roll over or into obstacles and not drag you or bounce you.
Comfortably positioned on pedals as above.
Need to be in a strong, slightly bent, position with heels down to keep your weight in the centre of the bike and to prevent you moving forward when brakes are applied. Think of your bike rotating from the pedals below you. Like standing on the fulcrum of a see saw, the see saw moves up and down as you stay still.
Bent at 90 degrees with your back straight. Let your arms hang directly below you with your elbows bent and pointing outwards.
You should feel very low on your bike. Standing on the pedals with legs straight is easier to do, more stable and your center of gravity is lower. You should be weighted in the centre of the bike.
- Looking well ahead and back to just in front of your wheel.
- Looking where you want to go and not what you want to avoid.
- Standing with feet at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock when going down hill and over rough terrain.
- Using a single finger to brake.
- Keeping elbows bent, pointing out.
- Standing up and keeping legs almost straight and relaxed when coasting, descending or going over a rough terrain.
Next time: correct braking.