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10 Tips For Beginner Mountain Bikers

If you’re just starting out as a mountain biker, the thought of riding over rocks, roots, drops, and other trail obstacles may sound exciting and terrifying all at once. Mountain biking is definitely a sport where you can choose your own adventure and sometimes those adventures are a little more than we bargained for. But with practice and patience, even the most ‘terrifying’ obstacle can be tackled in time. Almost every time I ride a trail for the second, third, or fourth time I ride something that I skipped before or I try a new, harder line. Like any sport, mountain biking is built on progression. The more you ride, the better you get. To help you progress even faster, here are 10 tips for beginner (or advanced!) mountain bikers. 1. Keep Your Body Loose Easier said than done. But truly, if you keep your body loose - particularly your arms and shoulders - your bike becomes much easier to handle. Trail obstacles will also feel smoother because your loose joints act as extra suspension. To get started, keep these two things in mind:

  • Keep elbows and shoulders loose by lowering your chest to the handlebars. This makes steering easier and drops your center of gravity

  • Move your body independently of the bike. You’ve probably seen photos of mountain bikers careening around a turn with their hips way off to the side of their saddle. This is something you want to strive for. Your hands and feet will always (hopefully) be attached to the handlebars and pedals, but your hips, arms, and legs should move independently of the bike. This will allow you maneuver around turns, increase your speed, and hit larger features with greater confidence.

2. Momentum Is Your Friend (Until It’s Not) Most crashes for beginner mountain bikers happen because they don’t have enough speed. You’ve probably seen videos of riders nosediving off a drop or toppling over through a rock garden. This happens (usually) because momentum is lost and the rider can’t maintain balance. So speed is your friend, (until it’s not…) If you’re headed toward a drop or rock garden and it’s too late to bail but you still feel in control, get off the brakes and let the bike to the work. You’ll be surprised at what momentum helps you get through :) 3. Shift Early And Shift Often It always pains me when I see riders try to power through a climb in too hard of a gear. Shift early and shift often. If you see a climb coming up, downshift just before the incline starts. You don’t want to shift during the climb because that can crunch the drivetrain and maybe even result in a dropped chain. But if you shift just before the climb starts, you’ll have a much easier and more pleasant pedal to the top. The same is true on descents. Shift into a harder gear so that your legs aren’t spinning a mile a minute when you get to the bottom of the hill. Pro tip: most shift set-ups allow you to ‘punch down’ on gears and drop three gears in one go. This is great for quick punchy climbs when you don’t have time to down shift one gear at a time. 4. Set Your Suspension Correctly When I first started riding mountain bikes, I didn’t give two thoughts about dialing in suspension settings. I’d put some air into the shock chambers, turn the rebound knobs roughly to middle and go hit the trails. Then I met my boyfriend and all that changed. He can’t ride his bike if the psi is off just one pound. So he set my suspension sag and rebound to my weight and riding style and holy moly does it make a different. So smmooooth. So do yourself a favor and set your suspension correctly based on your weight. If you’re not sure how to do this, a bike shop can help or you can google your shock model (both rear shock and front fork) to get a baseline idea of how much psi you need based on your weight. For example, this is the tuning guide for the Fox Float X2 rear shock.

5. Set Your Seat Height Correctly If you’re wondering why your lower back or knees hurt when pedaling, it’s probably because your seat height is off. Too high and your lower back gets strained; too low and it’s a killer for the knees. A proper seat height means that your knee is slightly bent when the pedal is closest to the ground. This may mean that you can’t reach both feet to the ground when you’re sitting on the seat, but that’s normal. 6. Look Where You Want To Go This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s important. Keep your eyes looking ahead and look to where you want your bike to go. If you’re in a big berm, look to the exit. If you’re hitting a drop, look at the landing. If you’re in a straightaway, look straight ahead. By looking to where you want to go, you’re setting your body position up to steer your bike in that direction. It’s also important to keep tip #1 in mind here - keep the body loose so that you’re not fighting against yourself. Stiff arms aren’t going to make it easy to turn the bike in the direction that you’re looking. 7. Ride With People Who Are Better Than You This may sound scarier than sending your first drop, but riding with people that are better than you is going to make you a better rider. Don’t worry about ‘holding them up’ and don’t worry about walking the technical sections. Most mountain bikers are just stoked to get out and ride some trails with a fun group of people - including you! 8. Learn How To Trackstand If there’s one skill to learn that will instantly boost your confidence and mountain biking abilities, it’s the trackstand. A trackstand is basically being able to stand up on your bike at a stand still. Why is this important? For control and balance. Many features on the trail like steep rollers, tight switchbacks, and technical climbs require control and balance. If you can’t balance on your bike at slow speed, you’ll probably topple over or put a foot down. Trackstands are pretty easy to learn with a bit of practice. Try spending 5 minutes before each ride working on your balance! 9. Use Your Suspension Actively What does this mean? It’s a little hard to explain, but once you get the feel of using your suspension proactively (rather than passively) you’ll find that descents are smoother and you can burst out of turns with speed. For example, if you’re just cruising down a trail, letting your bike do the work, this is passive riding. The front and rear shocks are reacting to the contours of the trail without you doing anything. But if you’re pumping into the trail contours and using your arm and leg strength to press into the bike, you’re then using the suspension proactively. Why is this a good thing? If you get it right, you can pump into the suspension to skip over rocks and roots on the trail rather than smash through them. It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of pumping into your suspension, but the more you practice the smoother your riding will become. This video shows how to pump into suspension at a pump track (which are great places to practice!) 10. Choose Different Lines The obvious line is not always the best line and vice versa. It’s good to get into the habit of choosing different lines down a trail to get a feel for different situations. This will help you improve skills and gain confidence. For example, try going over rocks instead of around them or try the righthand line down a rock garden instead of your usual line to the left. The more you switch things up on every ride, the more adept rider you will become. #justride #lifeisabeautifulride

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