All too often I see experienced riders becoming impatient and frustrated with the slow progression of their mountain biking skills. The crashes become regular. They seem to be dropping down the Strava leaderboard. Unlocking new features becomes increasingly difficult. Their enjoyment fades. The fix is to go back to basics. To slow everything down. To relook at technique and possibly to readjust goals.
If the above scenario resonates with you, or if you are starting from scratch and want to develop your mountain bike skills, here are a few fundamentals of the learning process that are well worth considering. They could be the keys to your success.
Start by understanding body position
On any trail, adopting the correct body position is key. For example, when descending, you need to drop the saddle, stand and disconnect from the bike – by not squeezing the saddle. Good footwork is essential too – you want to be shifting your weight to maximize flow and traction. Good body position also involves the hips – many riders make the error of never hinging at the hips or simply not hinging enough at the hips – it helps with front wheel traction and overall stability.
Think about whether you are active on the bike when descending or do you simply go into a fixed and frozen semi-squat position and hold on tight. Do you know when and why to put more weight onto the pedals? When it comes to the correct body position, the list of nuances is almost endless. Paying attention to them is crucial. Researching what to do when is a crucial starting point to developing your skills.
Consistently include drills into your rides
Drills help you solidify new techniques you’ve learned. The key to making these new tips and tricks a permanent part of your repertoire is to do them often. The key is to keep it fun! Do things like skids, wheelies, track stands and low-speed balance routines. Do some no-pedal runs down a flow line, it will help you master the art of pumping. Another useful drill is to refine your braking technique by incorporating more modulation – you’ll ride a lot smoother when you get it right.
Learn to flow on easier trails
It is 100% true that there’s more value in riding an easy trail well than riding a difficult trail badly. Easier trails afford you the time (and bandwidth) to process things and execute the technique well. It’s also a great idea to slow down to around 70% of your capacity when working on new techniques. I call them ‘flow runs’.
In the world of mountain bike skills, perfection is almost non-existent. You’ll be better off if you stop focusing on executing things perfectly. ‘Seek constant progression and not immediate perfection’ is what I always say. You can do this by making basic changes to your technique that are easy to remember, execute and repeat.
| IMAGES: Gary Perkin and Rob Ward for Bike Network |