Mountain Biking Magazine

Beginner's Guide


Mountain Biking Primer

Here's some basic info for the beginning mountain biker. Like any sport that involves balance and equipment, there are some basic skills that you must know and master before becoming proficient. The skills below have been culled from dozens of talented riders and apply to riders just starting out or who have been riding for years. Try them, and try them often, then see if you don't get better faster!

* General Seated Riding Position - Never lock your elbows. Locked elbows make the arms and shoulders rigid, which delivers shock (bump forces) from the front wheel (and to a lesser extent the rear wheel) to the neck and head. So even though it may feel comfortable to lock the elbows as it feels like you are relieving stress on your back, it ultimately is more tiring because the head and neck are getting jostled excessively. Also, when your elbows are locked, the neck muscles actually tense up, causing soreness in the neck. If you're not used to riding bent over, take frequent breaks and stretch your neck muscles.

* Cadence Your most efficient revolutions per minute (cadence) is 60-80 rpm. Not too fast, and not too slow. Remember, you are trying to be efficient. Use your gears often to maintain a consistent cadence.

* Basic Braking - Remember, you're on dirt, so you can't just grab a whole lot of brake all at once. You need to develop a light touch on the brake levers, squeezing, or "feathering" them instead of applying a lot of pressure all at once, especially on loose gravel or dirt. Even on surfaces that look compact and not very slick, you have to be ready to let off the brakes slightly if the tires start to slide, because a sliding tire is an out-of-control tire. Always use both brakes at the same time, and especially never the front brake by itself. Always be careful when applying your brakes in a turn. Apply your brakes before the turn, roll through the turn, then apply them again if necessary once you're not turning. If you must apply the brakes in the turn, be very aware of your feathering technique.

* Scanning - Much more attention must be paid to what's coming up in front of you when riding off-road. Terrain characteristics can change quickly, and if you're not ready to anticipate the change you could be caught in the wrong gear or in a bad section of trail. You must always be looking ahead far enough so you can plan for your next two "moves" (the next two things you will need to do to keep going), as well as directly in front of your front tire for specific obstacles that you need to avoid. Always concentrate on where you want to go, not where you don't want to go. Focus on the good line, not on the bad line.

* Crouch - This is the basic balanced, off-the-saddle riding position for downhilling and negotiating obstacles. If you stay on the saddle when descending or going over an obstacle (branch, rut) with your pedals at six and twelve o'clock and rigid arms and legs, you are not letting the bike do what it wants to do, which is roll over the terrain. As the bike hits a bump, your weight on the saddle and rigid arms counteract the upward movement of the bike from the bump. The bump force then is driven into your arms and body, and you bounce around on the saddle basically out of control. However, if you position your feet and pedals level, raise up off the saddle by extending your legs, bend your waist, knees, and arms, and remain in firm but relaxed control of the handlebar, you will be letting the bike roll over the terrain while you remain above and isolated from the bump forces. In addition, bend your waist enough to let the insides of your thighs come into contact with the wings (wide rear part) of the saddle, hugging the saddle slightly. You want your thighs, not your butt, to be in contact with the rear part of the saddle. DO NOT push your thighs to the back of the saddle with your arms bend your waist and knees until the insides of your upper thighs make contact with the rear outside portion of the saddle on either side. There should be a noticeable gap between the top of the rear part of the saddle and your butt. Have two fingers (middle and index) on the brake levers at the ready or braking at the same time (remember: do not grab the brakes hard, instead pump or "feather" them so you don't skid the tires on loose dirt).