What someone mentions mountain biking, what comes to mind? Probably a scene involving dirt, rocks, roots, gravel, mud and other terrain. Mountain biking involves negotiating your way around or over obstacles like rocks or roots, climbing hills and descending slopes. More bike handling skills come into play in mountain biking compared to road riding as the terrain is ever changing. Mental fitness plays a part as riders with cooler and calmer temperament will find it easier conquering technical terrain. On the trails, your body and bike need to be dynamic in position and movement as the terrain changes. If you don’t adjust, the trail will adjust your body and your bike in many painful ways. Here are 10 essential skills that you can practice to transform you into a proper off road warrior.
When approaching a climb the first thing to do is to change gears. Start in a very low gear as it is easier to change into a higher ratio (heavier gear) if you want to go faster or find yourself pedalling too fast. Your cadence should be around 75 to 85 r.p.m. while climbing, so shift gears to maintain a consistent cadence.
Secondly, shift your body to the front of the bike by sliding your hips forward, perching on the nose of the saddle. Stay low at the front and drop your elbows like you’re pulling or tugging on the handlebars. Your body should feel or look like it’s in a fetal position from the side view. If the front wheel wobbles that means your weight is not far enough forward.
To increase traction on uphills without letting the front wheel wobble as though the bike has a mind of its own. Take charge and nail those climbs!
To go downhill in fun and safety, first and foremost, get out of the saddle. Stand on the pedals at all times when descending. Push your hips to the rear, which automatically shifts the center of gravity to the middle of the bike while descendin. Drop your heels, using the soles to prevent your feet from slipping and maintaining better grip on the pedals. Spread your knees to allow the bike to move freely between your legs. Spread your arms wide, in a ‘push up’ position. Keep your torso and head low to stabilise your position. From the side, your body will form the letter ‘L’. Keep your eyes pointed at where you want to go and look far enough ahead to scan for obstacles.
For maximum control while bombing down those descents, along with more confidence and stability.
RAILING THE CORNERS
When cornering, traction is something all riders look for. To corner fast and safely, start by leaning the bike into the corner. As you enter the corner, keep your eyes, chest and hips facing your exit point. Elbows should be spread wide to enable a confident and strong position. The outside pedal should be at the 6 o’clock position when you approach the turn with your legs fully extended and your body out of the saddle. This keeps the weight on the tyres and lets you shift your weight back and forth depending on the trail gradient and maximising grip. Keep your body close to bike to lower the center of gravity, like a sports car.
To corner smoothly, safely and maximise tyre grip at the apex.
Face uphill, and choose a gear that gives immediate pedalling resistance. Pedal forward at a slow pace and gradually slow until you come to standstill. Stand up, place your pedals at the 3 and 9 o’clock position as you stop and turn the bars at a 45° angle facing into the hill. If the bike rolls backwards, apply pressure to the forward foot to move the bike forward slightly, which will bring the bike back under you. Brakes should feel like they’re locked but slack enough to allow you pedal against the resistance. Your center of gravity should be slightly forward. The chain should be Let Loosein tension.
Track standing improves your bike balancing on the trails. Practising track standing gives you the option of choosing different lines, especially on technical trails when speeds are low.
When tackling rough and uneven terrain, keep your arms and legs moving while you stand up with your feet on the pedals at the middle position. Drop your heels lower than your toes, with your elbows spread and at least 1 finger covering the brake levers. Select the gear you need to match your speed so that you can accelerate when required. Your limbs will act as suspension, absorbing the bumps from the trail. After absorbing a bump, come back your loose position like any suspension component.
Being smooth is key to maintaining traction. Stiff arms and legs will make you tired and tense. Being loose allows you to maintain control when the going gets rough and fast. Not absorbing impacts will have your body bouncing and rattling and affect your vision.
Jessen Lee is a Level 2 Sports Science Coach, specializing in cycling skills and performance, triathlon and general physical fitness. Certified by Majlis Sukan Negara, PMBIA, and ITU, he also conducts group and personal coaching sessions under The Ride School for road, off-road cycling, and triathlon for all levels. With 20 years of training, racing, and coaching experience, he passionately shares his love for sports with the community.