Mountain Biking 101: 7 Tips to Get You Rolling

by Coach Kevin 

So you got yourself here, on a mountain bike. You’ve already done the hardest part. You’re here. You’re on that mountain bike.

Now what?

You think to yourself, “It’s just like riding a bike, right?”

Sort of.

You still feel that pit in your stomach. You know this is different than riding your old bike around the ‘hood, on the smooth sidewalks. There are rocks. There are trees. There are snakes. And this bike has such big tires. This bike, this bike is sorta scary. But the hardest part, the scariest part is done. You are here. You are on that bike.

Let’s move on to the easier part now: let’s Ride.

1. Stand up.

Yes, stand up when you ride. This isn’t the lazy sidewalk ride on that ‘ole bike of yours to go get some choice beverages. You can sit on that ride, just like you can sometimes sit on this mountain bike ride when the trail feels easy, boring. You will find those easy moments. They exist. You will enjoy them.

The rest of the time, stand.

Stand like you’re going to run. When you run, your weight is on the balls of your feet, your vision is forward, your focus is forward, and your effort is forward one step (or pedal stroke) at a time.

You don’t need to be an Olympian to go for a run. You can run. Just like you can ride this mountain bike, one pedal stroke at a time. It won’t always be easy, but you can keep moving forward at your pace, one foot forward at a time.

2. Guide your bike with your eyes.

Just like driving a car, look ahead. Wayyyyyy ahead. Especially at high speeds. Ever stare at the hood of your car while driving down the freeway? Those little white lines on the road seem to zip by, don’t they? And that car braking ahead of you, totally came out of nowhere, right?

Mountain biking is like that. If you get tunnel vision just ahead of the front wheel, the trail whizzes by and obstacles appear out of nowhere. But look 10 car lengths ahead of you, 20 car lengths ahead of you, and driving well above the speed limit (you’d never speed, would you, law abiding reader you) seemingly feels….boring.

Similarly, look ahead of you on the trail, and it’s a lot less overwhelming. Its comprehensible. You can choose your lane, you can choose your line, you can predict and avoid that traffic jam, you can avoid that obstacle rock ahead. You can look through corners on winding mountain roads, you can look through corners on the winding mountain trail. You can drive. You can ride.

3. Pace yourself.

Ever start a longer run, full sprint, only to realize moments later you can’t sustain that pace? Mountain biking is just like that. Start slow, steady. One pedal at a time. One pedal forward, then another. Standing when it gets ‘tough’, sitting when it feels ‘easy’. One pedal stroke at a time.

You’re probably already thinking, “Can you ever take a moment of rest from the seemingly constant pedaling?” You betcha! When you have enough rolling speed, or the trail is particularly rough and pedaling seems impossible, you can stand with level feet, one foot in front of the other, and let it roll, baby.

4. Slow your roll.

So you’re rolling, and you’re rolling. And now, you’re gaining speed. And you’re having fun. But then, suddenly, you’re rolling too fast. TOO fast. It’s time to slow your roll, now. Not in a moment, NOW.

Let’s slow our roll, by using both brakes. Yes , both brakes. Slowly. Like driving a car, we don’t STOMP that brake pedal every time we brake, we ease onto and off of the brakes, slowing smoothly, before that corner, before that speed bump, before we run over that super cute squirrel. The car automatically brakes both front and rear wheels. We squeeze both front and rear brake levers, together, evenly, smoothly, always. We brake often while driving, any time we need to slow our roll, for any reason. We don’t continue driving feeling like we’re out of control. Slow your roll on the mountain bike, any time you feel the need to.

5. Rock n Roll.

Ok. So now you can pedal, not exactly like an Olympian, but you’re looking ahead, pedaling ahead, all sweaty and uncomfortably, dangit; and you’re rolling, and you’re braking, you are in control. You are doing this whole mountain bike thang.

And, it actually feels kinda nice. Fun even. You start to understand why people enjoy this sweaty, uncomfortable activity. And then you see it. That rock. That friggen’ huge rock. No way around it. No way you’re getting over it either, right? Right?!? Suddenly, you’re questioning anyone and everyone who said this would be fun all over again.

Remember to stand up any time the trail gets “tough”. Rocks are tough. Tough as rocks, ya’ll. So you’re gonna stand, on the balls of your feet, just like running. When you’re standing, with soft arms and legs, your limbs act like suspension. You can walk up stairs (steep, big, bumps, usually hard as rocks). You can use your body like suspension, like shocks, to manage this bump, this rock, this step.

On the balls of your feet, like you’re running, you can bend your arms and legs as you go over the rock, just like you’d bend your arms and legs going over the steps, or ladder, with the energy and weight in your feet, like you’re running up those steps, up that ladder, over that rock, your eyes still focused ahead, far ahead, planning your next move. You can roll over this rock. And the next, and the next. Rock n roll, ya’ll.

6. Ride off.

Sometimes the rock is just Too. Dang. Big. though.

Just like a kid playing kickball in the street – there were times when something so potentially dangerous, like a car, would come by – and you’d yell “Game off!”. “Game off” meant – OFF! Until that danger had passed. “Game off” didn’t mean you try to continue the game, knowing that car would likely bring some serious hurt.

You may encounter some obstacles so big, like the oncoming car, that your best decision is to say to yourself, “Game off!”. Thats’ OK. Seriously. Stop. Look at the obstacle. Check in with yourself. Think you can Ride this one? Try it. Think it’s just Too. Dang. Dangerous? Ride or walk around around it. Continue riding, past this dangerous spot. Come back and try it another day. No justification needed. No explanation needed. Survival of the fittest, and smartest, ya’ll.

7. Ride on.

You’re riding, you’re really, actually, riding. You’re Pedaling. You’re Braking. You’re looking ahead, down the straight aways and around the corners. You’re rolling over rocks.

You. Are. Riding.

Ride on.

For more skills development (and there’s a lot more), take a serious lesson.  This was the ‘first driving lesson’ of a read, and you successfully made it out of the driveway, around the block, and back home with hopefully only minor incident. Just like anything else, take some real lessons, many lessons, and practice, lots and lots of practice.

If you want to be a better rider, I recommend you take some real lessons. Check out the online Mountain Bike School at llbmtb.com.

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Herschel Goldberg