Over the years, I’ve learned a couple of tips and secrets on how you improve your riding significantly in just a short time. While some riding skills are essential and there are certainly no short cuts for those, there are some other things that you can do to quickly improve yourself. Here’s our top 10 ways on how you can become a better mountain biker.
No.1: Strength & Flexibility
Flexibility and mobility when you’re on your bike is really important, especially for some of us who spend most days sitting behind our desks in the office. Staying flexible and being strong will also help be you be less prone to injuries, both from long rides across the causeway, and if you ever had a crash. Being flexible also helps when you’re maneuvering your bike in a standing position through tight trails. There are many ways that you can improve your both your strength and flexibility, and one of our favorite ways is stretching, swimming and weight training.
No.2 : Get the Right Bike Fit
Is your stem too long? Are your handlebars too short? Is your effective top tube length the right size for your upper torso? Is your saddle positioned awkwardly? Are your brake levers in the right place for the right reach? All of us a different. Some of us have long arms and short legs, while others may have a wide hip with short upper bodies. Having a bike that fits you like a glove will definitely help you be a better rider. Riding a wrong sized bike can shift your COG (center of gravity) to the wrong place, and you might not be able to keep it under balance or control should the need arise. And maybe that’s why you’re having a hard time just to learn how to bunny hop.
If you’re riding a full suspension bike, make sure that your sag, rebound and other settings are tuned to your body weight and riding style. Bad suspension setups are quite common and they take the joy out of riding if you don’t know what it’s all about. It might take a while before you find the right setup that works for you, but once you do, write down the settings on your phone, stop adjusting or playing with it and go ride. If you’re unsure on how you can achieve this, talk to a good mechanic to find out how.
No.3 : Consciously Learn Body Positioning
Riding a mountain bike is pretty much like dancing. You’re never in the same body position (unless you’re riding on the pcn) for 80% of the time. There are various techniques for climbing, for descending, for cornering and for generally keeping the rubber side down and for the most part, it’s basically physics.
Knowing when to move your body into the right position at the right time will improve your riding by leaps and bounds. When you’re learning the various techniques for body positioning, learn how to weight and unweight yourself when you’re riding through obstacles like drops and rock gardens.
No.4 : Steering and Braking
Bad braking technique is one of the biggest causes of crashes for both novice and experienced riders. As a starting rule of thumb, always keep one finger on your brake levers and always use both brakes. Keeping at least one finger on your lever will help you with smooth braking rather than grabbing and crashing. Another tip is to learn how to feel your brakes, and here’s where modulation comes into play. Different brands or brakesets provides different modulation feels, and once you’ve learned how to ‘feel’ your brakes, you will instantly improve your braking techniques. As a start, apply your brakes smoothly rather than simply pulling the lever too firmly.
Once you have more confidence, try to brake less. Skateboards and surfboards have no brakes so how do they stop or slow down? By using physics and gravity. We’re not asking you to throw away your brakes. Just brake less at a comfortable speed in a fairly safe trail and practice.
A big part of mountain biking is also about good steering techniques, especially when turning into corners. Look through the turn, and you have to look ahead through the corner. Going into the corner you should be looking at the middle of it, not the entrance, and once you’ve passed the entrance, you should be looking at the exit and once you’ve passed the exit, you should be looking out of the corner at the next section of trail. You might not realise this but you can also practise turning with your hips.
No.5 : Don’t Look Down
Always look ahead, and down look down. If you’re staring at a rock or tree while you’re riding, chances are, you ride straight into that rock or tree. Look at least 5 meters ahead and always look to where you want your front wheel to go to. Especially during cornering or descending, look to ‘where you wanna go next’ instead of where you are right now. Consciously keep this habit in your head while you ride.
Learn to trust your tires. Good tires are designed and made by people who know what they’re doing. Find their strengths and weaknesses. The majority of us will never ride to our limits, so lean a little bit more in corners when you’re ready. Trust us, it might just surprise you.
No.6 : Perfect that 1 skill
Choose a riding skill (bunny hops, wheelies, jumps or drops) and take baby steps to perfecting that one skill. Always find features along the trail to help you practice, and practice it as much as you can. Having one perfected skill under you belt will only make it easier for you learn other skills simply because you’ve learned how your bike and body can work as one fluid machine.
Commit. If you don’t commit, you’re less likely to make it on that drop or jump. Build up your confidence by doing smaller ones first and move up whenever you’re ready. Take the jump, make like a cat and land. There’s no shame in riding within your limits but with practice, you can almost always get better.
No.7 : Just Keep Spinning
Keep cadence, or the RPM (revolution per minute) of your cranks constant, and practice being in the right gears. This will significantly improve your climbing prowess or just to keep your momentum when riding technical trails. Start by finding a comfortable spinning rhythm and shift gears when necessary. The objective is to not lose your spinning momentum as you go through the different parts of your trail.
No.8 : Progress Further
Already perfected that one skill? Take it further. Progression builds confidence and confidence builds progression. Don’t be pressured into doing something “big” the first time round. You’ll probably injure yourself and that’s not good. If launching off drops and landing them perfectly is in your radar, start small and progress further as you feel more and more confident.
And everybody falls down. Some harder than others. A friend told me once that if you’re not falling down, you’re not riding hard enough. Knowing when to let go of the death grip and bail out is as essential as knowing how to pull off a nice stoppie, so let your bike go once in a while. Remember, you can always buy parts, but you can’t buy a new head, or a new set of balls. Kapish? Ade paham?
No.9 : Baby Steps
Nobody becomes good at riding overnight, and with the exception of some very talented riders, it will usually take months or years to become really, really good. Take it easy and be kind to yourself cos all of us are different and we absorb skills differently. Take baby steps at your own pace and always remember to enjoy doing it.
Learn to relax. A stiff upper body and a clenched jaw is not doing you any good. All that “UURRGGGHHHH!!! ARRGGHHH!!! KNNCCBB!!” is also useless. No need to be so emo on the bike k? And you have more than 8 inches of suspension travel in your arms and legs. Try relaxing your jaw and neck muscles during a ride, and the rest of your body will go with the flow. Chill broooo… Best tip is to listen to Bob Marley while you ride! “YiAAA MAAAANN!”
No.10: Ride With Someone Better
Riding with someone who’s more skilled than you will help you to see how they do it. Whether it’s fitness or skills, shadowing a really good rider and following their lines could bring you up to speed with some of the basic or advanced trail skills. However, make sure they do know your skill level before they bring you into the next gnarly rock garden section.
And that’s it. Keep these 10 steps in mind and in practice on your future rides, and you’ll be a better rider in no time. Happy trails!