Mountain Bike Skills List
By Alison Gannett and friends
Tires – Most average women need around 32 lbs, not 40 lbs of pressure (depends on tire size, terrain, riding style) Chain – Clean with rag then lube then wipe the chain. (Best to do after each substantial ride). Cleaning- Don’t spray your bike down with a hose unless you need to because of mud.
Pedaling- Pedal in circles, not down. The bottom of the pedal stroke – heel down, pulling back, like scraping mud off your shoe.
Foot Position – Your feet should generally be in 9 and 3 clock position when not pedaling, not 12 and 6. This foot position will shift when cornering on large or fast turns.
Gearing – 99% of the time try to be in the middle chainring if you have 3 rings on the front gearing. If you have two, use the bigger one 99% of the time.
Shifting – Never pedal hard or even moderately hard when shifting. The right hand is for micro adjustment shifting, the left for macro (big) adjustments. Get used to looking down to see what gear you are in every now and then, unless you have gear indicators on your bars. Look ahead and shift BEFORE you get to a hill, not on the hill.
Focal point - Look ahead at all times. The faster you go, the farther ahead you need to look. If you look at an object (rock, stump, tree) you WILL hit it. If you don’t look past the hard object, you won’t make it. Practice finding “focal points” to remind yourself to look ahead, and then PEDAL, PEDAL, PEDAL. Don’t give up. If you are nervous or new to clipless pedals, clip a foot out before you get to the tough part.
Body Position – Get used to moving around in the seat – for hills, move WAY forward but not getting out of the saddle(“mini-me”), so that the seat is in a very uncomfortable spot (in the butt). For downhills, get behind the seat, and for super steep stuff, you can almost lay your stomach on your seet. For rocky areas - shift your weight forward, back and side to side and lean to weight and unweight wheels and pedals. This allows you to smoothly move over uneven terrain and avoid obstacles that stick out into the trail. You want to be light on your bike so you feel as if you are just delicately dancing over the rocks, not pounding into them.
Arms – For climbing, relax your hands and keep your elbows in toward your belly. You should not have a death grip on your bars. For downhilling, relax your hands and pushj your elbows way out to the side. Never lock the elbows. Wrists should be up (straight) to avoid carpel tunnel.
Breathe – The biggest crashes are often a result of holding your breath. Sing a song on hard stuff, to take your mind of things and to remind yourself to breathe.
Uphills -Pedal smoothly to keep traction
-Lean forward for smaller hills. Use your arms to pull you forward, elbows out. As the hill steepens, pull yourself farther forward on your saddle. Think chest above handlebars for the real steep climb. As the hill steepens, slide forward on your seat. You can even sit on the very tip for quite steep hills, especially if they are long. Standing is good for short bursts over a steep crux in a hill, but it also tires you faster. It is also good to lift off the saddle just a LITTLE bit for technical uphills to free up the movement of your bike without losing your line or balance. If the trail surface is loose standing might cause you to lose traction. If your back tire breaks loose or spins, it needs a little more weight on it or possibly a harder gear. If your front tire wanders or lifts off, it needs more weight. Anticipate and get forward just before you need to be there. Plan ahead for long steep hills by slowing slightly for a couple breaths and relax, catch your breath!
Downhills-Anticipate a shift to a higher gear for the descent and shift just as you head over the top. This will prepare you for pedaling on the descent. Remember to shift down if there is an uphill!
-Anticipate getting your weight back as soon as you head downhill. Slide back on your seat more and more as the hill steepens. I even get behind my seat on uber steep downhills. If your front tire gets too squirrelly, you might be just a little too far back.
-Stand on your feet and keep your feet level. This keeps your center of gravity low and allows you a lot more freedom of movement. Think of having a strong, stable athletic stance, just like if you were playing basketball.
-Lower your seat to practice if it helps you and gradually keep it higher as you get better.
-If your back tire skids a lot, get your weight back a bit more.
- Brake evenly.
Braking- Use your index finger or middle finger only. Brake with both brakes evenly for best control. Don’t jam on your front brake, especially in a corner or on loose surfaces.
- Try not to brake through obstacles, but before them. Brake before corners and rocky patches, then let your bike roll through. LOTS of crashed are caused by braking.
Momentum … is your friend. Use some, but not too much, speed to roll through rocks. When riding through dips, push your fork down into the dip to gain speed on the exit. You can do this on bermed corners too.
- Have enough speed to roll over technical sections or around corners before you get there.
Switchbacks- Number one problem is going too fast. Keep one finger on the both brakes.
- Aim for the upper outside third of the beginning of the switchback
- Exit on the inside third.
- Inside pedal is back or up, outside pedal forward or down.
- When switching feet, try to pedal backwards not forwards.
- Look ahead – looking at the easy end part of the switchback by glueing your chin to your shoulder. Don’t look at the nasty drop off.
- If you are nervous about your pedals, click out your inside foot before you enter the switchback.
- Practice the difference between leaning the bike and turning the wheel. Most biking will involve a bit of a lean to turn and not turning the handlebars.
Leg press, lifting a wheel or two- Unweight your front wheel just by bending your elbows and riding light for small rocks and bumps on an ascent or flat. Your arms act as shock absorbers.
- For bigger bumps, focus on pushing your shock down NOT on pulling up.
- Strong pedal strokes will help lever your wheel up. Being a little back on the seat will help this, then move forward to get your weight up on the obstacle simultaneously with the rise of your bike’s front end.
- Stop pedaling momentarily to keep from hitting your pedals on the ledge.
- Unweight your back wheel by moving forward on your saddle.
- Look ahead, not where you are going and not at the object or your pedals.
- Start by lifting front wheel only, then lifting the back wheel by lifting your heels and butt to the back of your neck.
- Leg press – push your butt and arms down at the same time, let the bike pull up slowly then lift with both your heels, butt and arms. Use the bikes shocks, not brute strength.
Bridges - LOOK AHEAD, not down. Find a focal point. Go pretty slow, but try to keep pedaling if the bridge is longer. Pick a gear with some resistance, but not too much.
If you want to learn more, check out Brian Lope’s book: “Mastering Mountain Bike Skills.” It is awesome and has great tips, explanations, and drawings.