Although I’ve loved mountain biking for a good while, I still find myself with the occasional wee wobble. The odd moment when another rider sweeps past me on a tricky section while I’m clambering on and off the bike, cursing the roots and rocks beneath me.
A lot of it relates to confidence but there’s so much technique involved too. So I’ve been speaking to the best riders I can corner to pull together a list of the top 5 mountain biking tips to help us flow through the turns, up the hills and over the bumps.
Torridon Single Track
Perhaps the most important aspect of bike riding as it’s the most likely moment to come off said bike. Like any formula one racer will tell you, its most efficient to follow the racing line, entering high and trying to widen your cornering arc, letting you carry more speed. Keep your weight forward and lower your centre of gravity to gain stability. In practice, this means lowering your inside knee and elbow as you move into the turn. Your outside leg should be straightened and your weight should be pushing down on that outside pedal. Think of a ski turn as you drive the bike through the bend. Your bum should be off the saddle, allowing your body to move your hips into the turn as you sweep majestically through the apex and on to the next one!
I had a real eureka moment when this tip clicked with me the other day. I had always struggled to avoid approaching obstacles on a tricky path, often when I was most keenly aware of them. It felt like my subconscious was playing the devils advocate or each obstacle had its own evil force-field, sucking me towards it and certain embarrassment.
So when some wise biking guru explained the error of my ways I knew I had to share this wisdom. The problem lay in my biking “Vision”. I was too focussed on what my front wheel was about to immediately encounter. I was not looking ahead. By disciplining yourself to keep looking a good 10 metres in front you’ll be amazed how your bike seems to navigate itself around obstacles you had seen a good few moments before. There is no doubt some wider life lesson in evidence here, but this is not a top 5 Life list so I’ll move on. (All Life tips welcome!).
3. Relax dude
Sounds obvious but this is more important than you may think. Like any sane person attached to a careering piece of metal and rubber, we all have a tendency to ‘tighten’ a little. By consciously trying to relax our muscles and the way our body is on the bike, the whole experience becomes more fluid and responsive. Another benefit of trying to relax is that it reduces fatigue. Quite often after a days riding my aching hands would fumble and flap around hopelessly as I tried to peel a banana. They would be exhausted from all of the furious handlebar-clinging I had subjected them to. Even on the most heart-pounding descents there’s usually scope to relax muscles more than you think. Then you can peel those bananas in style.
Fred Astaire was an incredible mountain biker. Nimble and fast, like a gazelle on wheels. Well he may have been, I’m not sure to be honest, but its a nice image. Footwork is another area thats easy to dismiss but can make a huge difference. I’ve already mentioned the importance of driving your weight through that outside foot when you’re cornering. This gives you great stability and control.
When you’re in the middle of a hairy descent and braking hard, the momentum of your body puts pressure on your hands or your feet. If it goes mainly through your hands the bike becomes less stable and it becomes harder for you to steer. So get your weight back up over the saddle and drop your heels on the pedals. As you brake harder, drop those heels down, forcing the pressure through your feet which improves stability and keeps your hands free to steer the bike.
It’s a great idea to keep those heels down whenever you removing quickly over tricky terrain. The flex in your ankles means you can soak up the bumps more effectively. Keeping that weight back from the handlebars also means you re more ready to react to changes in speed. So next time you re hooning down a rocky path of despair, just remember your feet, like our old friend Mr. Astaire.
Picture the scene, you’ve swept down a flowing section of bends and bumps like a graceful eagle, soaring in the breeze. The track turns upwards and you career up and into it before tottering sideways and dropping a leg like a disgruntled toddler, recently de-stabilized. Smooth and efficient uphill riding isn’t as exciting or as sexy as conquering the downs but its probably something you spend more time doing, so its worth getting right.
An obvious one is to prepare yourself for an approaching uphill by getting into a gear that your legs can handle. As you move from downhill to up you need to get your weight forward. Get that bum on to the saddle and slide it forward while also getting your head and chest towards the handlebars, bending your elbows. Keeping seated as you move uphill will improve your traction and help you steer in a straight line.
So I hope these mountain biking tips help you get more out of your bike on the next ride. I know they’ve helped me. There is certainly still the odd wee wobble taking place but they’re getting less frequent. If you have any other tips (on biking or life for that matter) then please share them below!
“After a spell in the corporate world in London Rupert decided to find a more rewarding way of life involving a closer connection to the outdoors and to his camera! Rupert produces a lot of the photography and video for Wilderness Scotland and works within the Marketing team.”