There are a few techniques you can use to go faster on your mountain bike that won’t have you out busting your butt on intervals or hard workouts. Although those would help, too! Using just what you have now–your bike, your mind, and your body—you can unlock secret speed when you’re out riding with your friends, or even on a race course. Here are some tips from these three areas of focus to help you get going.
Of course, a working bike is a must. Make sure you don’t get stalled shifting by keeping your drive train clean. Keep your bearings all running smooth and eliminate friction wherever you can. Double check you’re not wasting energy on suspension that hasn’t been set up for you, or on a dragging brake.
A dragging brake due to misalignment is one thing, but it’s another to drag it voluntarily using “confidence braking.” Your mental game is important when it comes to going fast on a bike. When we get nervous, our brains instinctively reach for the brake. But do you really need it? Try calling out “brake” every time you touch it to see just how often you’re pulling the lever. If you don’t need it, don’t touch it. Conversely, a focused mind that doesn’t get distracted is less likely to make mistakes, and better equipped to help you stay on the gas. Visualize what you need to do and then execute.
Positive self talk is also a key component to riding smother and faster. Self-limiting statements like “I can’t handle this!” or “This is impossible!” are particularly damaging because they increase your stress in a given situation and they stop you from searching for solutions. The next time you find yourself thinking something that limits the possibilities of a given situation, turn it into a question. Doesn’t “How can I handle this?” or “How is this possible?” sound more hopeful and open up your imagination to new possibilities?
Confidence braking slows you down of course, but it also wears you down. If you are over braking, or braking unnecessarily, to get back up to speed you need to throw down some watts. Instead, go easy on your body by carrying speed whenever you can. If there’s an option to go around or over something, sometimes braking to steer is more costly to your energy than simply lifting your front wheel over it. In turns, proper bike-body separation can help you whip through a high speed corner. And at the top of your body are your eyes—looking far down the trail with your head up will help you ride smoother, and faster.
To sum all of this up, you could just remember “Smooth is Fast.” A smooth-running bike is a fast bike. A smooth flow through the trails—aided of course by your zen-like mental state—will take less time than both rushing and dawdling. And if you ride smoothy, your body will likely stay on top of the bike and out of the bushes. If you’re not sure about a section, sometimes the smoothest and fastest way is to get off and run, and try it again next time.