Mountain biking doesn’t have to be all about going BIGGER and BADDER. Turns out, tuning up the little things is all it takes to launch your riding to the next level. Ready to step it up a notch? Here are 5 important tune-ups to focus in on.
1. Head Up
Look where you want to go! Next time you’re on the freeway in your car, take a quick look out your passenger window. Notice how everything is zooming by — so fast that you can’t make out any one particular object. Now shift your focus out in front of the car at the overhead exit sign coming up. Notice how the sign is moving slower than the objects out your passenger window? Did your speed change? No, you’re perception of speed changed. Same is true on your mountain bike. Raising your head and looking down the trail, slows your perception of speed. This ‘slowing down’ gives you more time to think / plan / process and formulate a game plan for whatever is coming at you next. If you’re looking directly at the ground in front of you, things move so quick you end up riding in a very reactive state. With your head up, you can stay ahead of the game!
Does this mean you should never look at the trail directly in front of you? No. You should indeed glance down at that obstacle or feature on the trail, just don’t fixate on it! Experienced riders spend about 25% of their time looking at what’s directly in front of them and 75% of their time looking down the trail. Once you’ve identified your line and plan of action, get your head up and look where you want to go!
Death grips and rigid stance be damned!
If you can’t wiggle your fingers, you’re holding on too tight – relax. Keep your Index finger on the brakes. With one finger braking, three fingers from each hand are sharing the job of holding the bar– even during gear shifting and using your dropper post. Your hands are more secure and balanced. Any less than three fingers on the bar and your ability to control the bike will diminish.
Your arms and legs should be slightly bent and never fully extended. Let the bike pivot around the bottom bracket. Keep the majority of your weight in your feet, not your saddle or handlebars. With this stance, if the bicycle were somehow magically removed from under you while riding, you should land flat on your feet (not your bum or face). Too far forward and you’ll be inclined to launch over the handlebars. Too far back and your front brake won’t be as effective as it should be (or worse, you could loop out backwards).
3. Brake Before, Not During
When you engage your brakes in the middle of technical terrain, your suspension is forced to dip to absorb the change in momentum. This pitches your weight forward and moves you out of your descending ready position putting you in a less stable stance right at a critical moment. This can also drive your front wheel right into an obstacle causing the front wheel to stop, pitching you even move forward (potentially over the bars). At all costs, avoid braking ON an obstacle. Braking before (rather than during) technical terrain will allow you to maintain speed to smoothly roll over (or through) the feature.
Same goes for corners. Slow down to a speed at which you can safely and smoothly negotiate the corner BEFORE you get to the entrance of the corner. Braking during the corner forces your bike to stand up pushing you towards the outside of the corner rather than around it.
When you’re first learning, we recommend slowing down slower than you think you need to. It’s better to flow through the corner at a slow speed with good technique rather than ‘fast’, dragging your brake all the way through the corner.
4. Stop Modulating Your Brakes.
Instead, SQUEEZE your brakes smoothly to add braking power and EASE the SQUEEZE to reduce braking power. Modulating (on – off – on – off) results in brief loading and unloading (bobbing) of weight on the front tire making it unnecessarily challenging to maintain your balance and traction. This is amplified in technical terrain, switchbacks or any loose or rocky terrain. Conversely, when you ease-the-squeeze, you smoothly add (or remove) brake pressure making it considerably easier to maintain a good ready position and positive traction.
5. Don’t Pick
If you are picking your way over and around every rock you are going you’re more likely to get hung up. Look for opportunities to use your bikes travel and/or suspension that you spent all the money on! Often times, going straight at it is in fact more efficient, faster and smoother. Going back to #2, staying relaxed will allow you to float over obstacles saving you from cherry-picking through features.
**Bonus** 6. Get Feedback
Join us for a skills Clinic, Camp or Adventure. Sure, you might say this is a bit of a shameless plug, but we wholeheartedly believe that skills coaching helps people discover their full potential on the trail. Nothing will help you improve more than having (qualified) instructors help identify areas for improvement. For new riders, a skills clinic helps to set the foundation for successful before those bad habits can set in. For more advanced riders, like it or not, we all pick up riding quirks and bad habits over time – most of which we aren’t even aware of! Skills events give us the opportunity to brake down all the components that go into more advanced maneuvers and perfect along the way.
We’d love your comments! What advice would you give a rider trying to take their riding up a level?