By Hannah Levine
1. “The bike knows what to do – just let it roll!”
No matter how much money you spent on your fancy new mountain bike, I promise you, it does not have an auto-drive function and it does not “just know what to do”. Your bike is very capable – it can roll down rocks, jump off of drops, hop over logs – but only if you tell it what to do. You are steering this
ship bike and only when you give it the right commands will it respond with #shredtastic results. And no, Huck-n-Pray is not an approved technique.
2. “Just get back!”
No, no, NO. Sorry 90’s riders but “just get back” is now officially out of fashion (along with halter tops and cargo pants). Getting too far into the backseat on the bike can diminish both steering and braking control. As it turns out, being able to go the direction you want at the speed you want is kinda important.
Rather than thinking about getting back, think about getting LOW and BALANCED over the bike. Keep your weight in your feet, not yanking back on your handlebars. Yes, you do inevitably shift your weight back further as terrain gets steeper, but never so far back that you lose control of the front of the bike. How far back should you be on the bike when you are descending? Imagine you are holding onto the top of a sturdy horizontal fence (at handlebar height). If that fence is magically removed and you find yourself tumbling onto your face, you are too far forward. If you fall onto your bum, you are too far back. If you stay flat on your feet, you found the sweet spot!
3. “Want to be faster? Ride with people who are faster than you!”
As someone who was introduced to mountain biking by trying to chase former pro racers down trails that I had no business being on, let me tell you, this is not the right way to improve. Yes, pedaling with faster riders on occasion may result in you realizing that you are more capable than you imagined. However, on the flip side, it may also result in you riding out of control and beyond your ability level.
Want to go faster? Slow down. If you find yourself braking through corners, bobble-heading down technical sections or fighting against your bike, it’s time to slow down. Slow it down, turn off your Strava, and really focus on dialing in your technique. Session (ride multiple times) the features that you find challenging and take the time to figure them out without the pressure of trying to keep up. From there, incrementally add speed to the equation as your skills improve.
4. “Avoid using your front brake. It will send you over the handlebars.”
Yes, if you reactively grab a quick handful of front brake, there is a high likelihood you will find yourself super-manning over the handlebars. We want to avoid that. But, when it comes to riding a bike, being able to effectively bring yourself to a stop is pretty darn important. Your front brake is responsible for the majority of your stopping power and when used correctly, can save you from going off the edge.
Make friends with your front brake. Ninja Instructor Erin Machan offers tips for getting acquainted with your front brake, here. And everyone’s favorite Kiwi, instructor Aaron Lucy, gives you his 3 Keys to Using Your Front Brake Properly .
5. “If you can see yourself riding it, you can do it!”
Being confident in your abilities and being able to visualize yourself riding a technical feature is key to success. However, positive self-talk is not a replacement for skills instruction. You’ve heard the saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. This certainly applies to the trail. Throwing yourself down the same rock garden over and over again without changing what you are doing is crazy talk! The key to tackling those tough features is building up your mountain biking toolbox with all the skills you might need. Combine positive self talk with tangible skills and then you’re in business.
Ready to build up your toolbox of skills? Ready to slow down to go fast? Ready to learn how to make your bike a #shredtastic machine? Come #ridelikeaninja!
What tips have (and haven’t!) worked for you? — comment below!