I was told years ago that “you can only go as fast as you can see” and that has stuck with me ever since. Today, let’s take it one step further and update that advice to say “you can only go as fast as what you can see”. This, my friends, is trail vision.
Trail vision, or what you see as you look down the trail, is crucial to both rider safety and a better trail experience. As your riding skills start to progress, the “what” you see will start to change. You’ll start to notice that you can see multiple lines or style options on a single piece of trail.
The best part about trail vision? There are no rules that require you to ride the same line as everyone else! Rather, it is your independent interpretation of a trail and its features that makes riding such a dynamic and rich experience. As your skill set grows, you get more options. Today we are going to show you how trail vision can help you see beyond the basics and launch you into some fun on-trail options!
Option 1: Roll
Here we have the aggressive roll approach to a double drop in the trail. The drops aren’t too tall, so this technique is a safe approach, and keeps the rider in position for the turn that comes afterwards. Note what the eyes are doing – looking through the drops and forward to the turn. Then notice what the eyes aren’t doing – staring down at the wheels! Trail vision requires you to see and setup for what’s coming before you get there, and as your bike/body is riding that feature, you are already looking ahead and starting to setup for the next feature. What matters here is being ready for the turn, so trust your bike and your skills as you ride the drops.
Also note the stability of the body in this video. You are never at the mercy of your bike or just “along for the ride”. Rather, you are in control of everything! That’s why even when riding this roll with a bit of speed, you won’t see any bobble-heading or rocking horse action. Place the bike where you want it to go!
Option 2: Manual
This is my favorite move, the manual! The first thing I’d like you to notice is where the eyes are focused: down trail at the coming turn! Once again, this feature is already happening, so staring down at the drops would only cause problems.
I use the manual often, and it brings my overall trail experience to life. Keeping that back brake covered is the most important part, acting as your safety net in case the bike tries to loop out. For this feature, I love that the rocks on the second drop can provide just enough resistance to bring the front wheel back down smoothly without any disruption. Practice your manuals over roots and bumps to get more comfortable!
It is important to note that each of the maneuvers were performed at the same comfortable trail speed. Faster is usually not the answer! The key to trail vision is having the skills and using them to keeping the bike in control.
Pro Tip:I struggled with manuals before I learned to set targets. Here is what helped me – pick a root, bump, or spot on the trail to manual. These targets can help with timing, give your rear wheel a little extra boost, and even help your front wheel come back down smoothly. And don’t forget, if you want to get better at these, you have to start trying them more. Occasional practice gets occasional results!
Option 3: Bump Jump
In this video, I do what I call a bump jump, which uses an on-trail feature to initiate a bunny hop. Start by noticing the compression before the hop, and how the feet scoop the pedals to bring the bike into the air. You’ll learn in our Ninja clinics that this compression is crucial for increasing the height of your hop, and we’ll even give some pointers on getting that back wheel off the ground when riding flat pedals. When or why would we go “full send” on a section of trail? One, because it’s super fun! And two, the bump jump would be ideal if there were a nasty root or rock pile between these two drops.
Once again, take note of where the eyes are looking. Down the trail at what’s coming next! Because I’m in control of the bike and looking ahead, even if the back wheel were to hit the bottom drop, my body position would let the bike roll through without too much consequence. As you learn to execute various skills like a bump jump or bunny hop, bring them to the trail and have some fun!
ClosingTip:There’s a reason we cover the Ready Position in the first minutes of every Ninja Clinic – it is absolutely essential to riding performance! Think of that “ready” or “attack” position as your get-out-of-jail-free card when things get rowdy. It provides the maximum range of motion in all directions, as well as stabilizes your bike and body. A good ready position, will allow you to better execute on your trail vision. And don’t forget, one of the major components of the ready position is eyes looking ahead! Something as simple as keeping your head up and eyes looking down the trail will go a long way for improving your trail vision, and riding experience (aka more flow and MORE FUN)! Learn more about Ready Position here.
He’s a wild man with a wild plan, living the nomad life as a skills instructor and trail builder. With a background in moto and 15 years of mtb experience, he has tips for riders of all levels! You can find him leading Ninja clinics all over the country and on Instagram @vitabrevis
I would encourage anyone of any ability to take a class with these guys.
I recently attended one of the Intermediate/Advanced Efficiency and Flow clinics. Even though I have been riding for many years...
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
I recently attended one of the Intermediate/Advanced Efficiency and Flow clinics. Even though I have been riding for many years I learned a lot from this clinic. The techniques covered ranged from reviewing basic skills such as basic body position to practicing more advanced techniques like switchbacks, bunny hops, and cornering. I was able to recognize, get instruction, and practice some skills where I was weak and instantly improve them. Even skills I thought I was pretty good at I was able to pick up useful tips. I also realized that deliberate skills practice is not something I incorporate into my riding, but now that I understand what I should be doing I will make sure to add this in! After taking the course my comfort on the bike has improved and I am more aware of my body position and movement of the bike. I would encourage anyone of any ability to take a class with these guys. The instructors are knowledgeable and easy to work with. There is a lot of one on one help and they will make sure you understand the skills being taught and are able to perform them successfully. Plus the clinic was lots of fun! I highly recommend and hope to work with these guys again soon. ~ Michelle A.
The course was very fluid, engaging, and I would highly recommend it.
I took the intermediate/advanced course in Balboa Park after having ridden for just over 2 years on my own. It...
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
I took the intermediate/advanced course in Balboa Park after having ridden for just over 2 years on my own. It covered a wide breadth of skills, some of which I already felt aquatinted with and others I had little to no experience with. I found all of the material useful. I was able to improve skills I already had and was able to learn new skills. I also feel confident leaving the course that the instructors have provided all of the information for me to practice and improve outside of the course setting. The environment of Balboa Park was perfect for learning and sessioning the skills covered. The instructors were friendly, fun, and attentive to all of the participants. They spent more or less time on certain skills based on how the entire group was grasping them. They also gave individualized attention to participants that required more help with technique. The course was very fluid, engaging, and I would highly recommend it. ~Alexandra Rose Brysiewicz
Taken the 3 day Skills Camp out in Mulberry Gap GA. Outstanding weekend. We had a small group of about...
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
Taken the 3 day Skills Camp out in Mulberry Gap GA. Outstanding weekend. We had a small group of about 8 people with 3 Ninja Pro's. Richard and the instructors were attentive and always helpful. The course had you work on your base fundamentals, advanced skills, along with bike setup,maintenance, nutrition ,This was a very comprehensive course. After learning the skills, we'd hit the trails and the training didn't stop. Instructors would get to a technical portion of a trail and have us all stop and they would show us how to use the skills we just learned. Everyone learned at their own pace. So no one felt pressured to keep up with others. Having fun was always top priority. Arriving back home, I was practicing all the skills i've learned like an excited little kid with a new bike. I hope to take this course again when they come back to this side of the country -- it was well worth it! ~Vic D.
Enrolling in the Intermediate/Advanced clinic was the best thing I’ve ever done to improve my speed and ability on the bike.
Hands down, enrolling in the Intermediate/Advanced clinic was the best thing I've ever done to improve my speed and ability...
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
Hands down, enrolling in the Intermediate/Advanced clinic was the best thing I've ever done to improve my speed and ability on the bike. I am so much faster on singletrack and through technical sections/jumps that even if people are more fit than me, I still keep up with them (and kind of love watching them do a lot more work than they need to). Richard and Kris are fantastic and break things down in a way that makes sense and is manageable. By the end of my first clinic, I was jumping off ledges and power climbing up sections that I couldn't drive a car up. You could buy a $5,000 carbon bike and do 10,000 ft rides every day, but you will get the best return on any investment you make in your riding by attending a Ninja Skills Clinic. ~ Regina J.
We are a group of passionate, dirt-loving, community oriented, world class mountain bike skills instructors committed to helping you reach your personal riding goals through clinics and camps. We are excited to work with riders of all ability levels and share the joy (STOKE) of mountain biking.