Trail Riding Skills to Master

Q: What are some riding skills I can implement immediately to be a better rider my next time at the trails?

A: Constantly honing your riding skills is an often overlooked part of mountain bike trail riding.  Riders tend to fixate on details (such as tires and bike weight) when they should be focusing on their skills.  Here are five tips to make you a better rider.

  1. Breathing: It is all about the exhale.  Breathing is something we all take for granted, but mindful breathing will make you a better cyclist.  By focusing on stronger exhales, you automatically force deeper inhales.  Many riders also have a tendency to hold their breath during climbs, sudden descents, or jumps/bumps.  Holding your breath is a bad idea and makes you more tense.  Breathing correctly will give you more power.
  2. Looking Ahead: Looking ahead is such an easy thing to do, yet it is something you can always improve on.  Line selection is critical for avoiding obstacles, riding at maximum speed, and better braking.  Set your site down the trail 30 or more feet instead of focusing on your front wheel and its immediate area.  Once you fine-tune this skill, you will be able to watch riders in front of you and see the lines they select and then make a best decision on taking a different line or following their line.
  3. Elbows Out: If you have lifted weights, and preformed a bench press, you know all too well that you must keep your elbows out for maximum efficiency.  The same holds true for mountain biking.  Not only does this position give superior strength and control, it also opens up your chest for better breathing.
  4. Better Climbing: It’s best to stay seated, whenever possible, on most climbs.  The second you get out of the saddle, your heart rate jumps up to compensate for the added exertion.  While standing may feel easier, it is actually less effective as it is harder to steer and more probable you will lose rear traction.  Find a good climb to practice on and try climbing it out of the saddle and then in the saddle and make note of the difference.  Be sure to slide up on the seat if there is a steep climb and to slide back on the saddle if you are shifting up while seated to maximize leg torque.  Focus on being in the correct gear, your breathing, and your cadence.  If you are clipped in, be sure not to waste the top portion of the pedal stroke — aiming to “throw” your foot forward on the top pedal stroke.  Practice, practice, practice.
  5. Power Shifting: Assuming a three chainring set-up, you will ride in the middle chainring most of the time, and use all cog combinations to traverse the trails.  Utilize the five smallest cogs when you are in the largest chainring, and the five largest cogs for when you are in the smallest chainring (granny).  By mastering the “look ahead” tip, you will be able to quickly assess if the climb is a granny gear or not and then you can focus on the important (elbows out, cadence, breathing) cleaning climbs that you only dreamed of before.

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