general disclaimer: this page is full
of my OPINIONS. Some of my opinions are fact based, some are experience
based, and some are just emotion based. Some stuff I learned from
bike camps,some from friends and <eek> some things I learned
off the internet!! This is what works for me. It may not work for
One of the reasons I'm doing this page is because of my learning
style. I don't typically get things by osmosis, or even by watching
someone. I need things explained, broken down and demonstrated.
Then I like to practice the skill and and apply it. My goal is to
get comfortable enough with a skill that I don't have to think about
it anymore; the muscle memory and repetition kicks in. If this is
not your learning style, then this page may not be for you. Thinking
too much is bad, but some of us have to think and process to learn,
and then disengage the thinking part as we get more comfortable
with things. Thanks to everyone who has contributed, directly or
indirectly. (update 2/06)
Mountain biking should be fun. If you aren't having
fun, try these ideas:
- find new riding partners
- take a skills clinic
- relax - it's not a race or a contest. Feel the sun on your back
and the trail under your wheels. Just think, you could be at work,
or cleaning the garage! Stop and play for a while.
- get a new bike, have it tuned up, or put a new fork on the one
What about WSD (women specific design)? It's a
great concept, geometry and frames just for women. This concept
is for a specific body type: women who have a short torso and long
legs. I ride a men's 15" Kona which fits me beautifully. I
have a longer torso. Don't get locked into WSD, but go ahead and
try it and see if it's right for you. For some women, it's exactly
what they need. Try lots of bikes until you feel the one that's
right for you. Some things you can change out on your bike are smaller
brake levers, shorter cranks, and more narrow handlebars.
If your LBS (Local Bike Shop) is insisting that you try WSD, or
only WSD, and treating you in a condescending manner - "hey
little lady, we know what you need..." Run, do not walk, to
a different shop. You deserve better than that. Try lots of different
What about a hardtail(HT) or a full-suspension (FS)?
I am of the belief and experience that if you start out on a HT
bike, you will learn much better bike handling skills than if you
start out on a FS. Many new riders that begin on FS bikes expect
the suspension to do all the work, and they don't learn how to be
dynamic rider. There is no trail that cannot be ridden by one bike
over the other. Just remember, it's the rider NOT the bike.
How about some general riding tips? OK...I'm not
expert but these work for me. I've been really fortunate to have
some great riding pals who are awesome mentors and teachers, and
to have attended some skills camps with really great coaches. I'm
not an expert or a racer, I just like to learn how to get better,
because the better I get the more fun I have. These are some core
concepts that have really helped me.
- Look where you want to go, not at the tree/rock/edge of the
trail. Looking at that thing you do not want to hit is called
"target acquisition". Trust me, you do not want to acquire
any of those targets, and if you look at them, you will.
- Look ahead, down the trail. Where you look, your wheels will
follow. Your brain will register the things on the trail in a
photographic fashion; no need to think about them.
- Ride light: do not have a death grip on your handlebars. You
should be able to wiggle your fingers. Your arms and shoulders
should be relaxed. Do not lock your elbows or hunch your shoulders.
If you can't ride without locking your arms or tension in your
shoulders, have the fit of your bike, specifically the stem length
- Momentum is your friend. Momentum can get you over small obstacles,
up and over rises, and around corners better than going slow and
braking for everything. Too little momentum will stop you when
you could just roll or hop over something.
What is the neutral position and dynamic riding?
- Neutral position is the basic "attack" or riding position.
Butt out of the saddle, eyes forward, feet level, arms relaxed.
Use this position any time you approach anything technical or
a descent. Don't be crouched, stand up tall, but don't lock your
- Think of your body as a spring. Let your arms and legs work
with the suspension.
- Legs loose- don't hug the saddle with your thighs.
- If you just "sit" on your saddle and let the bike
take the hits for you, a number of things happen. First, your
ride is going to be rougher than if you get out of the saddle.
Second, this will limit your skill growth for learning how to
maneuver through technical terrain. Some folks think that having
a FS bike excuses them from having to get out of the saddle, or
use their body, but they are wrong.
- No matter what kind of suspension you have, you should focus
on being dynamic, active, "one with the bike" instead
of passive, or just sitting on the bike while pedaling.
- You should be able to move up and down, forwards and backwards,
and side to side while riding your bike, especially out of the
- JimC said it best: "the saddle is not a butt rest!"
How about climbing? I may be crazy but I love
climbing. Not only is it a test of fitness, but also of persistence.
I'm not a big fan of "stand and mash" as that is very hard on your
knees. I'm not afraid to use my low gears as much as needed. Save
your standing climbs for a final push over an obstacle, around a
switchback, a short steep section, or to crest a rise. Standing
is ineffective for long, steady climbs.
For effective climbing, depending on the grade, stay seated, get
a good leg extension, and set a pace that you can maintain. Try
and save one last gear in case you need it. For steeper climbs,
or getting over an obstacle while going, get forward. Get so far
forward that the nose of your saddle is poking you in the butt,
and put your chest down to the handle bars, and maintain your momentum.
Use a little body language and momentum to get up and over whatever
it is. Also, try and keep the front of the bike stable, pull back
and down gently on your grip if it seems like your bike is wandering
all over the trail.
If you have a lot of trouble climbing, if it seems like
you are having a hard time finding your center, or that
the front end of the bike seems too light or is bouncing
all over the place, here are some things to check. First,
have the fit of your bike checked, specifically the cockpit
length. If your bike is too big, you may have problems here.
Second, is your front fork a) a piece of junk that needs
replacing or b) locked out and you forgot to turn it back
on? I do that all the time.
What's going on in your head while climbing? Or perhaps,
what should going in your head !! My Idaho riding pal, Paladin
has some cool thoughts on that:
thoughts on climbing
Braking? I still remember at camp when our coach
at camp asked who among us were told to never use the front brake.
Every single person's hand went up. We were all told, rather, misinformed,
that the best way to stay out of trouble with your front brake is
to never use it. Wrong-o!!! The best was to stay out of trouble
with your front brake is to learn how to use it correctly! Here's
some of the great things we spent half a day working on:
- The front brake is over 60% of your braking power. The trick
is to use it properly. Panic grabs are a guaranteed endo.
- Practice going down a steep slope using only your front brake
to slow the bike. Do not skid!!
- Use one or two fingers for braking, not your whole hand.
- Feathering, modulation - gentle repeated "pumping"
action to brake, instead of a grab. If you are skidding your bike,
you are braking wrong, most likely using too much rear brake.
This is extremely destructive to the trails.
- The way your brakes feel can be adjusted ( tight or soft) ,
so can the amount of movement(reach) that the lever has. Small
hands will typically need the reach adjusted inward. I can't believe
the difference a reach adjustment made for me! (thank you, Eric!!)
- Get your weight back use the neutral position as a starting
point. It can be a subtle weight shift, or it can be extreme shift.
- Get off the saddle, move back, lower your center of gravity
- Speed can be your friend. Just don't ride out of control
- If you are skidding to slow down while descending, you are out
- Stay loose! Let your body and your bike do the work.
- See braking, above
- Do not grip the saddle with your thighs. It's unstable and ineffective.
- Heels down
The thing to notice in the photo below is that even thoughthe rider appears to have their butt way back, their weight is fully
centered on the pedals. If you get too far back you will lose control of the front of your bike.
- Look-look-look around the turn, and keep moving.
- Look beyond the exit of the turn, down the trail
- Remember to stay in the neutral position. Extend your legs(but
don't lock them) and move your body back as needed.
- Go slow if you need to really control the turn, "rachet"
if you need to but don't coast
- Your bike will turn tighter than you think it will!
- Dartman added this tidbit about switchbacks: " As far as
switchbacks are concerned I've found it helps to keep the bike
as upright as possible. A tight slow speed turn is not one you
want to lean into unless you have a berm to rail. To do this keep
the outside arm straight at the elbow and bend the inside arm.
This'll lean the bike out of the turn with your weight in balance
on the inside. This also maximizes tire contact with the ground."
- I found that after I had my brake levers adjusted in for a shorter
reach, it improved my cornering especially on switchbacks. With
a more comfortable reach, I have much more control with feathering
and modulating my front brake. This has helped my cornering immensely:
I use both front and back to control my turn.
- Be sure you are out of the saddle, move your weight back if
Skills Practice: Take the time on some of your
rides to play with things you want to improve at. Sometimes, we'll
stop at technical features to coach either other and attempt new
things. We might stop at a nasty switchback, or a difficult corner,
or steep rocks. One of us might demo a move, while the others follow
along. Or, we might just stop and play, without the pressure to
finish the ride and move down the trail. On some rides, I bring
arm and legs pads, so that I can try something out of my comfort
zone and not worry about taking too much skin off. I'll loan it
out, too, so that others can try something new.
Becoming a good rider doesn't happen overnight. Some of us have
to work hard to gain skills and confidence. Ride a lot, stay at
it, have fun, set goals. For myself, I set one or two skills goals
a season, and focus on those. For example, this year I wanted to
learn how to jump, and how to unweight. I met my goals, and have
been able to pop my front wheel up onto things as high as 10".
But don't ask me to explain how I do it, that's what camp is for.
tips from Utah Mountainbiking