Few things are as memorable as learning to ride a bike, and you never forget how to ride once you learn. However, as you make a transition into mountain biking, there are skills and tips everyone should know before hitting the trails. Mountain biking is characterized by steep inclines and challenging terrain that require a strong rider and power in the pedal.
The following tips will make any beginner rider ready for mountain biking in no time:
Develop a Fitness Base and Properly Fuel Your Body
It’s important to have a strong fitness and endurance foundation before hopping on a mountain bike and heading straight into a fast, intense ride. The higher the endurance, the better the body will handle the high-intensity exercise that comes with mountain biking.
If you need to build your fitness base, spend a few weeks riding frequently and consistently with minimal effort, and slowly add the speed and power. Ride like this for no more than two hours three or four times a week. If you think your body can handle more, don’t build speed; instead, ride longer at the same effort level.
With proper exercise comes the need for adequate nutrition. If you’re not fueling your body with nutrient-rich foods, the work put in on the bike won’t yield many results. After a long ride, fuel up with vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and healthy, all-natural meals. Don’t forget to hydrate, either.
After a few weeks of building endurance, take a recovery week to recuperate and let your muscles rest. Keep your rides short this week so your body can prepare for the next step: intervals.
Incorporate Intervals a Few Times Each Week
Once you’ve spent a few weeks building your endurance, start incorporating interval rides on one or two of your workouts each week. Start your first two weeks with a Tabata interval plan similar to this one:
- 30-minute warm-up ride
- Five repetitions:
- 5 seconds push
- 10-20 seconds rest
- Long break and cool-down
As the weeks go on, dial up the effort and push for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest, and add on repetitions.
If timed Tabata intervals don’t interest you, try the fartlek training concept that’s popular with runners. In running, fartlek involves periods of fast running mixed with periods of slow running. This training regiment is flexible for the person. You can also try using landmarks, like power line poles, street lights, trees, or other things to visualize your intense work periods.
After several weeks of slowly building some sort of interval training, add a longer interval workout that includes biking for five or 10 minutes at a pace you can hold for 20.
Practice Burning Through the Turns
Mountain biking requires a lot of skill, including the ability to turn quickly at high speeds. Cornering is a skill bikers of all levels can continually improve so they can keep their speed and use less energy.
To effectively turn, set up for it early in a wide stance with equal weight on both pedals. Keep your knees open in a crouched position so your bike can lean to each side. Remember that you don’t want to lean with your body - just with the bike.
Brake, before you turn, as braking during a turn, can cause skidding. Ease off the brakes as you make the turn, looking toward the end of the curve and turning your body in that direction.
Ride Over Rocks and Roots with Little Effort
There are going to be a lot of obstacles when you’re mountain biking, from rocks and bumps to sticks and tree roots. Many of them, however, are fairly easy to ride over, as long as you keep a good form and keep momentum to a minimum.
With equal weight on both pedals and a healthy bend in your knees and ankles, push your elbows out and approach the objects at a jogging speed. Don’t look down at the ground, but keep your focus on the trail ahead—as far as possible. Use your peripheral vision to orient yourself.
Don’t lean on the handlebars, as that could cause a weight imbalance in the front wheel and make it snag. Keep your hands light and your weight in the pedals.
Learn and Conquer the Front-Wheel Lift
The basic front-wheel lift is a necessary move to ride over sizable objects like logs on level or downhill trails. Begin standing with equal weight on each side, looking forward, and elbows and knees bent. The front-wheel lift is executed in three parts: loading, exploding, and lifting. Practice the front-wheel lift on parking lot curbs or similar small objects to get the timing right.
Load your handlebars with your upper body by forcibly bending your elbows. This will compress the front shock.
As you head over the obstacle and the shock of riding over it rebounds, explosively straighten your arms.
When your front wheel leaves the ground, lift your handlebars to raise the wheel higher. Once the front wheel is over the obstacle, the rear, the unweighted wheel will swiftly follow.
Save Energy on Uphill Obstacles with a Front-Wheel Lift
Conquering uphill obstacles is more exhausting than gliding over downhill rocks and roots, but the pedaling front-wheel lift can save some needed energy when you need to get over an uphill object while seated and climbing.
Start this move with your dominant foot at the top of the pedal stroke. Give it a hard push to the bottom while at the same time leaning back with your upper body and straightening your arms. Your front wheel should rise as you do this. Focus on using the power of the pedals to raise the front wheel instead of using your upper body.
Once the front wheel clears the object, stand up in a crouch, and bend your arms. Shove the handlebars to lunge the rear wheel over the obstacle.
Get Good Recovery Time
Recovery time is just as—if not more—important than training time. Your body needs time to reset and rebuild. If you’re not getting adequate recovery time, you will overwork your body, which can lead to serious overuse injuries.
As soon as you finish a workout, whether it’s on or off the bike, eat a healthy, nutrient-rich snack filled with carbs and protein. Don’t plan multiple intense rides in a row. Instead, span them out over the week and incorporate easy rides in-between. This can help speed up recovery.
Aim to take a day or two off the bike each week to rest. While you can workout off the bike one of those days to mix up your activity, these rest days will ensure your body is having the best time on the trails.
While it’s tempting to head right out there, it’s important to build a base and practice good rest and nutrition before pushing too hard. With training, practice, rest, and nutrition, you’ll be setting off on advanced trails in no time, and mountain biking will be just as easy as, well, riding a bike.