Ten Skills To Improve Your MTB Riding This Summer
Manuals are the act of lifting your front wheel off the ground and rolling over obstacles on the back wheel allowing you to roll over objects such as roots while still carrying speed. The difference between a manual and a wheelie is the act of pedalling so you will be using your body weight to propel yourself forward and not your drivetrain. The key is to find the correct balancing point and then holding your position using your legs to pump the bike forward for as long as you can. The best place to practice manuals are on long stretches of flat ground, when you have mastered them you can easily transfer the skill to the trails to roll braking bumps and other small obstacles.
Not only does jumping look cool but it allows you to cut out larger obstacles or even gain speed and keep flow through difficult trails. It also allows you to ride different levels at trail centres opening up red and black runs to you which are more fun when you are comfortable getting air time. Working your way up and trial and error is the way to go with improving this skill, the best way of improving this skill is to watch some tutorial videos on youtube and getting out there and slowly building your way up to larger and larger jumps.
Cornering and berms
Cornering sounds easy but there is an art to carrying speed out of berms to give you a boost into the next part of the trail. Most people will often hit berms hard and fast and lose traction from the front wheel. What you want to practice is shifting your bodyweight into a neutral position and push down when entering the berm and allow the suspension to rebound on the way out, this gives you a nice boost and keeps both tyres gripping the berm giving you more control through the entire turn.
This is probably the easiest thing to do to improve your riding overall, it takes a bit of trust in your riding abilities and your bike but once you get used to riding this way it will make you faster as you can see obstacles coming up and prepare for them in advance. Look down the trail and just let your bike do the work, keep your body relaxed and manoeuvre you body and your bike to suit what is coming up.
Another fairly simple way of gaining more control on the bike that unless you pay attention can catch you out is the position of your cranks and pedals. keeping the cranks in a vertical position to the trail gives you a more secure platform carrying your body weight better and avoids pedals strikes from stones or other objects on the trail. Practising using your hips to control the bike rather than your legs and torso allows you to keep the pedals clear of the floor and learn to quickly manoeuvre the bike where you want it to go while still keeping yourself planted on the trail.
Positioning on the bike
Practice positioning while riding the bike, for example if you see an obstacle coming up like a rooty section practice leaning your weight back slightly so the front wheel skips over them, leaning slightly more forward in climbs allows the front wheel to get a better grip but too much forward leaning will unweight the rear wheel leading to the possibility of a rear wheel spin so it is all about finding the right level of weight shifting. This method also lends itself to cornering when too much lean will risk a wash out but just enough gives the side of the tyres a chance to bite the trail and really get that grip and speed.
Legs and arms as suspension
Lots of riders tend to let the bikes suspension do all the work of absorbing trail feedback which in itself is not a problem but it leads to feeling fatigued a lot faster, and that tiredness leads to mistakes or generally a loss of enthusiasm for the ride. The key is to stay as relaxed as possible when riding and keep your knees and arms slightly bent this allows you to react to sudden hits without getting thrown off track and allows you to control the bike much easier than a rider who is riding with straight stiff limbs.
Learn about correct psi
This goes for both suspension and tyres once you identify the right PSI for your weight you can start adjusting it to suit the trail you are riding, when it comes to forks and shocks the PSI guide can be found on a sticker so that is a good place to start and then adjust accordingly to your own preferences. Bottomless tokens for shocks and forks adds another dimension to your suspension allowing aggressive riders to push hard without bottoming out their suspension. A much easier way of getting more grip is to lower your tyre PSI, again this is trial and error as you risk pinch flats or burps on tubeless tyres if you are an aggressive rider.
This skill is especially important to anyone who rides a large 29er bike or bigger especially a newer bike with the long low and slack angles, as they are the riders who will know full well the extra effort it takes to get around tight corners when climbing. Practising track stands helps towards this and track stands can be practised anywhere it is simply balancing on the bike and keeping it steady for as long as possible, if you need some pointers just hang around the traffic lights and ask a passing bike courier how he manages it.
A valuable skill that pays off especially in winter and when riding more natural trails, it means you can pick the fastest lines or ride north shore style features without the fear of the rear wheel slipping off. In winter this skill comes in super handy as you can avoid the water filled ruts and instead opt for the thin ridge that parts them, while everyone else is dismounting and walking around the huge puddled ruts you can carry on riding. Being able to ride skinny is a valuable skill and it opens up much more of the trail that would have gone unnoticed had you not acquired the ability. To practice along pavement curbs or find the skills area in your local trail centre, who more often than not have a skinny practice wall as a feature.
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