Bike Handling Skills

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Mountain biking presents different challenges from road riding. The terrain is varied, from rock outcrops to forest loam to loose dirt. Grades can be very level to very steep, and all of this requires bike handling skills so that your ride is enjoyable and safe. Basic skills include balance, body positioning, and braking.

Everybody knows that balance is important when you ride. It is more so with mountain biking. Good balance enables you to ride narrow surfaces such as logs, and also enables you to counter slippery surfaces such as wet roots. Balance is a skill learned through practice, and like all skills is one that you build upon. You can practice on the road, by riding on the shoulder road line. It’s about 5 inches wide. See how long you can ride it without straying off, and also without staring at your front tire. This will help you to ride logs in the forest. Another exercise is to practice low-speed turns. Go as slow as you possibly can and turn the bike without putting your feet to the ground. Do figure-eights. Come to a complete stop and see if you can balance – you will have to turn your front wheel back and forth to find the exact balance point. All of this practice will be of great use for trail riding.

Body positioning helps with many aspects of mountain biking. When riding up steep hills, get your weight forward on the bike to prevent the front wheel from rising. Scoot your butt forward and off the seat and stand while peddling. When riding downhill, get your weight back and behind the seat, and stretch your arms forward. This prevents you from going over the bars. Learn to move your weight from side to side to counter such things as wet roots that make your bike slide. This skill also helps to ride over rocks and logs.

Braking is an important skill to maintain control while riding. Always avoid locking your wheels. Not only do you loose steering, but also the trail is damaged. Braking should always be smooth and with the right front-rear bias. Practice and experience will enable you to get the right feel as to how much force on each brake is required for each situation. A too much front brake can cause the bike to dive and may make you fly over the bars. Even force on front and rear brakes is a good way to start.

Once these basic skills are mastered, your trail riding will be safer and more fun. Most bike stores have skills clinics and group rides that you can participate in, and they always have lots of free advice.