Learning to Ride a Mountain Bike
Have fun and smile! Plain and simple, if you are not out there to have fun, what’s the point? The scenery is beautiful, you’re getting great exercise and you're not at work… It's just fun! Remember to smile, for two reasons. #1, you won’t have fun if you don’t smile and #2 It’s pretty hard to take a deep breath when you’re frowning!
Brake early and shift early. One of the biggest mistakes a beginner makes while learning to mountain bike is braking too late, especially in a turn. This may cause skidding through the side of a turn or even careening over the handlebars! Your brakes are a lever, not a switch, so it’s important to focus on smooth braking. Braking before the turn and braking smoothly and gradually puts weight on your front tire (giving better grip) so it won’t skid out as easily. The more you ride the better your timing will become and you will start to get a feel for when to begin braking and how much force to apply, allowing you to carry as much speed through a turn as comfortable. Shifting early, this will not only save you from breaking your chain, but also will help you keep a consistent cadence (pedal speed). A good rule of thumb is to find a cadence that you are comfortable with and shift to ensure you can maintain it. When you see a hill coming up, shift to a lower gear that is easier to pedal as it’s better to spin too fast before the climb than get stuck in too high a gear during it. Practice will help gain the muscle memory for fluid shifting to maintain a consistent cadence throughout the hill and the ride. The more consistent the cadence the more efficient you will be. Efficiency in your pedaling allows you to ride longer and more powerfully!
Look where you want to go, not where you don’t. If I focus on the rock in the middle of the trail, I’m probably going to hit it! It seems simple, and it is, but look where you want to go and the bike will follow. As you progress you will begin scanning the trail like a radar system, consistently monitoring 10-15 feet down the trail ahead . I am still reminded of this rule every once in a while as I ride and look down the hillside and find myself drifting off the trail - keep the focus on where you want to go!
Have fun! Otherwise, it’s just work.
These simple skills and rules will give you the ability to ride most trails comfortably, and like everything else, practice, practice, practice. The beauty of practicing mountain biking, is that you are mountain biking while practicing. How awesome is that! Get out there, push your self, try something new and remember to always have fun while doing it. Otherwise, what’s the point.