3 Game Changing Tips for Beginner Mountain Bikers
Hi all. I mountain bike and I am not good at it. I've been biking on the trails instead of roads for about 4 years now and I would just now consider myself to be an intermediate biker. There have been 3 things that have helped my progress more than anything else and I would like to share those with anyone else who is struggling to improve their mountain biking technique. I think it's important to learn from others who are at the same level, or just above, the place where you are in a given sport because you are facing the same challenges. You can talk to someone who is amazing at mountain biking all day and they probably wouldn't tell you these things because they aren't experiencing the sport in the same way you are -- this advice would seem obvious to them so they wouldn't feel the need to tell you.
1) Bike at your level
This is has been the hardest piece of my own advice to take. I want to bike with my Dad and Brent, they are both really good at biking and want to do hard trails. I do the hard trails and am miserable the entire time. I have found that if I am scared on a trail and consistently walking my bike, I am not improving. If you aren't able to tackle large portions of a trail, you loose your confidence. I find myself walking parts that I would otherwise attempt because I am shaken up from the difficulty of the trail and my mind gets in the habit of not trying. When I am on trails that fit my skill level I know that I should try to do pretty much the whole trail, so I do. And I don't get shaken up when I can't make it up or down something, instead I assume I will complete the next hard section successfully because I can identify what went wrong this time. You aren't able to work on skills like avoiding pedal strikes and practicing momentum when you don't even want to be on the trail to begin with, mindset is everything. A rule I have made for myself is not to bike it if I don't think it will be fun.
This can be really challenging when the people you bike with are much better than you. I have sustained some decent injuries trying to keep up with friends and I really don't recommend it. After I fall and hurt myself it's like I have taken a step backwards in my progress because I become scared and unsure of myself, which makes me fall even more. You should enjoy biking. Of course it can be challenging (always the case for me) but there is a good challenge that you can take on, and there is having to walk your bike so you don't kill yourself. Find a crew at your level so you don't feel like you are holding people back and I guarantee you will have more fun and improve your skills.
2) Stand up
This ain't just for the real slim shady. Standing up on your pedals is the ONLY WAY to get better at descending steep sections. Here's the thing though, you aren't really standing up. You put your weight in your pedals, get off your butt, and move your butt back. Wayyyyyy back. The steeper the terrain you are going down the farther you need to back that a$$ up like a high school girl at senior prom. In the picture to my right I am going down a slight decline on an easy section, so my weight is in my pedals and my butt is just slightly lifted. If I was going down something harder, my butt would be behind my seat. Sound weird. Look at the picture below of Brent's friend doing a big drop, his butt is basically touching his back wheel.
I swear if you try this you will feel so much more secure on descents. This is because it shifts your center of gravity down and back which give you more control.
3) Get a dropper seat.
WHAT? Annie are you recommending that people spend money on a mechanical seat when a normal seat works perfectly well????
No I am not because a normal seat does not work perfectly well. I got a dropper seat a month ago and it has changed my MTB LYFE. Being able to raise your seat up the uphills so you don't wear yourself out and adjust down to give you security and control on the downhills is truly incredible. Like coconut oil incredible.
Here's the thing, when you are climbing, you want your seat high so you can have an efficient stroke. But oh no there's an uphill obstacle coming so you want your seat slightly lower so you don't get bucked out of the saddle like a sack of potatoes. Oh crap up next is a downhill with rocks, and drops, and turns oh my so you need your seat low low. When you have a normal non-incredible post seat you put it at some weak sauce halfway point and try to make due with the compromise. It makes MTBing much harder. Not ideal when you are trying to learn to do the things. Having a dropper lets you actually have your seat in the optimal position at all times. Are you hearing me??? Your seat won't helicopter eject you into ditches anymore! (as long as you remember to lower it, slight learning curve).
Dropper seats are not cheap and if you have a bike that isn't more expensive than a midsize car with 50k miles on it from Craigslist (looking at you Yeti), your bike probably didn't come with one. You can retrofit one in like I did for a few hundred dollars. Accordingly, I recommend making sure you plan to stick with biking, and you like you bike, before making this investment. But if you are going to be biking, you need that seat to be dropping.
Those are my top tips if you are trying to get into mountain biking or have hit a plateau - hopefully they are helpful! If you have a tip to add to the mix leave it in the comments :)