Interesting Articles, Skills Instruction, and Maintenance Tips
I have published several excellent articles for the popular sports portal www.active.com. If you're just getting into mountain biking or want to share your enthusiasm with others these articles will provide you with a wealth of valuable information about many of the important skills, learning techniques, proper bike setup & fit that is essential to the enjoyment of the sport. Here's a sampling of the articles.

Equipment Basics >
Learning to Mountain Bike Safely >
Much More Is Going On Then Meets The Eye >
A Mountain Biker's Primer to Shifting and Climbing >
Ring of Success >

Equipment Basics
So you've been wondering about getting a mountain bike and thinking what it might be like to try some "real "mountain biking.  
First up to consider is your body size and its' relation to the bikes fit  and it's setup for you.

Bike Fitting & Setup for Safe, Efficient,  And Fun Mountain Biking.
Please keep in mind that there will be a number of similarities in bike sizing and setup that may be applicable to just riding a regular road bike, hybrid, etc. There are however enough differences to seriously consider mountain biking as its own very separate sport.
There's a lot of small factors to consider for your first x-country mountain bike and ride- frame sizing, three seat adjustments, footwear/pedals, handle bars/stem angle. brake levers
Frame choices: small- 13"-16" (5'-5' 2"height), Medium 16-18" (5'2-5"8"), Large 5'8" up 19"-up. Straddling over center bar with feet on ground you should have at least an 1" or more clearance under you & top tube(frame)
Seat adjustments:  height-  when sitting on seat take a down pedal stroke and your leg should be almost entirely extended (only very little knee bend) when foot is on pedal on ground.  
Seat angle: it should be completely horizontal to level ground or to a level center top tube.
Seat distancefrom handlebars. Arms should be almost completely extended(only very little or no elbow bend) when on seat and grasping bars.
It should be noted that loosening the large allen screw behind the seat will permit the seat to slide and the angle to be changed easily on the seat rail.
Footwear/pedals: If you're a novice and are not experienced with clip-less shoes & pedals,  start with a platform pedal with straps and toe clips
This is for safety. You need restraint, something to help keep your feet on the pedal when you occasionally encounter bumps and more often then you think you will be standing on those pedals not sitting on the seat. The preferred and safe footwear for toe clip and strap system is any treadless sneaker or shoe, basketball ,tennis etc.  No trail jogging or hiking shoes.
Handlebars: The newer bikes often have riser bars. These put you in an upright position which is considerably more comfortable on the trail and offers you far better vision and bike maneuverability. Your handlebar angle comes from the stem which is (rise) of your handlebar this angle again is adjusted often by changing your stem and also can put you in a more or less upright position.
Brake Levers: Hand size, finger length, is the important factor here to consider. If you have difficulty reaching the levers easily there's a tiny allen screw that can be turned to bring the levers in making them much easier to reach. Remember, difficulty in fine tuning any of your bike's adjustments can be easily accomplished at any reliable shop.
Helmet: Most important safety feature. Never ride without one and straps should be adjusted so helmet is snug, not tight, and doesn't move when you shake your head front to back or sideways.

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Learning How to Mountain Bike Safely                                                   
Well, now the bike seems to be set up properly and a friend says " I'll teach you, just follow me on this great trail". So. Ok you think "how much more could there be to it then just riding a bike?" STOP! This is a serious misconception and just knowing how to ride a bike on pavement doesn't equate to being able to do real mountain biking. A dangerous possible consequence and definitely a very poor way to start would be  to follow a friend on a trail or more commonly know as a single line or singletrack. Even more absurd and dangerous would be to go to a ski area,  purchase a lift ticket, and come flying down the hill.

Mountain biking is almost akin to learning  principals of horseback riding then it is to the basics of road riding. Another key concept is mountain biking is supposed to occur in hilly terrain.  After all isn't this why a mountain bike is called a mountain bike. This is where the departure from road riding begins. Granted, road rides can go over hilly areas, however due to the hard paved smooth surface, and extremely narrow tires, loss of speed and momentum is kept to a minimum. With mountain biking though, the loss of momentum and the effects of gravity on a trail climb or descent, coupled with large wide tires, and all of the extra visual stimuli /obstacles: bumps, sticks, trees, and rocks will have a severe effect on your forward motion.  What often worked while road biking doesn't for mountain biking and is often quite the opposite.

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Mountain Biking...Much More Is Going On Then Meets The Eye
Many of us fall into the category of "this looks like a fun and challenging sport, I guess I'll just follow behind or in front of my friend and listen to their advice and eventually I'll figure out how to do it". This initial experience, although exiting, can be frustrating and often very painful. And some will gladly throw in the towel before going out again to be bashed up.

Mountain biking is one of those sports that will require a lesson or two, and then lots of practice. It's definitely in the category of downhill skiing and you certainly wouldn't strap on a pair of skis for your first ever run, go to a black diamond slope, and expect to make it down with all smiles. We're all aware that ski mountains offer ski lessons and there are proven techniques that when practiced, work. Believe it or not but the same is true for mountain biking. So where do you go for the lessons? Bike shops sell the bikes, but how many of them provide a lesson to go with the bike? Although many of our dedicated riding friends may have good intentions and want to sincerely help, quite often they're unable to clearly explain and almost unconscious of what their body is now doing rapidly as if on auto pilot.

It's not easy to find a place to get a good lesson and there are not many good teachers available yet. Let's face it, mountain biking has not been around as long as downhill skiing yet, but it WILL catch up. If you're unable to find a good lesson here's some helpful suggestions to get started. And if you think that you're a seasoned rider, here's a way to explain to others what you may be doing naturally. First let's get something straight. These are just words! There is no substitute for the real live thing PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

First get used to the equipment. That means that you have to use it. You have to shift the gears a lot and use the brakes a lot. In order to get experience in a short period of time you need to literally ride in a circle. That's right. Find a large ring that you can ride around. It would also be helpful if the ring was just very slightly sloped, a little up and down to it, not too much. By riding around the ring constantly shifting easier gears then to harder ones, one shift at a time, back and forth you'll be able to compress the amount of shifting you'd do in an hour or two trail ride into just a few moments. Shifting mechanisms are sensitive. Get used to shifting just one gear at a time. Skipping gears will be costly and a waist of your energy especially going uphill. Keep it simple just work with the rear gears and just leave the front on the small chain ring. Keep in mind that the circle has this slight slope and on the downhill part you should be able to coast without having to pedal.

Here's when you get a chance to see how powerful your brakes are and here is where you quickly learn that almost half the time that you are riding you're not sitting at all but standing up using your pedals as a platform to stand on. Now try getting used to braking while you're standing- remember, you have two brakes- use them both! So, continue this repetition of riding the circle, keep shifting up and down the chain ring. And on the uphill parts shift to the easier gears, just before the downhill coasting part, shift to harder gears, than stand up and coast with your butt over the back of the seat but all your weight is on your pedals. Remember to use your pedals as a platform this keeps your weight and you balanced. Do not keep one foot up and one down when you coast this is not a balanced position and it'll get you into trouble on the trail. The idea is to make the experience of standing just as comfortable as sitting. Keep coasting on the downhill part and when you begin to loose enough speed that you cannot maintain balance then sit and pedal again.

Continue this drill around the circle, getting on & off the saddle: off on the down part and braking then sitting and shifting on the ups then braking and standing on the down parts. Science behind the drill: Gravity pulls you forward on the downhill so to compensate you push you rear back and you must get off the seat to do this. This standing also drives your weight down to the lowest point on the bike (the pedals are below the seat right??) So your center of gravity is down low, you're no longer top heavy. While standing our legs now act as the shock absorbing system and not your spine which would be the case if you were still seated. Anytime you do not have enough speed /momentum to maintain balance you'll need to sit back down and pedal.

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A Mountain Biker's Primer to Shifting and Climbing
How often it happens that our shift mechanisms, when adjusted properly, always work well. Almost too well. New riders sometimes find themselves shifting through 2 or 3 gears at a time, not even realizing that it has happened. The shifters on our bikes are very sensitive to the slightest touch, and even though they are indexed (1 click, 1 gear), a beginner may find it takes some serious ride time to finally get used to his particular shifting system. Gain and loss of speed is directly related to one's ability to shift up or down at precisely the correct moment; passing by or missing a gear or two when shifting is inefficient and most likely will lead to loss of momentum or possibly having to abort a climb.

Gain and loss of motion and momentum are critical issues in climbing up hills, so know thy shifter and its peculiarities. When climbing, it's also very important to keep as straight a line with your front wheel as possible; as the terrain gets steeper and more technical, you can maintain that line by shifting to easier pedaling gears, one shift at a time. This will make your legs spin faster with less work and will help your momentum remain constant with no sudden changes. In addition, to help keep your line straight, it's advisable to pull your upper body forward by pulling on your handle bars while remaining on your saddle -- this pulling action helps stabilize your front wheel by placing your weight almost over it.

As the terrain gets even more technical, line of sight becomes very important! Anticipate by looking a few feet ahead, pick as smooth a line as you can, keep shifting, and remember that your tire is only 2 inches wide and can squeeze through some pretty tight places. Being able to control your front wheel (no matter what your speed or how technical and steep the terrain) is the main ingredient to a successful ascent. If you're unable to avoid obstacles while climbing, you'll find that lifting up your front wheel and placing it on top or beyond an obstacle also helps prevent sudden loss of momentum; because you're on an uphill slope, your weight placement makes it easier to lift up your front end. And finally: try to develop a steady, uniform breathing rhythm. It keeps the blood flowing and helps keep you focused.

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Ring Of Success
A comprehensive approach to instructing a basic understanding of how shifters , braking, momentum, and body location on the bike, all work together often simultaneously to provide a safe and exciting riding experience. Mountain biking much much more then just riding a bike is truly a multi-tasking experience and requires a modicum of precise timing coupled with a degree of concentration. To efficiently and quickly achieve this kind of understanding and successfully perform multiple tasks with accuracy and speed we need to start riding,  getting used to how all the components on our bike function.  The optimum learning locale is a small circular area. Riding in this fashion gives you an opportunity to become very familiar with all components, especially shifters and brakes. The important thing here is to do many many repetitions of shifting and use of your brakes. Competentcy and confidence is gained with repetition. It would also be a benefit to have someone, while your riding in the circle, give you commands. Learn to shift only one gear at a time, learn which gears offer the most efficient and safest pedaling during down hills and which gears and when to shift them to help make hill climbing a breeze. To illustrate both the gear, and our body weight shifting requirements our circle should have a small slope or hill connected to it.    This hill is important in that you will have an opportunity to actually experience the effects that climbing and descending, gear shifting, and body weight shifting, has on forward momentum and countering the effects of gravity.  To get started straddle over the bike,  figure which of your feet is the most difficult to get onto the pedal and into the toe clip.  Start pedaling with the hard foot in.  It is likely that your other foot will be easy to get into the toe strap system and do not be too concerned about getting the last foot in.    

Begin to ride around the circle keeping your left hand shifter on the smallest chain ring in front.  For now it is important to get used to shifting gears but you'll only want to be concerned with your right hand shifter as it controls the rear group(cassette) of gears. Just focus on your right hand shifting as it's these gears that will require much practice to master all of them and here's where your friend can help with commands.  As you shift,  your chain will move up or down on the rear cassette of gears.  Shifting up the cassette will make your pedaling faster with less strain & easier to maintain steady momentum as you climb. While climbing you'll want to shift to easier gears(up the cassette),only one gear at a time, but keep shifting right thru the entire climb. This constant shifting will give you the practice you'll need and the gears required to make it up easily. During climbing it's a good idea to also slide your weight forward toward narrow part of the seat while placing your upper body low & almost on top of your  handlebars. This weight transference during climbing serves to counteract the effects of gravity by helping to keep your front wheel on the ground and bike moving in a straight line forward.  Without weight shifting your front end will get very light and could lift up off the trail making it difficult to continue to ride. Prior to climbing a hill be certain that you have enough gears to shift as you go up.  Not using all your gears and remaining on one or two gears for most of the ride will tire you out way before the ride is over

Once you've mastered pedaling and shifting in the practice arena next you'll add  the experience and power of your brakes and the correct position for coasting(forward motion without pedaling). It is important to note that a considerable portion of your riding, especially in hills will be actually just coasting- often downhill, so the correct body form on the bike during these periods  is most important. The safest, most efficient place to be while coasting is standing on your pedals with both feet in a platform style almost parallel to the ground. Keep in mind that much of the time you're coasting you may be coming down a hill and it's a good idea as the hill may get steeper to be able to move your weight to the rear off the seat.

When first getting used to standing on the pedals it's easy to place your weight onto the handlebars.  However, you want to avoid doing this by arching your back and sticking your backside(butt) back and almost off the seat.  This weight transference counteracts the effect of gravity trying to push you forward and over the handlebars. If you remain seated though it will be almost impossible to transfer much of your weight to the rear, you'll remain heavy on the front, and any shock from bumps encountered will not be absorbed by your springy legs and knees but will impact your spine directly.  With your weight back and off the seat the front end of the bike remains very light and will go over objects very easy with little or no resistance to your forward motion.  The sooner that you get used to standing and coasting the more fun you'll have and the safer you'll be.  Since you may have shifted up to the easier pedaling gears to get up the hill it is important to shift back down the cassette to the harder gears just prior to descending. Doing this will put you in an appropriate gear for the speed that you'll be doing and will often prevent your chain from bouncing off the front rings altogether.

Much of the need for braking occurs while you're coasting so practice braking while coasting and become comfortable doing it.   Get used to the power of your brakes as all braking systems will vary be very familiar with yours.  It is  safest to use both brakes simultaneously under all conditions.   Brakes are meant to control your speed and not really meant to bring you to a sudden and complete stop.   It is advisable in some circumstances to feather(brake and release) in much steeper terrain.  That is you'll want to brake for short segments then let go and then brake again for a short segment and let go.  

This ring system is a great place to practice shifting quickly between harder and easier gearing, getting on and off the seat, breaking while coasting, and with a small hill attached climbing and descending can finally be masted for your first successful trail ride.

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42 Woodward Rd, Parsonsfield, Maine 04047 · (207) 625-8189 · info@bikebackcountry.com