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.