Mountain biking requires skills not typically utilized by normal bike riders who hit the pavement. Even as a beginner, there are techniques that everyone interested in mountain biking should know regarding climbing and descending.
Understanding the Mechanics
First, it is crucial to understand your bike, how many gears it has, what each gear is intended for, and what situations to use them. You will, of course, learn as you go along, but understanding the theory and how to implement it is the first step you must take before you hit the trails.
A major technique that is important for all beginners, is shifting gears before traversing a grade or hill. Shifting gears as you ascend or descend can potentially break the bike’s chain, so be sure to shift before traversing the hill ahead of you.
Tips for Ascending and Descending
When climbing a hill, make sure to pedal at a steady pace. Rather than attacking the pedals, keep the pace level—as the pedals get more difficult to push, switch to the next lower gear to maintain that steady pace all the way up the hill.
When descending down a hill, go with gravity. Descents are a rush and the rider can pick up a surprising amount of speed. This is why it is important to avoid hard braking, which can cause a rider to lose control and traction going downhill. Often, it is letting go of the brake that will keep you in control during a descent.
When descending it is important to look all the way down the trail—not just in front of you. Your body will follow your eyes, and ideally, you want to be looking as far ahead as possible. This ensures you can keep straighter lines, maintain your momentum, make tiny adjustments, slow down after the hill, and more.
A common feature of most downhill trails is the drop-off. Drop-offs are exactly like they sound: it is essentially a jump over hills, trails, boulders, and so on. Maintaining a reasonable speed helps to keep the bike level, and it is important to allow the bike to land on both wheels. Many make the mistake of trying to land on the rear wheel first. This is a potentially dangerous idea that can break the back end of your mountain bike as well as injure the rider.
When going over a drop-off, absorb the landing using both tires, and if you have a bike with suspension, this will further assist you in absorbing landings. Don’t hold on too tight as you land, or you will cause a stiffness in your body that will make your landing a jarring experience.
Watch the Techniques of Others
A great way to master climbing and descents is to watch other riders. Those who have more experience are excellent templates to watch and see how they navigate hills and what they do with their bikes and bodies to master them.
Where to Center Your Weight
Lastly, it is important to keep in mind where your weight is centered as you ascend and descend. For example, as the ground get steep, you need to have your weight a bit farther back on your bike. When the terrain flattens out, you can put your weight in the center in order to send more power to the pedals.
Finally, once you are biking downhill, you can place your weight wherever it needs to be as the conditions of the hill change constantly as you descend.
From trail etiquette, biking theory, understanding the mechanics of mountain biking, to shifting gears and controlling your bike as you climb and descent, are all valid and equally important aspects to mountain biking. There is no one technique that must be focused on, as each are crucial in their own ways.
Stay safe, keep your eyes ahead, and keep challenging yourself for the best mountain biking experience.