If you’d like to get into mountain biking, but still feel like there are a few gaps to fill in the technique department, then this is for you! We’ve outlined five essential technical tips to ensure a safe and fun ride. Whether you’re a newbie or looking to refine your positioning, there’s something in here for you.
Not all styles of biking were created equal, and each will require different techniques. If you’ve got the whole two-wheel-balance thing sussed, then it’s safe to say that you’ll be fine in any bike category, but when it comes to downhill mountain biking there are unique considerations to take into account.
Downhill mountain biking terrain is designed to keep you on your toes. At Bike Glendhu, we’ve made it our business to cater to all skill levels, but if you’re wanting to level up from meandering grassy meadows and give the technical trails a go… Then it’s good to learn the basics with these simple adjustments.
The most important factor in mountain biking is ensuring your position on the bike is one where you can adapt to anything the trails throw at you as you throw yourself down rocky mountain slopes.
Nail Your Ready Position
Before you hit a trail, it’s good to do a mental check that everything is in order before you head off. First off the rank is checking that your seat is down and out of the way. When you’re mountain biking, you want to be able to adjust your body position to balance out the bike, so if your seat is in the way this can prove to be a hazard.
Other important pre-ride checks include housekeeping things like making sure no loose clothing is hanging off you (avoiding anything getting caught in the wheels). Also, take a moment to check that water bottles & phones are in a safe & sturdy place so that nothing is flying off you as you ride down. You want to avoid littering the trail with items that could throw other riders off as they’re coming down.
Naturally, you’ll want to run a few checks over your bike before you drop into the trail too. Things to look out for are making sure the suspension is open and checking your gear ratio; you want to be in high gear so that you’re not spinning the pedals if you need to get some momentum.
Heels Down, Hips Up
Some people clip in when they ride, which will automatically position their feet on the pedals. If you’re not clipping in, then you want to ensure that the balls of your feet are positioned on the pedals, with the length of your feet running parallel to the bike.
Not only is this going to give you more pedal power, but it will also help you to move your body as you navigate downhill features with that optimized bounce in your feet. By using flat pedals you’re also making it easier to send a leg out for support if needed.
When you’re riding, it’s important to lift your hips off the seat. Position your pedals parallel to the ground and stand up. This is to keep the bike sturdy and, let’s face it, give you those biker thighs that you’ve always wanted.
As mountain biking is typically a rocky ride, by having your butt off the seat you’re allowing your body to become an added suspension feature, absorbing the terrain and helping you stay balanced on this bike. See the next section for more on that…
Agile Body Positioning
If your arms or legs are locked out, you won’t be able to react to the terrain effectively. Maintaining a bend in your elbows and knees will allow your joints to act like shock absorbers on rough descents. You’re ideally trying to keep the center of gravity in the center of the bike, if you keep your limbs reasonably loose and relaxed, they can absorb the terrain, while you continue to shift the weight back towards the pedals and the ground.
Shift your hips back slightly, remembering that the steeper the terrain, the further back you can go. Position your butt over the rear wheel and keep your body low, this makes you more aerodynamic and will stop you from flying over the handlebars at the mere sighting of a rock. Your range of motion will depend on the steepness of the descent.
Small position adjustments go a long way! It’s all about balance, and it takes time to trial and error your way to perfection. Take it easy as you build confidence and trust with your bike and body positioning.
In downhill mountain biking it’s best to have your hands firmly on the handlebars with your index finger lightly but intentionally placed over the brakes. Relaxed but ready for action is the vibe you’re going for here.
When you’re riding downhill, you want to be feathering your brakes as you descend rather than slamming them on at the last minute. When approaching a technical feature, it’s best to go in slow and boost out fast.
As you progress with your technique, you can start to learn alternative ways of slowing down your bike. If you press your heels down, shift your hips back toward the rear wheel and keep your body low, you can weight up the back wheel which will help to slow you down.
This technique won’t instantly grind you to a halt, but it will give you greater control over your bike as you navigate various terrains. It’s particularly efficient if you’re turning tight corners and off-camber sections. By taking the pressure off the front brakes and tyre you have more agility and a better chance of gripping the ground.
Eyes up & gaze forward! Just like driving, you want to be aware of what’s coming, before it comes. You also want to have a sense of what’s happening in your peripheral, just in case there are any trails merging where you need to be aware of other riders.
By keeping your gaze straight forward and keeping your body flat, you’re creating that streamlined position that’s ideal for downhill mountain biking.
Don’t forget that gear tech will only get you so far. Buying a new bike to become a better rider is an illusion. At the end of the day, it’s up to you, the rider, to adapt your technique and in doing so you’ll truly notice results.
Practice makes better. We offer a range of coaching packages, as well as guided rides at Bike Glendhu. Book in a session for yourself or come with a group of friends! Check out the details here.