Keen to improve your technique on front-wheel lifts, ratcheting, track stands or cornering? We caught up with Bri Lobb from Black Fox Ride to chat about mountain bike drills you can do pretty much anywhere and very few resources to improve your technique.
These four basic drills will help with your balance and stability on the bike as well as translate to confidence on the trails when you encounter features or difficult sections. These drills are best practised with flat pedals to get the most out of them.
Before you ride a new tech trail, always remember to scope it beforehand and the golden rule of Preride, Reride, Freeride!
Front-wheel lifts are super useful to get over obstacles on the trail or to initiate jumping technique. Use a flat and relatively open space for practising. You may want to use a couple of big sticks spread out 5-10 metres apart to have a visual obstacle and something to actually pop up and over (often deadfall from trees or a forest nearby can work great).
Gain enough speed to be balanced (where you don’t need to pedal anymore) and stand up with level pedals. Your seat should be lowered if possible for this.
Compress through the pedals, then explode upwards unweighting the front tyre and allowing it to come up under you and off the ground (it is important to not pull up on the handlebars as this will actually restrict your movement as well as throw you off-balance).
Ratcheting is a fantastic skill for technical climbing and slow-speed tight cornering, as well as manoeuvring over or around an obstacle. You don’t need a lot of space for this, but you’ll want flat ground to practise. An empty car park with marked lines can be an excellent place to practise as you can use the lines as your markers to try and turn in between.
The idea of ratcheting your pedals means they are not going fully around, but rather motioning forward and back to move you ever so slightly forward until you can do a full pedal stroke (ie. once you are over the obstacle like a rock or tree root).
To start this, begin with level pedals and then try slowly moving forward (in a medium gear) with your front foot pushing down slightly and then your back foot pushing back down. You won’t move far but should remain balanced.
Next, using either lines (ie. in a car park) or cones (Bri says she will often just use her bike gloves if she doesn’t have cones), try to move in a circle, so turn as you ratchet the pedals and see if you can stay in between the lines/cones. To add a challenge, you can then try to do a figure 8, making the space smaller and smaller to see how tight you can turn while ratcheting.
Track stands have a similar benefit to ratcheting, in that they are both slow speed balancing manoeuvres. However, with a track stand, you want to come to a complete stop. Track stands are very useful on technical terrain where you need to be able to pause before a tricky section/feature and regain your composure or commit to a line without needing to dismount. They are also great for general balance on the bike and super useful if you are riding in the city and not wanting to dismount at a traffic light.
Using a flat or slightly upward incline, roll slowly to a stop and put your strong (or normal front foot) forward.
Turn your front wheel slightly towards your front foot to help with your balance. Weight or push down a bit on the front foot and then back if necessary (this is where the ratcheting idea helps a lot) to try and find the balance point.
Look ahead (1-2 metres), not directly down at your front wheel, to help maintain your balance.
Cornering is a skill that amateurs and pros alike are forever trying to improve. The more you practice this one, the smoother and faster your riding will be and you’ll be able to tackle a wide variety of corners with confidence. A grassy flat or gentle downhill slope works best for this drill, but any open space can work.
Grab 6 or more cones or any small items you may have available to you (even some small but big enough-to-see rocks work). Then space your markers out a couple of metres apart in a line.
Put your seat down if possible, then generate a bit of speed (whether through pedalling or gravity) so you can have momentum and stop pedalling as you approach the cones (make sure to have level pedals here).
Weave around the cones, keeping your weight on the outside foot and to the outside of the bike, and lean the bike (as much as you feel comfortable with) toward the inside of the cones.
Play with different speeds and spacing of the cones to challenge yourself.
The most important part of it all? Enjoy playing around on your bike and don’t be afraid to experiment (again grass is your friend here). If you can do some of these drills for even 10 minutes a couple of times a week, you’ll be sure to see improvement on the trails in no time.
If you’re keen to dig your teeth into some more MTB skills development, check out our coaching options at the bike park for a more personalised approach to your skillset. We’ve even got the Rocky Mountain Women’s Ride Camp coaching weekend coming up on February 10-11, 2024, so if that’s a bit of you, make sure to secure your spot. See you on the trails!