5 tips to take your mountain bike to the next level – Cycling West

By Erica Tingey —

Tip #1: Heavy feet, light hands

The correct body position is essential to go faster on a mountain bike. For the descent, you must be in the strong, but relaxed “ready position”. Level your pedals, get up and down from your seat, and keep your elbows and knees slightly apart to allow for side-to-side and back-and-forth range of motion.

Think heavy feet, light hands and you will naturally settle into a good position. You want your weight to be well in your feet, and you want to hold the bars with your hands, but don’t grab them to avoid the common beginner mistake of flexing and grabbing everywhere and feeling everything you hit on the Track bouncing all over your body.

Get strong by engaging your core and glutes and working your quadriceps while simultaneously relaxing your upper body. The “ready position” helps you absorb features on a Track. The key is to stay relaxed and let your bike move under you.

Erica Tingey in the turns. Photo by Alex Knight

Tip 2: plan ahead

You can break down where you look in mountain biking in the present and the next. Think of “now” as one to three seconds ahead of you and “next” as four to six seconds ahead of you.

If you only look into the present, you are not prepared for the next, and if you only look into the next, you are not prepared for the present. In general, your eyes should be on the next, but allow them to scan now if necessary. Don’t bow your head to look; keep it level and scan with your eyes.

Avoid tilting your head to look down, as this will automatically cause you to grab your brakes; it’s a knee-jerk reaction that happens when your brain doesn’t know what’s next. This happens because fluid in our inner ears tells your brain when you’re out of balance, so when you tilt your head, you’ll instinctively feel a corresponding urge to brake.

Tip #3: Make compression easier

Many cyclists make the mistake of applying the brakes too hard too fast, which is especially dangerous at high speeds. Others insist on using only their rear brake because they have learned to fear the consequences of overusing their front brake. That’s why it’s important to know your two brakes BEFORE trying to go fast.

Practice using both brakes simultaneously in the parking lot while rolling slowly on a stable surface, then add speed. When you only use your rear brake, you have less stopping power, so your rear wheel is more likely to lock up, lose traction, and slip, which is the definition of skidding. Skidding is considered bad form and can ruin some trails (especially those in Utah). Keep in mind that 80-90% of your braking power is in the front, and remember that your brakes aren’t just on or off. Think of using them like squeezing a tube of toothpaste; do it gently and with precision.

As you accelerate, you will have to counteract the forces that tend to propel you forward when you brake. To do this, brake in a body position with a lower center of gravity. Lowering your torso while pulling it back slightly and dropping your heels are two ways to do this.

Tip 4: Find out before you go

Most of us start hiking our local trails and eventually get to know them well. sometimes they even get a bit boring. When this happens, it’s normal to be curious about different trails in other places and want to explore, but before heading to a new place, do some background research. This can go a long way in helping you succeed in your adventure.

Before you go, download the Trailforks [or other relevant-to-your-area] app on your phone and learn how to use it. Read about Track, and understand what to expect, then take a moment to check the signs at the trailhead for any updates. For example, do you do a one-way Track, and if so, do you plan to drive in the right direction? Is this a hike only? Track or a horse Track? As we see more users on the Track than ever, it is even more important to respect the rules of the Track and be nice to everyone.

By standard Track etiquette, hikers and horses have priority on multi-use trails, as do all users traveling uphill.

Tip #5: Be Prepared

Be sure to bring tire plugs, a proper tool to insert the plugs, a spare tube, pump and a basic multi-tool so you have a way to fix punctures and other common mechanical items . Even if you don’t know how to use all the tools yourself yet, someone is more likely to stop and help you if you have what you need to complete the repair.

Always carry one type of fuel (bars, Track mix, fruit snacks). Take a little more than you need, because you never know when you or someone you meet will end up needing it.

Checking the weather forecast before you go is also a good idea so that you can bring the appropriate extra layers to adapt to changing conditions, especially in the mountains, which are more prone to temperature variations and storms.

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