I am not, and never will be the fastest, fittest or best mountain bike rider in the World. What I am however, is a very lucky person as I have a job that sees me riding my bike almost every day, in some of the most beautiful parts of the World. So I’ve had more time than most to figure out ways to improve and what things have helped me become a better rider along the way. One of the many things I love about my job as a guide, is the fact that a simple suggestion of advice can make a huge difference to a person’s confidence and enjoyment when riding on the trips I guide.
I’m constantly learning through trial and error, through the wide variety of people I ride with, and through the vast array of trails I ride and the various challenges they pose. I think it’s part of what makes us human to want to constantly be better and improve ourselves in the things we do. It’s certainly part of the challenge of Mountain biking and part of what allows me to enjoy it so much.
These are tips I’ve picked up along the way from riders who are far more experienced than me, that have helped my riding progress, especially at points where I’ve felt like I was at a plateau, and also things I’ve figured out for myself that have allowed me to become what I feel is a better rider. I think many of them can be used by all of us though, no matter what level we ride at or in what discipline within biking!
None of us ride well when we are tense or nervous, being relaxed and loose on the bike is the key to finding flow and making the bike work with you rather than being a passenger. If you are having fun you will be more relaxed, and therefore ride better. After all, if it’s not fun then why are you doing it? Laugh at yourself, don’t take it too seriously, and your riding will progress before you know it.
Lots of us get stuck in a rut always riding the same trails or same type of riding or racing. That’s fine, we all have our favourites, but trying something new can be the key to becoming a better rider. Are you a Downhiller? Try entering an XC race or a marathon. Cross-Country bandit? Have a go at an Enduro.
Always ride the same trails? Go somewhere new. Ride pump tracks, road, cyclocross, whatever! All will make you a better rider overall and help you develop more bike handling skills.
Even the best riders in the World in their chosen disciplines mix up their training on different bikes in the off-season. Riding at night is also a great way to mix things up a bit….even familiar local trails feel totally different at night!
Everyone can become a better rider, even the pros…It is soooo worth investing in a session with a professional to improve. It’s hard to often figure out why you can’t do something, even if you know the theory behind it.
Or why you’re riding feels like it’s reached a level you can’t progress past. A coaching session can give you things to work on and think about for long after the session.
Have a go! Any kind of race will do. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do well, just do it for fun. Racing encourages you to push and challenge yourself, it’s a great way to meet new people, have fun, and feel proud of yourself afterwards….you learn a lot about your riding from racing at your limit, and it also highlights your weaknesses and areas where you could improve your riding. You might even find you love it and want to do more!
You will never get better at things you find hard if you never practice! If you think people who can wheelie around a car park one-handed were just born being able to do it, think again! Even those with huge amounts of natural talent spend hours practising, and failing, and trying again and again until they’ve perfected it. It has been said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something….that’s 20 hours a week, for 50 weeks a year, for 10 years!!!! Incorporate purposeful practice into everyday rides, pick something to work on each time you go out and make a point of making yourself do it.
We learn things from everyone we ride with, so it’s obviously good to ride with better riders who we can pick up tips from, follow lines, copy techniques, but also with similar ability ones so you don’t always feel like the person at the back. If you’re surrounded by others at the same level as you, you can share your learning experiences and encourage and motivate each other.
If you’re a girl who always rides with a group of guys, find a group of other girls to go and shred with every so often, it’s a whole different experience and lots of girls find it helps their confidence no end! Riding solo is also a really good experience for everyone, I find it makes me think a lot about riding in control and within my limits, being self-sufficient, and I ride very differently when alone.
Getting your bike set up dialled is crucial to allow you to get the most out of your bike and have fun on it, yet it’s something many people haven’t done! It may be something as simple as moving your brakes and shifters around so they are in exactly the right place on the bars to be able to use them properly, or it could be changing the length of your stem or width of your bars to put you in a better position on the bike.
A good bike shop or experienced friend can help you out. Also understanding how things like your suspension work, allows you to get the most out of them, and understand how to use the bike in a way that allows them to work better. I, like many riders, used to be guilty of dragging my brakes all the way down a trail….it was like my comfort blanket! But wheels are meant to roll, and as soon as you brake they aren’t doing this as well, so the whole bike will feel rougher, less controlled, and more scary.
Braking harder but at shorter and more appropriate points feels so much better and smoother, and lets you go faster without being as scared…but it took me a while to realise!! Also learning how to fix things means you’ll have the confidence to go on bigger adventures and be more self sufficient.
Of all the tips I’ve been given by people over the years this is probably the most simple one but when not followed, so often the cause of crashes or poor riding technique. If ever I’m having a bad day on my bike, I notice I am looking down at my front wheel, and if I actively think about keeping my head up I instantly start to ride better. It’s the thing I’ll say to guests on trips that often makes enough difference for them to ride something rather than stall, especially switchbacks!
Everyone crashes, it’s a part of riding your bike! Don’t be disheartened when you do, just work out why it happened, learn from it and hopefully do something different next time! Each crash makes us more experienced riders as we learn through trial and error. When I was learning to ride harder trails, I was told it wasn’t a good ride unless you fell off at least once! Although I’m not sure that’s entirely true and it’s definitely not a saying I try and live by, if you’re falling it does mean you’re pushing your limits.
Having said that, falling all the time means you’re maybe pushing too hard and need to take a step back and learn things slowly, rather than end up badly injured! Here’s my friend Jon showing that crashing in mountain biking is just a part of the game.
Like anything, the more you ride the easier it gets, as the faster or fitter you get. If riding your bike more is not an option, then make more of each ride….By this I mean don’t just ‘ride’, practice your skills at every opportunity, use hills for interval training if you want to get fitter, make yourself session things you can’t ride. Make every ride count and try to learn constantly and you’ll soon start to see your riding improving.
Most of all, enjoy yourself! Mountain biking is one of the most fun sports around, and if you look around, you’ll often see that the riders laughing, smiling and having the best time, are the ones riding the best too! It’s all about fun, and if you keep making sure that you are having some, your riding will keep improving without you even noticing…
……..now go out and start putting some of these into practice! Happy trails!