4 Mountain Biking Skills to Master (and Where to Practice)

MTB

Many of our Eagle County physical therapists, including Meredith, Gentian, Brady and Robyn, spend their summers living the 2-wheel dream on their mountain bikes.  Living in the High Country, it’s easy to see why #mtblife has become so popular! Most of our area ski resorts transform into mountain bike parks in the summertime.  Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek and Keystone all offer mountain bike uploads for downhill riding. There is a plethora of cross-country trails and mountain biking advocacy groups in Summit and Eagle counties. And, of course, Moab is just a short ride away. If you’re an old pro, a relative beginner, or somewhere in between, focusing on your riding technique will help you to work less, enjoy riding more and will help prevent injuries (#physicaltherapistgoals). If you are into #downhill or #enduro,  improved technique will help you build the confidence you need to take on bigger challenges and #kickaxis.

We think the popular Haymaker Trail, in Eagle, CO is the perfect trail to practice your skills.  Haymaker was built as the course for the annual High School Cycling League State Championship, so it has a little bit of every kind of terrain: flats, bridges, rocky climbs, switchbacks, rollers and even a slalom-style banked descent.  There are multiple loops that you can string together into a long ride, or lap as needed. It’s a perfect trail to find new challenges and master these four basic mountain biking skills:

mtb climb

Climbing

Climbing on a mountain bike is hard, so don’t make it harder on yourself (#worksmarternotharder).  Be more effective with your climbing by focusing on your body position. Your bike needs rear-wheel tire traction to get you up the hill, so make sure you stay seated to keep your weight on the back tire.  With all that weight on the back, if you hit a root or a rock, your front tire is likely to pop up and kill your momentum. To prevent that unfortunate moment, make sure your arms are bent and your upper body leans forward over the handlebars.  This is the ideal climbing position! The last piece to optimize your climbing is to practice your gearing. If you try to gear down on a climb when you are already jamming hard on the pedals, it puts a lot of pressure on the chain, making the shift awkward at best and can damage your chain at worst.  By gearing down before you hit the steep section, you’ll preserve your momentum better and make climbing easier.  

Descending

mtb descendWhat goes up, must come down!  Descending is another time to really focus on the all-important body position to provide balance, increase traction and prevent you from going over the handlebars! (#mtbpictureoftheday we would like to avoid)  When descending, your bike is pointed downhill, so you need to adjust your body to keep your weight centered over your cranks. Extend your arms and lift your butt out of the seat and towards the back of your bike.  This will keep the front wheel light to roll over obstacles and keep you on the bike, where you belong! You will likely be letting gravity take over as you go downhill, so keep your pedals parallel to ground to give you more clearance as you go over roots and obstacles.  Make sure you are looking ahead 10-20 feet and not right in front of your wheels, so you can anticipate the trail ahead. Just like in skiing, if you stare at that big tree next to the trail, you are actually more likely to hit it. Your body follows where your eyes lead, so look at the trail where you want to go and not at objects you want to go around.

mtb cornerCornering

So much of mountain biking is about momentum.  You can either create momentum and then work with it, or struggle to get going and fight that momentum (#dontfightit).  It’s important to consider your momentum when you are cornering. If you are descending and approaching a corner, make sure you slow down before you get to the corner.  You should release the brake as you move through the turn for increased traction and to make the transition out faster and smoother.  Focus on entering the corner on the outside of the trail, cutting inside on the middle and exiting on the outside. This is called a racing line, or flattening the curve. Finally, mind your eyes!  Remember that your body goes where you are looking, so make sure your eyes are looking all the way through the end of the corner and don’t get distracted by those trees!

Braking

mtb brakeLast, but certainly not least of the basic skills is braking.  If you focus on just one skill, learn how to stop (#inthenameoflove)!  If you are going up or down, make sure you always keep your brakes covered with 1-2 fingers.  You never know when you will come around a corner and see a cute bunny or a tree down in the way!  Why only 1-2 fingers? Braking in a smooth gradual pull with less fingers helps you avoid grabbing the brake quickly with your whole hand (which can lead to that immediate and unfortunate dismount over the front handlebars that no one wants to take).  There are lots of different ways to brake, but make sure you master braking with both front and rear brakes. Your weight is on the rear brake, which provides the traction, but your front brake also needs some pressure in order to stop with speed.

We know learning a new skill, or practicing an old one, can be challenging when you are going it alone!  Join the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association for a volunteer project and make some new riding friends!  For local ladies, there’s also the Vida Mountain Biking Series, which hosts riding clinics in Colorado and is a great place to make new riding buddies.  Once you’ve mastered the Haymaker Trail, check out MTB Project for a fantastic free app with maps and more info about local trails.

 

Haymaker Trail Info:

The Haymaker Trail is full of short climbs, descents, twists, turns and easier obstacles and is the perfect trail to master the 4 basic mountain biking skills!  The longest loop distance is 5.4 miles, although you can shorten or lengthen your ride easily by riding the many loop options. Your total climb will be a manageable 381 feet.  The trail is one-way and should be ridden counter-clockwise only, which gives you a nice warm-up on the flat.

Get there:  Take I-70 to exit 147 toward Eagle County Regional Airport/Eagle.  Take a left at the first traffic circle onto Eby Creek Rd and continue straight through two more traffic circles.  After crossing the river, turn right onto Grand Avenue and then take your first left onto Capitol St. After 0.8 miles, turn left onto Brush Creek Rd and follow it to the trailhead!  

mtb dog

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