The past decade has seen mountain biking soar from an offbeat sport for cycle fanatics to a hugely popular hobby for anyone who wants to enjoy the great outdoors, with an added adrenaline buzz. Ian Warby, an executive committee member for the International Mountain Biking Association UK, gives his tips on how to get involved.
Mountain biking has so many benefits. The standouts are: you stay fit and healthy and feel good, you become a part of the great outdoors on a regular basis and see more of our amazing country and its hidden gems (there’s no better way to get to see them than by bike). You’re always smiling – well, apart from some of the climbs – and it’s a real adrenaline buzz for those looking for the ultimate high. You can come into it for fun, recreation or competition and there are so many great places to explore and events to take part in across the UK and beyond
Setting up the bike right is essential. Soften up the tyres so they feel more like an orange than an apple. Make sure you’re not too stretched out on your bike; you’ll need to be able to move around the bike when you’re riding off-road. Set your saddle a little lower, so you can get your feet down easily if you need to as well. This might compromise efficiency, but it will give you more confidence.
Understand the basics
Getting the basics right is fundamental. Finding a good bike shop and getting the right advice from the start will ensure you have the right kit. Ask lots of questions and do your homework: the Internet is great for this. Identify the type of riding you want to do, and make sure your budget matches your expectations. A lot of riders spend lots on upgrading their hardware (bike, tyres etc.), but upgrading your software (your understanding of why to do things) is crucial. There are some great mountain bike instructors out there to each you the essentials.
Road to dirt
Switching from the road to the dirt is easy. Focus on keeping your weight back: drop your wrists into the handle bars (bringing up your brake levers on your handle bars can help). Bring your heels into the pedals. Keep your head up and look up the trail: focus on the nearest high point to you in elevation as far down the trail as you can see it. If you’re riding at a trail centre, remember the trails are graded, just like ski slopes. They run from Green (easy) through to Black (technical), with a separate grading system for Bike Parks: technical, jumps, drops and timber trails. Always ride within your ability and progress from easy to more challenging trails.
As you build your confidence and experience you’ll build your skills repertoire and draw on a much bigger ‘tool box’ of techniques to get you through the trail. At home there are some core skill drills you can practice: here are two that are perfect for a reasonable sized back garden.
Firstly, ‘figure of eights’: riding around in a figure of eight works on your cornering technique and slow speed control. Many people think it’s all about speed, but riding slowly round in a figure of eight can build confidence. Focus on looking ahead, pushing down and weighting the pedal on the outside of the turn. Turn your body (as if you were looking with your belly button) in the direction you want to go – this will develop your cornering technique. Focus on looking, body position and footwork; weighting the outside pedal improves grip and confidence through corners.
The other good practice routine is the ‘track stand’: you don’t need a lot of space for this one. Standing or sitting on the bike with your feet on the pedals when stationary is a great way to develop balance and control. When you find the balance point, work on perfecting the track stand seated, standing with your brakes on, and – when you’ve really mastered it – with your brakes off. Dropping your wrist on the handlebars and heels into the pedals and keeping your head up really helps.
It’s inevitable that at some time you’re going to fall off your bike riding off-road. The more technical the trails, the more protection you need. A helmet and gloves are essential and as your riding gets more technical, it’s worth looking at the protection options on offer (knee pads, elbow pads etc).
If you know what you’re doing and ride within your limits, then if you do fall off you will jump up and get straight back on. Most riders have tales of how they have broken this or that, but when you find out how long they have been riding you’ll see that in reality injuries are few and far between.
Keep an eye on fatigue levels, as you’re far more likely to make a mistake when you’re tired after a long day in the saddle.
No matter how much you’re tempted, don’t show off to your mates in the car park or on camera: this is where things can and do go horribly wrong. Oh, and there’s a rule in mountain biking: never say you’re going to “do this one more time” or “have one more run”. Somehow after saying this things usually don’t go too well. Just go and call time on a great day’s riding.
Find out more at www.imba.org.uk
Looking for bike trails? Try the WideWorld Directory to locate trails and clubs near you.