Essential mountain bike skills


When starting off with mountain biking, there are some simple skills that can quickly improve riding performance. Get the basics nailed down and you will reap the rewards.

Here are the essential mountain bike skills you need to get up to speed:


It’s different from pedaling a road bike. This is because of the difference in terrain. Mountain bikes are mainly ridden on loose, changing surfaces. Therefore, pedaling on a mountain bike is an often-changing skill. You need to adapt to the surface with each stroke. Continually hammering down on the pedals at breakneck speed will often result in skidding or losing direction. Generally speaking, always try and keep a smooth pedaling action. Not only will you benefit from it, but so will your bike, and the trail! If you find your feet are slipping off the pedals, you probably have the crap factory pedals still on – consider upgrading them.


Climbing is a tough skill to master. When taking on an uphill climb, the first thing you need to do is shift into a lower gear. Find a gear that feels comfortable for you to keep smoothly pedaling and be prepared to change as the terrain and steepness of the climb changes. Don’t just sit in the same gear. Unlike road bike climbing, it’s normally best to stay in a seated position as climbing requires traction, particularly when cycling on loose terrain. And remember, keep pedaling! If the going gets tough, drop into a lower gear.


On the way down, switch immediately to the biggest chainring possible. Shifting gear to the big ring and highest gear before starting the descent is important as it stops the chain bouncing off. Don’t grip your handlebars too tightly, try and stay as relaxed as possible and absorbs any bumps by slightly bending your elbows. As your speed increases, always stay focused and keep looking ahead. Keep your eyes peeled for any uneven surface, holes in the ground and so on.


Your front brakes are the most important as they help keep you in the driving seat, without going into a skid. Just remember not to slam on the breaks to avoid going over the top of the handlebars! Additionally, your rear breaks are an important asset. You can shift your weight to either the front or back of the bike to utilise both breaks and balance the power to give you maximum control. The best mountain bike riders learn how to shift their weight and apply the right amount of braking power for the best results. In general, practice using your front brake as much as you can. You might make mistakes, but that’s all part of the learning process.


There are two key body positions for riding a mountain bike, and both are excellent skills to have. Firstly, the seated position is perfect for riding on smooth roads while getting to grips with the basics. It’s the most effective and efficient mountain bike riding position over smoother surfaces, but it does restrict you when trying to be more adventurous on the bike. It’s also the best position for climbing up hills. The second position is standing off the saddle. If you change to a standing position, you’ll find you have far more freedom in terms of direction and movement. This increased movement will allow you to perform and control the bike better. It is also the position to master if you want to become a more advanced mountain bike rider. As terrain changes regularly during rides, you’ll need to be constantly adapting your body position to make the required adjustments. It’s all about being flexible – it’s far different to road biking where you sit and spin.


Cornering is a difficult skill to master effectively. It’s easy to go fast in a straight line, not so when taking on tricky corners safely. Most importantly, it’s about controlling your speed coming into the corner. Brake, adjust your line for the best arc, lean into it and keep your outside pedal low. Cornering is a continuous learning process. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Getting a corner just right will really improve the smoothness of your cycle, and you’ll get faster as a result.

Mastering these essential skills will not only result in you enjoying mountain biking more but also mean you’ll be able to perform better and more safely on the bike. Most mountain bike trails are fairly unpredictable, so these skills will help you be prepared for every climb, twist and turn that might be ahead.

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