Whether you’re a beginner or veteran mountain biker, there is always an element of your riding that you can improve. There are a few things that many riders do that keep them from getting faster and stronger on the bike; if you want to be a better mountain biker, here are six things you should stop doing today.
Stop: Hopping Like a Bunny
Many athletes believe the bunny hop has both wheels off the ground at the same time, which is understandable given the picture that “bunny hop” brings to mind. In fact, you want to instigate a “hop, jump, pump,” with your front wheel going first. The two-wheel hop requires you to pull up with your clipless pedals and clear an obstacle with both wheels. This greatly increases the effort you need to put in, increases the time you need to set up and hugely decreases the possible height and length of your jump. The “bunny hop” is perhaps better called a “dolphin hop,” since we should lead up and down with the front wheel in the same way a dolphin leads out of and back into the water with its nose. Simply stopping the two-wheel motion today will help you work on the proper movement pattern without interference of the two-wheel, cleat-pull-instigated hop.
Stop: Sitting All the Time
You may have read that sitting is more efficient. Unfortunately, it is rare that we have universally applicable rules. For mountain bikers, there are many situations where standing to pump over obstacles and pedal forcefully up climbs and out of corners is beneficial.
Learning to pedal while standing lets you use different muscles and leverage your body weight. You can maximize your output and climb faster by combining standing and seated pedaling. While in your aggressive, or ready, position (not pedaling), focus on positioning yourself over your pedals so much of your weight is going down through your feet. Generally, we will drop our heels to maximize braking and stability. Keep a light grip on the bars to encourage a less rigid and stable posture. From this position, you can push down and execute a bunny hop or pump over and around any obstacle you encounter.
While standing, the key is to move your handlebars side to side in time with your pedaling. Try to find balance at the bottom of each stroke, as this will help prevent the common problem of not “touching” the bottom of each stroke.
Stop: Pedaling All the Time
Related to sitting all the time, the tendency to pedal constantly means you’re not using your body to move around the trail and maximize efficiency. To be efficient on your mountain bike, you must pump and apply pressure — before and after bumps — to generate and maintain speed. If you sit and pedal constantly, you will inevitably clunk through compression dips or up and over bumps in the trails. When the trails get rocky or technical, you’ll lose your balance or hit your pedals or rims in places where you should be coasting and pumping to roll over terrain smoothly.
Stop: Heading onto the Trails Without Warming Up
Too often, mountain bikers get out of the car and hit the main climb of the day. Try parking farther away from the trails or riding there. Adding some road miles to your day will help boost your fitness in the long term and will also help your body get warm and ready to meet the first climb at your best. Too often, riders will turn around in the first 30 minutes because they’re in the middle of a max effort for which they didn’t warm up.
Boost your road time by including some high-cadence drills. Shifting one or two gears easier and pedaling maximally for 30 seconds is called a “spin up,” and it’s a great way to start a ride. Doing 3–4 of these in your 15- to 30-minute road warmup will help elevate your heart rate and make you feel coordinated at normal cadences.
Stop: Looking Where You Are, Not Where You Want to Go
Riders of all abilities, myself included, get into the habit of looking at the wrong thing during a certain skill. It may not be all the time, but for situations like a bermed corner, a jump or rock gardens, it is often helpful to push yourself to look farther ahead. Simply setting a goal to go out and practice rock gardens while staying focused on looking farther ahead or at the exit of the obstacle can be a helpful drill. With jumps, we want to be thinking about spotting the landing rather than how steep the takeoff is. For corners, turning our whole body to look well ahead helps us avoid panic-induced braking and also puts the body in a better position to whip around the corner.
Stop: Guessing Tire Pressure
A digital tire gauge will boost your riding skills. Knowing the pressure you run in each tire and for specific situations or courses will help you corner better, maximize comfort and optimize your efficiency over bumpy and loose terrain. Pumps are rarely accurate, and there are typically huge variations between them. Many riders will quickly squeeze a tire and assume they can feel optimal pressure. Poor tire pressure causes too many lost races and crashes. Don’t stop doing your squeeze test, though; use an accurate gauge to measure tire pressure, and then squeeze the tires so you know what the right pressure feels like. This can help you get a better sense of your tire pressure when you don’t have a gauge.
Taken together, these ideas can easily boost your mountain biking abilities. If you adjust your routine to include setting your tire pressure for each ride and planning a short road warmup with spin ups, you will feel more comfortable on the trails. Adding some focused time on the trails — working on uneven terrain to develop your standing ability, pumping (not pedaling) skills and your front-wheel-first hops/jumps — will further boost your ability and have you riding better after only a few sessions.