Mountain Biking Basics — An Introduction

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Here is a primer on most everything you need to know to get starting riding mountain bikes. It answers many questions new cyclists have about some basics or riding mountain bikes. I give my opinion on techniques and other cyclists pitch in with their opinion. This is in two sections. We will start out with Riding Skills — the Basic Riding Position and Turning.

Riding Skills

1) Basic Riding Position
Elbows should be relaxed, bend at about 90 degrees. Grip the bar firmly, but not too hard. If you see white knuckles, then you are gripping too tight. Keep your back straight, at about 45 degrees from the ground surface. Try to “stand” on the pedals. You still sit on the seat, but you don’t place all your weight on it. When not pedaling, always keep your pedals level.

Others added: You may want to add that your grips should be about shoulder length apart, but that would only really affect small / large people.

You could mention that you can (or may have to) ride with pedals vertical (and/or with one foot loose) in tight turns.

Many people spin their pedals slower than is optimum. Faster feet in a lower gear will often give you more speed and less fatigue, although it can take some time to get used to spinning your legs at 90-plus revolutions per minute.

2) Turning
Brake before going into the turn, using both brakes. If you have a lot of traction: Push the outside foot down and lean to the inside (if you have traction). Enter the corner wide, hit the apex with the bike near the inside edge and leave the corner wide. Do not use the front brake if you are turning at the bike’s limit. The front tire is using all its traction for turning. If you use your front brake, it will lose its grip and wash out. A front wheel slide is almost impossible to recover. A back end slide is easier to recover. Also, the brake tire is doing less work than the front, therefore, you can use some of its “spare” traction for braking. If you are turning on loose surfaces, keep this in mind: This technique involves keeping the bike relatively upright; instead, the body is leaned in the direction of the turn. Transfer weight slightly forward. Push down on the outside pedal. Twist your upper body to face the trail. Align your upper body so that your upper body is slightly leaning toward the inside of the turn. Push down on handlebar on the outside and pull up on the inside.

Others added: To steer, put your weight on the inside of the turn. Turn your front wheel toward the turn, and hold your bike upright. Even if one or both of your wheels begin to skid you can easily recover. In contrast, if you lean hard through a turn on loose material and either wheel loses traction, you will be picking gravel out of your leg.

You almost always want your weight centered between your wheels. This means you move your butt further back as the terrain gets steeper. Learn to feather your front brake. Let off on the brake when your wheel hits an obstacle, and hit it harder when you have a smooth even braking surface. Many people do not learn to feather the brake, so they put their weight too far towards the rear. This rear weight shift results in too little weight being placed on the front wheel, so that you cannot easily steer.

I’ve found that negotiating sharp turns at some reasonable speed is easier when the seat is an inch or so lower than normal. The trick is to lean the bike (but not the rider). This is really just a variation of normal turning.

Point the inside leg in the direction of the turn (knee away from the frame), putting all weight on the outside pedal. Push down on the inside handlebar. At this point almost all weight should be distributed between the inside grip and the outside pedal. This is much easier with a rigid fork – with a suspension fork, you really have to bear down on the handlebar (a grunt may be required!). At this point the bike is leaning under the rider, with the seat anywhere from under the thigh to just under the knee. The rider’s weight is centered over the point where the two wheels are in contact with the ground, so there isn’t a washout problem even in loose conditions.

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