Mountain Biking Skills instruction program ©

A unique mountain bike skills teaching programme, focused on achieving safe, injury-free riding through the establishment and continuous refinement of core skills.


A mountain biking enthusiast since the age of fifteen, I began skills coaching in 2005 for the Asia Pacific Adventure international adventure racing team. Around this time I also designed and constructed a professionally run skills course for the Hong Kong mountain biking community. The course addressed the needs of beginner and intermediate riders who wanted to quickly and effectively learn the necessary skills for riding the challenging Hong Kong trails. The teaching methodology conceived for this course has since been further refined into the Mountain Biking Skills Instruction Program (MBSIP) ©. The program’s main objectives are as follows:
  • To enhance all mountain cyclists’ experience of riding on natural terrain. This is achieved through the development of fundamental and advanced skills that will enhance a rider’s capacity to overcome trail difficulties and avoid injury.
  • In the absence of official certification for mountain biking instruction in the U.S., and of a systematic, standardized teaching methodology, the program can serve as a valuable reference/training/organizing tool for clubs, coaches and MB instructors.

mtb course

Programme Philosophy

This programme is unique for its emphasis on achieving safe, injury-free riding through the establishment and continuous refinement of core skills.

Most mountain bikers develop their riding skills by themselves, learning through a long process of hit and miss experiences. This tendency to go it alone is often due to the misconception that mountain biking isn’t too much of a departure from standard road cycling. Newcomers often underestimate the dramatic challenges that mountainous terrain presents to the rider’s balance and ability to maintain control of the bike—its categorization as an extreme sport is not without justification! In the early stages, the most challenging part of mountain biking is setting aside assumptions and adopting an “innocent” approach.

Frequent falls and injuries are common within the first 100 hours of practice; many will experience  injury. For those who go on to become seasoned mountain bikers, such injuries and crashes are regarded as a necessary part of the process. However, many newcomers are discouraged by this and give up on the sport.

Therefore, the earlier a mountain biker is taught proper riding form—core skills— the quicker he or she will acquire the necessary skills and confidence to overcome trail difficulties safely and effectively. More experienced riders also suffer limitations, which again comes back to a weakness in core skills; once these fundamental skills have been reviewed, these riders invariably get to the next level.

Promoting good mountain biking skills will benefit the entire mountain biking community and its riding environment. It will:

  • Lower the risk of accidents in the early stages of practice.
  • Help riders to remain in control of their bike in many situations that could otherwise generate conflicts among trail users.
  • Support the growth of the mountain biking community. By providing newcomers with skills that allow them to effectively reach a level of proficiency, they will feel encouraged to continue with the sport, participating in MB club activities, trips and competitions.

Program Overview

Mountain biking relies on two fundamental factors that are applicable to all levels and situations:

  • ANTICIPATION: The rider’s accurate perception of his capabilities and riding environment while riding, which allows him to anticipate obstacles.
  • ACTION RESPONSE: The rider’s ability to be able to then proceed to the relevant action that will allow him to overcome the obstacle.

In a typical trail-riding situation, it is rare to find an obstacle that requires an action response consisting of a single skill—often it demands the combination of several core skills at once. This requires of the rider a strong grasp of individual fundamental skills, as well as the ability to co-ordinate skills combining to make up the most appropriate action response.

In this program, riders are given the opportunity to first of all isolate and master fundamental skills based on single essential actions such as anticipating, balancing, braking, turning, pedaling power. Riders develop their skills further by practicing on increasingly challenging terrain. For example, isolated turning skills are practiced initially on flat, stabilized terrain. Then, riders move up to sloped terrain with tighter turns, which requires the rider to combine other skills such as braking and balancing. In this way, riders acquire a solid understanding of the fundamentals of proper turning form and technique, refined through practicing the skill on increasingly challenging and varied terrain.

Core Skills

Perception /Anticipation
This describes the rider’s faculties of analyzing the immediate environment, spotting hazards, and understanding the gravitational forces involved when riding over various surfaces.

Balancing / Rider’s Mobility Range
The rider must discover a range of mobility that can be exploited while riding in order to remain balanced as the bike tilts up, down or side ways.

Braking is an essential skill to explore in mountain biking, since typical riding conditions require more frequent and more aggressive use of the brakes than in regular cycling. Braking, challenges the rider’s balance, and its effects and consequences must be explored.

Typical riding conditions require turning on much tighter curves than standard cycling. Good riding form is necessary for coping with any kind of trail’s curves at any speed.

Pedaling Power/ Using the gears
In typical trail riding conditions, proper use of the gears guarantees a constant power output that enables a rider to overcome climbs and obstacles.


Core Skills Workshops

The following is a teaching sample from the Mountain Biking Skills Instruction Program (MBSIP) ©.

Workshop: Curve radiant, familiarizing with leaning

Aim: Building confidence in tire grip, working on anticipation and focus points, working on balance.

Workshop location:

  • Large paved surface, clean and free of debris


Initial Workshop setup:

This is the initial configuration describing one 180º curve.

  • Describe a line that materializes a boundary, or use a curb or a wall. It is better to have a real obstacle to materialize the boundary in order to train participants to avoid looking at the curve’s outer edge while leaning on a turn.
  • Describe half a circle with same colored cones, the circle touching the boundary or the curb.
  • Describe the inside of half a circle with cones of a different color.
  • Position an “END” cone with a different color one meter away from the exit of the inner curve.
lesson set up

Alternative set ups:

Many variants of the 1 turn set up can be designed: Slalom, circles, progressively tighter curves.

Instructions to participants:


  • Participants must follow each other with a 30 second interval (leaving time for instructor to deliver immediate feed back).
  • Participants must enter the curve traced by cones at moderate speed (7 to 10 km/h depending on the curve’s radiant).
  • Participant must adopt a “crouching” posture, stand on the outer pedal, get slightly off the saddle,
  • Participant must focus on the inside line. They must look at the “END” cone, turning their head and shoulder towards it.

Instructor must:

  • Demonstrate and describe the correct technique and approaching speed:
  1. Approaching at moderate speed.
  2. Planting the “outside” foot down and standing on the pedal.
  3. Flexing arms and pointing head and shoulder at the inside line of the curve.
  • Demonstrate and describe the incorrect technique:
  1. Braking from the back brake and drifting sideways.
  2. Braking from the front and loosing balance outward.
  3. Not looking at the curve’s END point but looking at the edge and running into it.

Instructor must check:

  • The feasibility of the workshop layout by test running it before the participants engage in the workshop.
  • Participants are looking towards the “END” cone.
  • Participants are applying pressure on the outward pedal.
  • Participants are leaning towards the curve’s inner side.
  • Participants are not looking at the boundary or the curb.
  • Participants have fingers resting on brake levers, although instructed not to brake.
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