Core Skills: Perception

All mountain biking moves are triggered by your perception of your riding environment and how you see yourself and your bike going through.
Maintaining awareness of where you can go, what you can do and how your bike will react is a skill in itself.


Look ahead to where you want to go

This sounds obvious, but most of the trajectory mistakes that lead to a crash are due to looking at what is not on your path. Looking forward to where you want to put your wheels is key. If you’re looking at something else while riding, the tilt of your head will put you off balance and you’ll start turning towards it. So you must ignore what isn’t in your way and just look towards where you want to go.

Graphic: Red arrow = braking distance; look further or crash

lookehw re you want to go

Look as far as you can stop

Always look as far as you can brake, so you can stop before hitting an obstacle you can’t overcome. You will need to practice braking on various surfaces to have a better idea of where to look. But as a rule of thumb: look further ahead going fast on a downhill; look closer going slower; look as far as you can see the trail on a curve.


Plan ahead

You must always plan your next move after the obstacle. If you just keep looking at the obstacle and not beyond it, you will be unprepared for what lies ahead and may something you haven’t seen.

Graphic: Think ahead of you moves, never look at your front wheel getting ove/down obstacles


Roll over it

Your bike can take a lot of abuse, and can roll over a wide range of obstacles. You can roll straight over pretty much everything that is 1/4 of your wheel – this means almost 6 inches. There are few obstacles found on trails that are larger than 5 inches.
You must experiment going over obstacles. Take time finding increasingly bigger obstacles ,like rocks (start small – don’t go bigger than 5/6 inches), hit them straight on and pay attention to the consequences on your speed and your balance.

Graphic: The wheels can get over almost anything 1/4 of their size but beware of the impact

roll over it

The ground brakes for you

Every obstacle you hit stops your bike’s forward motion. If you’re getting on rough terrain you’ll need to pedal much harder. If you’re going down a rough section your bike will abruptly slow down.

Graphic: very rough surface, like a rock garden, will eat up all your speed

grond braking

Get a grip

Your tires, if in good condition, can provide you with amazing grip as long as enough weight is applied to them to keep some traction.
The grip is the tire’s ability to keep traction despite the forces applied to it. If those forces become greater than the tire’s traction abilities it will immediately start to drift.

The ground surface will greatly modify your tire’s traction capabilities. Therefore, it is important to always identify the soil types conditions. Here is a list, going from strongest grip to weakest grip:

  • Ideal Conditions: Moist, hard packed soil offers the most grip, allowing the tires’ knobs to dig in.
  • Hard packed and dry, dry stone: The compacted soil and stone surface offers a lot of grip to tire rubber. Be careful with dust that is a loose element on a hard surface.
  • Loose surfaces, dirt or sand: Loose surfaces offer very little grip at first, but as soon as the tires dig in (turning or braking) it suddenly provides a lot of grip. This makes it difficult to negotiate.
  • Debris: Trails are often covered in debris such as dead leaves. Like loose surface a layer of debris provide almost no grip until the tire manage to get through
  • Mud: Clay, when damp, is like soap. This requires pushing the tires down to a more solid layer of dirt. Mud covering a hard surface makes the surface extremely slippery. Beware of rocks and roots covered by a layer of liquid mud.
  • Gravel: Gravel is certainly the most unstable ground surface. Gravel reacts like ball bearings. A thin layer of gravel on a very hard surface is the most hazardous configuration. A thick layer requires the rider to dig the tire in order to achieve traction.

Gravity play

All the challenges in mountain biking lie in counterbalancing gravitational forces. When your front wheel hits a rock you’re thrown forward. Looking at it closer you’ll understand that your bike is stopped by the impact but your body keeps going forward. If you’re going too far forward you’ll go over the bar.

While riding a trail you will constantly have to anticipate moments of impacts and prepare for them. You’ll have to adopt a posture that will let you absorb the impact before you’ll have reached the limit of your balance on the bike.

Graphic: Your body is independent from your bike. If your bike stops, your body will keep going forward

gravity play

Hit obstacles straight on

Imagine every stone giving a kick to your front wheel. The kick can be very powerful. The bigger the obstacle, the bigger is the kick.
If the obstacle kicks your wheel straight on you’ve got all your mass aligned to resist it. But if you are hitting the obstacle with an angle it will kick your front wheel sideways – there will be no way to get it back online and you’ll crash.
Always plan to hit an obstacle as straight on as possible.


The straightest line is the best

As soon as you’re hitting a rough zone try as much as you can to cut through it. Steering generously while going over a rocky zone increases your chances of jack-knifing and wedging your wheel in a gap between two stones. Hold firm, get the right posture, stay relaxed and let the bike do its work. Just make sure there aren’t any obstacles along the rough section that your wheel can’t go over.


Practice: Look at the trail.

Practice braking down a trail section into a series of obstacles.
Look at the trails as a succession of slopes, curves and obstacles you can roll over.
Even in a difficult trail section there are easier zones—zones where you can brake without challenging your balance, and zones that are flat enough to turn sharply.

Here is an example of how to look at a challenging trail section:

Scan the trail:
The trail is relatively narrow and bordered with a steep down slope – where you don’t want to fall. There are big rocks on the sides, some emerging from the ground, and two set of steps. The trail section is roughly 20 meters long.
trail section
Now only look at your path; not the steep and scary down side!
path only
Now check for the obstacles on your path, check for everything you could clip with your pedals or shoulder.
Now only look at the obstacle you’ll have to ride over: 1 set of 2 steps, followed by one rock, followed by a set of 3 steps.
Now consider your path as just slopes and bumps – everywhere your bike will tilt or experience a significant impact. This is the only thing you need to focus on because you will modify your posture to withstand it and brake when necessary.
The trail section isn’t as intimidating as it may first appear; broken down, it’s just two sets of steps (slopes) and a bump.

NEXT: Core Skill - Balance

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