Skills Fundamentals

This mountain biking skills section will teach you a set of fundamental skills that will make your riding safer, better and faster. This section's content is brought to you by Julien Lallemand. Julien developed a mountain bike skills teaching method and taught regular mountain bike skills clinics in Hong Kong

Core Skills: Balance

Good mountain bike riding is all about remaining balanced however your bike tilts or hits an obstacle. If you just sit on your saddle and hit a rock the bike will transfer all the impact’s energy to your buttocks and you will simply be kicked off. That’s why your best shocks are your legs and arms: you don’t want the impact to transfer to your upper body.

Bike adjustment

You’ll need a bike your size to be able to balance correctly. Here are a few very simple tricks to choose a bike that fits you.
Bike Fit
Saddle height:
To know if a bike is your size you must first adjust the saddle so that it’s in “optimum position”. This position will let you fully exploit your leg power.
  • Get on the bike. Sit normally. Put your heel on the pedal.
  • You must be able to reach the pedal with your heel with your leg extended. If your heel reaches the pedal and your legs are still flexed, this means you are too low.
  • Ride the bike for a minute and make sure you are not rocking your hips to reach the pedals – if you so, your saddle is too high.
  • Measure or mark your seat post. Remember this measure, it’s the “optimum” height.
  • You may feel very high from the ground, but try to get used to it – you’re not supposed to reach the ground with your feet while riding a mountain bike. If you really do feel uncomfortable, reduce the saddle height by 1/2 inch or 1 inch but not more.

Bike length:

A rule of thumb is that when you’re riding you shouldn’t see your front wheel axle (or hub) because the handle bar masks it. If you can see it in front of the handle bar it means the bike is too small for you; if you can see the front axle behind the handle bar, it means it’s too large for you.

Correct riding posture
  • When sitting on your bike and pedaling, you must have your arms slightly flexed. You’ll need this flex to be able to steer.
  • You must grip your handle bar with your thumb beneath the bar, as you would with a tennis racket. DO NOT rest your hands on top of the bar – it would take just one unexpected impact to completely lose control of your bike.


STAND on your bike

As soon as the terrain gets rough or unstable you must STAND on your pedals, not sit on your saddle. Strictly no obstacles can be overcome with your buttocks on the saddle.

Graphic: Center of gravity falls  in the middle between the wheels.  Get off the saddle and  shift your help back to brace for an impactstand on your bike
Consider your heart as your center of gravity. You want to keep your heart as stable as possible. To do so you must use your legs and arms, they are your suspension. They will help you keep your center of gravity as stable as possible by absorbing sudden impacts and counterbalancing the bike’s tilt.

Now imagine a line that falls vertically from your heart towards the ground, tracing a point on the floor – it’s the projection of your center of gravity on the ground.
When sitting correctly on a bike that fits you, this point falls midway between your two tires’ contact points with the ground.

You want to keep this point as much as possible in the center or slightly behind. The more the point goes forward the closer you get to going over the bar. (We’ll develop this more in the next chapter on braking.

Crouching tiger

Getting a lower riding positure when the terrain gets rough allows you to have more flexibility with your arms and legs. The bike doesn't only hit obstacles, it also drops and tilts.
You want to have to keep contact with the ground at all time. Without any weight on your tires it is impossible to steer or brake. Crouching on your bike is the only way you can force your wheel to stay on the ground when hitting a steep or rough trail section

Photo: low posture for high step

crouching tiger


Practice: Find your Balance point

  • Find a flat surface where you can ride for 100 meters at moderate speed.
  • Gather enough speed to be able to cruise for 50 meters
  • Stand on your pedals; make sure your crank is horizontal.
  • You can keep your buttocks just an inch above the saddle: keep your legs flexed.
  • At the same time you are standing, shift your hips backward and flex your arms. Your upper body must collapse towards the frame. You can slightly pinch the saddle with your inner thighs.
  • Important, Keep looking forward, DO NOT look at your hands or your front tire.
balance practice
Now how to know if you’re well balanced?

  • You must have almost no weight on your arms. If you’re pressing on your bar you’re wrong, if you’re pulling on your bar you’re wrong too. You want to be completely balanced on your feet.
  • To test your balance: Pinch the saddle with your inner thigh and try to pinch your grips with just 2 fingers. Then try to release your hands from the bar.

Now explore your range of movement:
  • Do the exercise again and try to get as low as possible. You’ll notice that it’s almost easier to find your balance when you’re in the lowest position.
  • And now curve:
  • The all idea behind crouching on your bike is to be able to extend your arms and legs when your bike tilts. But having your arms flexed also allow you to turn, at all time.
  • If your arm are completely extended you will never be able to steer the bar the handlebar, so be careful to never HANG back from your bars.
Graphic: the bike will tilt in many different ways, but your center of gravity must remain stable
movement range

Practice: Balancing down a slope

Please read first the chapter on braking because you’ll need to brake while riding down a slope.
  • Find a wide slope that goes progressively steeper and then comes back to flat
  • Get on the bike; start cruising down with your pedal leveled horizontally.
  • Brake in order to go moderately slow.
  • Get off the saddle, shift your hips backwards until you feel the saddle between you inner thighs, and flex your arms at the same time. Your upper body must be close to the frame.
  • Look forward, as far as you think it would take you to brake and come to a complete stop. Keep scanning forward.
  • DO NOT rest on your handle bar (posture too far forward) or pull on it (too far back). Your arms must remain relaxed and flexed the whole time.
balance on a slope
It may feel strange to lean so low on your bike while going down, but this posture allows you to keep your arms flexed and lets you steer and absorb impacts.

Practice: Curve on slopes

  • Repeat the previous practice but try to slalom in the steepest part of the slope. You can put down a stone every 5 meters to create a slalom.
  • Always control your speed, don’t let yourself carried away by the slope.
  • If you can’t turn it’s because you are too far back and your arms are so extended that you can’t steer.

Practice Conclusion:

The crouching position is the base of good riding technique. It will allow you to let the bike drop down a big step. Your arms will have plenty of extension capacity to overcome the bike’s tilt and to remain able to turn.
You’ll gain experience getting off the saddle and knowing how far you can get behind it without losing balance.
The lower you are and the more balanced on your feet you are, the easier it will be to overcome difficulties.
This skill applies for going over very rough surface, bumps and even curves.

NEXT: Core Skill - Braking

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