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: Steering

Steering seems natural. It’s the first thing you learned while riding a bike. However, turning on tight corners, or riding at high speed on curves, don’t count among common cycling abilities. For mountain biking, however, you’ll need push your steering abilities to remain comfortable and safe on narrow trails.

Engaging into the curve

Steering with a bike is far more than just turning the handle bar towards the incoming curve. You will only turn successfully if you’re leaning into the curve and then turning.

lean into the curve
Leaning into the curve is something you’re doing “naturally” but you must explore this ability to then tackle switch-backs (hair pin turns) or curves at high speed.

Photo: learn to trust your tires' grip 

leaning into the curve
Remember the idea of the weight attached to your heart with a string, which we used to explain the forces involved in braking? The same thing applies while turning, but in this case the weight can’t go outside of the line traced between your two tires.
Tight turning will generate braking forces caused by the friction of your front tire’s side against the ground.
As with braking hard, turning tightly requires you to adopt a low posture which will leave you plenty of room to adjust your steering and control your tilt. The faster you go the lower you must be.

Graphic: not leaning inward makes turning impossible

Look at where you want to go

You will only turn where you’re looking at. So look as far as you can on the inside of the curve. Look at it with all your upper body, turn your head towards it, turn your shoulders, and twist your entire trunk towards the curve.
look at the curve's exit

Carve your curve

Raise yourself slightly off your saddle and stand on your outward foot. Being off your saddle helps you to absorb the terrain’s irregularities (your legs and arms are your best suspensions). Turning is an exercise in fine balancing, so you don’t want to be bounced around by your saddle.
Planting down your outward foot helps you gain grip: you are lower on your bike so it’s easier to gain balance. You also want your inward foot up to prevent your pedal clipping a rock or the ground.

Graphic: on rough curves give yourself room to absorb terrain's irregularities. Do Not hae your inward foot down

carve your curve

Steering stops you

The tighter you turn, the more resistance from the ground the front tire will encounter. You must not only lean into the curve but be ready to feel a braking force pulling you forward. Here again, the balanced crouching posture is key to tight turning.


Practice: Curving

  • Find a paved area delimited by curbs. A wide path – 30 feet will do. Make sure the surface is clean and not slippery (free of gravel, leaves, moss). The area must be flat. You will practice making a 180º turn within the path’s width.
  • Ride close to the curb on either side – let’s say for now, the right side.
  • Plant your outward foot down on the pedal (crank is vertical) and very slightly lift your buttocks from the saddle
  • Look at the curb on the other side, turn your head and your shoulders towards it: you will automatically lean towards it and turn.
  • Press on the handlebar on the curves inward side (left if you’re turning left). Pressing on the handlebar is necessary for high speed or very tight curves
  • As soon as you’ve passed the center of the road, force yourself to stop looking at the curb and look at the center of the road. If you look at the curb you will hit it – remember, look where you want to go, not at what you want to avoid.
  • Successful? Now do it the other way. Start from the left side.
  • Most people will have a better side. Usually turning left is easier.
  • Now you’ve done it both sides, try the same thing but 6 feet closer to the opposite curve. Try at the same speed. The curve’s radius is now tighter; you’ll need to lean more.
  • Keep trying until you manage to turn 180 degrees at slow speed within 6 feet, both ways.
  • Now try again to curve wide but faster, and then progressively reduce the curve’s radius.

CAUTION: if you hit the brakes while leaning sideways you will almost automatically drift outward. You do not want to have your front tire drifting, so do not touch the front brake while turning. You can lightly adjust your speed by applying some back brake. The faster or tighter the curve, the more you must avoid braking.

Practice conclusion:

Now you have familiarized with leaning into the curve, you know where to look at and how to engage in a curve. You know you must control your speed and brake beforehand, and not touch the brakes while leaning into the curve.

NEXT: Core Skill - Pedaling

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