MTB in Hong Kong

Everything you need to know about the Hong Kong mountain bike scene: from advice for beginners, mountain bike skills lessons and fitness tips. Current news and riders views, and how to get by with a bike in Hong Kong, and more....

Bumps and ditches

As we’ve seen you must try to remain as balanced as possible however the bike tilts. When a bump or a hole comes up you want your bike to stay stuck on the ground while your center of gravity remains stable. You’ll be using your arms and legs to keep your center of gravity on a line as flat as possible


Graphic: standing, crouching, standing, crouching. With speed press down to avoid taking offbumps graphic

  • Extend your arms and legs, but lean slightly back.
  • Let the bike tilt up by flexing your arms, then your legs.
  • On the top of the bump you should be crouching on the bike.
  • Let the bike go down, press on the bars then the pedal if you’re going fast over the bump. You do not want to take off

Photo Sequence: the bike sticks on the ground despite the speed, the upper body remains leveledbump small


Graphic: the opposite of a bump

  • Get in crouching position, upper body very low, arms and legs flexed.
  • Push the bike into the ditch by extending your arms and legs.
  • Then, let the bike tilt up.
  • You should exit the ditch in the same position you’ve entered it.
NEXT: Front Wheel Hop

Steps up and down

Steps are a too common feature of Hong Kong trails. If you ride in Hong Kong you must learn to ride over steps!


Going down a single step

We’ve seen above how to deal with your bike tilting. Riding at moderate speed down a step will make your bike tilt. You can ride slowly over almost any step not higher than your front wheel axle (13 inch / 33 cm). A higher step requires more advanced techniques (drop off or wheelie drop off) .

Graphic: getting ready for the drop

drop a step


  • Line-up with the obstacle, come at moderate speed. Acknowledge the step’s height. You must try to hit the step as head on as possible.
  • Prepare to drop. Get as low as possible on your bike by shifting your hips backward and flexing your arms. If it’s a small step you only need to lower your upper body accordingly. For a big step you want your arms extremely flexed to have enough room to let the bike drop.
  • Be sure your pedals are leveled, you don't want to clip the ledge with your foot (crash guaranteed)
  • DO NOT use your brakes as soon as you are half a bike length from the step.
  • When the bike’s front drops, extend your arms.
  • Let the back wheel follow and extend your legs when it drops.
  • Now you can brake again if you need to.
The same skills apply for a very steep and abrupt incline.

CAUTION: Do not use your brakes while going any major obstacle

brake and fall

Photo sequence: rolling down a large step. This step is almost 15 inc. Notice how flexed the arms are right before hitting the step.

drop off small

Going down a set of steps or stairs

Going down steps is relatively safe. Steps are nothing else than a rough slope. Start practicing on a few steps (3 to 5) with a clear run-out. Make sure that all the steps are even.
For just a few steps use the single step technique. The bike won’t tilt as much. Avoid using your brakes for a short flight of steps (just 3 to 5)

For larger flights of steps:

  • Come at moderate speed and quickly scan the stairs for irregular steps or other obstacles.
  • Let the bike drop into the steps as if it were a regular steep slope (Use the DH posture accordingly to the slope).
  • Control your speed. Brake enough to do this. Concrete steps offer enough grip for you to slow down and steer.
  • The faster you go the less vibration you get—with speed, your tires will not have the time to get between the gaps of each step, and will make therefore make it feel smoother.
  • Prepare to land. Lean back more in order to prepare for the final impact with the ground surface.

Going up one or more steps

Your bike can roll up and over a wide range of obstacles. Steps can also be ridden up. Again steps are just a rough surface that you will tackle in the uphill direction.

A single regular step

You don’t need to hop your front wheel on a step smaller than 5 inch, just roll over it but brace for the impact and transfer your weight from the back wheel to the front wheel in order to go over the step.

  • Approach the step at moderate speed and stop pedaling a bike length before the obstacle.
  • Extend your legs.
  • Pull back on your handlebars before you hit the step. Slightly flex your legs when you lean back. This will transfer your weight to the back wheel.
  • The front wheel will hit the step and immediately go over it.
  • Extend your legs.
  • Now use the impact against the step to press on your handle bar and shift your weight onto the front wheel. Flex your legs to let the bike go over the step.
  • Push the handle bar forward again in order to come back to a downhill posture and stabilize.

A few steps

The technique is similar but you must try to push the bike up the steps and place the wheel on top, then press on your handlebar.

Photo sequence: going up stairs. Let the bike suspension do the work, shallow stairs are like a rough slope up. The torso remains stable, arms are flexible and relaxed to the the bike go over each steps

stairs up sequence

CAUTION: Trying to climb steps often results in a rear tire flat. To avoid this it’s very important to absorb the rear wheel impact against the step with your legs.

NEXT: Bumps and Ditches 

Riding up and down

A mountain bike can climb slopes with up to a 30% incline and go down a 45% incline and more. The limitations are lie in tire traction and grip

Long Climb

A long climb can be made easier with a few posture adjustments:
  • As soon as the slope becomes steep, sit further in front of your saddle and lean forward by flexing your arms. This posture will maximize your leg strength and optimize your balance.
  • Try to save as much as energy as possible with your upper body, and avoid pulling on the handle bar. On any slope your ideal posture should let you make strictly no effort with your arms – you should be able to steer with the tip of your fingers.
Graphic: Correct seated climbing posture
climbing seated

Slope start and ride up

It’s extremely common to have to jump on the bike in the middle of a steep trail section. You must know how to start riding in such a situation:

Gears must be set to easy (small chain ring – large sprocket, 3X9/8/6).

You can either stand above your saddle or sit, but the bike’s angle must be as straight as possible
  • Your first pedal stroke must be set at 10 o’clock.
  • Lean forward. Lower your chest by bending your arms to prevent the bike’s front from lifting under your first pedal stroke.
  • The first stroke must give you enough momentum to very quickly find the other pedal. Expect to lose your balance slightly for the two/three first pedal strokes.
  • Look forward to the point you want to reach – as long as you look forward and keep pedaling you’ll manage to go where you’re looking at. DO NOT look at your front wheel or you will follow that instead of where you want to go.
  • Pedal quickly to find enough momentum and balance.
  • Then pace cadence to sustain the distance to clear.
  • Riding steep uphill slopes
  • Keep your upper body leaning low and forward to keep a low gravity center.
  • Remain seated on a moderately steep slope.
  • Keep your elbows close to your trunk.
  • Look forward and focus on a point you want to reach. Always look to something forward, never look at your wheel even you start losing balance.
  • Try to spin faster to gather momentum.
  • Respect an effort and a cadence you can sustain for the entire slope.

Very steep climbs

Climbing very steep slopes put you on a thin line between balance and traction: Lean too far forward and you'll lose traction, spin your rear wheel and stall - Lean too far back and the front wheel lifts.

  • Get off your saddle as soon the slope gets very steep, but remain almost in contact with the saddle's tip
  • Collapse your chest very close to the handlebars, keep your flexed elbows close to your trunk
  • Focus on the next point you want to reach
  • Don't try to hop your front wheel by pulling on your bar in order to go over obstacle - it will destabilize you. Just roll over it. If the obstacle is too sharp to roll over it use your balance instead of your arms to lift the front wheel.

CAUTION: It is common to lose balance on extremely steep climbs. The front lifts and you may flip back and land on your back. To avoid this, cling to your front brake only. DO NOT use your back brake or you’ll flip back.

For very steep slopes do not try to use momentum to tackle it: you will burn out within meters. Instead start slowly and pace yourself.

Graphic: Steep up and downs. The closer your center of gravity gets to the wheel, the less traction or grip your tires will have. For steep uphill the chest gets close to the handle bar, for steep downhill the stomach comes close to the saddle


steep up and downs

Graphic: when it goes wrong. [left] standing too up straight on a downhill brings the center of gravity too close to the front, there is no room to absorb an impact. [right] Standing too far back while going up and the front wheel lifts.


slopes wrong


Downhil slopes: downhill slope start

Starting down a steep slope can be difficult on a narrow or a rutted trail. Train on a clear path first, try to get as quick as you can in a stable posture and to ride down on the straightest like possible.

  • Apply both brakes.
  • Stand on one pedal.
  • Quickly sit on the saddle and release the brakes.Immediatly find a good balance on your feet.DO NOT try to look at your feet when reaching the pedal. Look at the trail!
  • Look forward and immediately adopt a crouching posture by positioning the pedals horizontally, shifting your hips back and lowering your upper body. You must be in balance on your feet

riding downhill -

  • A long downhill trail can be particularly straining if you are tense. The more relaxed you are the faster you’ll go.
  • Get your buttocks off the saddle and shift your hips backward. Flex your arms at the same time. You must be able to slightly pinch your saddle with your inner thighs. You must be as balanced as possible on your two pedals.
  • If the terrain is smooth you won't need to be too far above the saddle, 1 inch is enough. But always be prepared to absorb an impact you didn't see coming. The rougher it gets the further back from the saddle you'll get and the lower your upper body will go
  • Look as far forward as you think you can stop. Constantly scan what’s upcoming and keep your eyes focused only on where you can ride.
Photo: Going down a steep trail section. Neutral and balanced posture, almost no pressure on the handlebars.

slopes down

Photo: HANGING from the bar. Leaning too far back with arms completely extended. Impossible to steer.

steep slope wrong

Fire in your forearms?

Have a tight grip on your handle bar but very relaxed arms. If you feel your forearms and shoulders burning on a long downhill, it means you are not low enough and not in balance on your feet.
Your arms must be used to push you back just before the impact, you must use your balance and weight to absorb the impacts, not just your arms.

Graphic: Lean back right before the impact. If you didn't lean back enough your arms are absorbing the impact.

downhill slope obstacle


NEXT: Steps 

Core Skills: Pedaling

Pedaling is not just about spinning your legs. It’s about applying power when you need it. It’s also about using the right gear at the right time to roll over an obstacle or climb a mountain.

geared to climb

The gears

Bicycle gears allow you to use a sustainable amount of strength to make you climb almost any slope’s inclination.
A regular mountain bike has 3 chain rings and 9 rear sprockets. Theoretically there are 28 gears (3X9) but the gears are overlapping:
A 30 teeth chain ring driving a 15 teeth rear sprocket (ratio 1:2) is equivalent to a 36 chain ring (middle chain ring) driving a 13 teeth sprocket. In both cases one pedal revolution will generate two wheel revolutions.

Stay aligned

To guarantee the gears functioning in at their optimum, the chain must be lined up as much as possible with the rear sprocket driven by the chain ring. Chains are flexible only to a limited extent, and will quickly wear out or break if used improperly. The wear is multiplied exponentially while riding in wet and muddy conditions.

Rule of thumb:
Big chain ring drives the 4 smaller sprockets.
Middle chain ring drives all the sprockets except the smallest and the largest one.
Small chain ring drives the 4 larger sprockets.

Always spin your legs

The right way to use gears for trail riding is to pedal within the same range of intensity regardless of the slope you have to climb. The slope doesn’t decide for you the effort you must make to climb it (although a very steep slope may do!).
This means you must try to stay in a sustainable effort zone at all times by changing gear, making spinning easier on steeper climbs and harder on a flat or a downhill until you get in your effort zone.
You must always feel some resistance under your feet. If it’s too easy, you’re spending more energy spinning your legs than pushing on the pedals.


climb of the saddleGet off your seat for extra power

Standing up will give you extra power because you will use your weight to push the pedals down. But when you are standing up you are using your upper body much more and it will increase your effort load drastically. It's difficult to sustain a long climb standing up. Even on a very steep climb you'll have advantage to remain seated.
However, it is good sometimes to get off the saddle for a few seconds and pedal slowly using your weight on a heavy gear – it will help you relaxing your legs.


Extra boost

There are many situations that require a reserve of extra power. You’ll need to push the pedals extra hard for a few second to go over an obstacle you haven’t anticipated.
If you are already pushing hard on your pedals to climb up the obstacle’s slope, you won’t have enough energy left to get over the obstacle itself. This could be going over one or two steps, or just powering through a rough section.
Example: A typical mistake is to zoom down a hill, pedaling on a high gear to gather momentum for the next climb, and then getting stuck on the climb because the gear is too high.

Change gear constantly

You must constantly try to find the gear that allows you to spin with the same intensity. For technical trail riding (most of Hong Kong riding) you may change shift gear every 10 seconds.
You must shift to an easier gear everytime you see an obstacle or a surface that will slow you down. It can be a sudden climb, a few rocks or a tight curve; all this will slow you down so you'll need to be in a lower gear to easily pedal through.

Tip: Gear numbers are always given from right to left in increasing number.
For chain rings 1 is the largest chest ring (furthest right) – 3 is the smallest chain ring (further left).
For the cassette 1 is the smallest sprocket (furthest right) – 9 is the largest (furthest left).
You must always keep pedaling to change gear.

Graphic: gearing sequence
gearing sequence

Practice: Chain alignment

Find a flat, long area that is clear of obstacles and people, since you might need to look at your chain while riding.

Get to the lowest gear (3X9).
Ride and progressively change gears with your rear derailleur. Go 9 > 8 > 7 > 6.
Now change chain ring 3 > 2
Pedaling is immediately harder. So ease it by going up 2 rear gears 6 < 7 < 8
Now you’ve found the ratio you had while on the small gear, you can accelerate. Shift down with the rear derailleur: 8 > 7 > 6 > 5 > 4 > 3 > 2.
Now get on the large chain ring 2 > 1
Shift 2 gears up on the back 2 > 3 > 4
Now you can finish the sequence and get to 4 > 3 > 2 > 1.

Start to slow down and proceed to the inverse sequence: front 1 to 3 and back 1 to 9.
You should be able to go through the all sequence with 200 meters.

Practice 2 – anticipate

Find a path where you can gather momentum and which ends in a steep slope.
Accelerate enough to get on a low gear – large chain ring and small sprocket (1X3)
As soon as you hit the slope start changing gear in order to keep applying the same power as you’re going further up. This exercise will force you to find the adequate gear quickly. Stop changing gear when you feel comfortable with the effort you’re making.

If no slope is available determine a distant point where you’ll stop. Accelerate until you’re getting close to the largest gear (1X1/2/3). Start slowing down, and alternate gear changing and braking. You want to reach the stopping point in a very easy gear (3X6/7/8).

NEXT: Slopes Up and Down

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


All you need to know about getting started in Hong Kong

Guided rides and skills courses

For the new to HK finding your way around the labryinth of trails can be a real nightmare and having the necessary skills to be able to ride some of these trails can be a real challenge. But help is to hand a few companies in HK are offering skills courses and guided rides

Day tripping

Few companies in Hong Kong offer the novice or new rider better opportunities to brush up on skills and find out where to put those skills to practice

The mountain biking skills section will teach you a set of fundamental skills that will make your riding safer and faster. The lessons listed bellow were developped by Julien Lallemand as an answer to the technical difficulty of Hong Kong trails for beginners and intermediate level mountain bikers.
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
Here are some special tips to remember when you hit the trails or when  the trail hits you right back in Hong Kong!

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