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....

Core Skills: Braking

Riding trails on a mountain bike makes you brake much more than you ever used to in any other type of cycling. You will often have to use the full capacity of your brakes in order to stay on the track. You must explore how quickly your brakes can stop so you’ll know your optimum braking distance for a given speed

Always be ready to brake

You must ALWAYS ride with at least ONE finger on top of your brake levers. You must be ready to brake anytime.
Adjust your brake levers so your fingers fall on the lever’s tip, and your forearm, wrist and fingers are aligned.
Your brake

Mass transfer

Remember from the Balance section how your center of gravity projects a point on the ground that falls midway between your two tires.

Graphic: The harder your brake or hit something, the more you will be pulled forward by gravity 

braking gravity
When hitting the brakes this line attached to your heart is moving forward – like a string with a free weight attached.
If this string ¬points further than the front tire’s contact point with the ground, you’ll be pulled forward and go over the handlebar. Braking hard is like hitting a rock—if your brakes are strong your center of gravity will be thrown forward beyond your ultimate balance point.

Graphic: braking or hitting an object is the same, your center of gravity must remain behind the front wheel's contactop int with the ground
balance point
This balance point shift has a dramatic effect on your braking. All your weight gets on the front tire and the rear one is left with almost no traction. You need traction (or grip) to brakes. With weight your tire plants into the ground and stops you. Without it, it just skids.

Brake balance

Balancing your brakes means applying sufficient power to slow down the wheels without stopping them from turning, or causing the bike to skid. Because braking involves a mass transfer from rear to front, you’ll need more power to slow down your front wheel than your rear. The brake balance varies with how hard you are braking and how steep the slope is that you’re going down.
Riding on a flat section of tarmac, the braking balance between front and rear will be about 70% front / 30% back. But as soon as you’re braking harder, the front percentage will increase up to 100% front / 0% rear in extreme cases.
brake balance
MISCONCEPTION: Some people think the back brake is safer going downhill. This is absolutely wrong. You cannot stop on a steep downhill with your back brake only.

Some extreme situations make braking impossible. If the deceleration is too brutal or if the slope is too steep, the mass transfer will be completely horizontal. No weight will be applied to the front tire and no grip will be available to stop you. You will only slide down. Avoid putting yourself in such a situation in your early mountain biking days! The only way to get out of such a situation is to let the bike go until you hit a spot, giving you enough grip to brake again – these are advanced riding skills.

Braking posture

Braking harder than usual is like hitting an obstacle.
Get off the saddle and shift your hips back, get your upper body closer to the bike and allow some flexibility to your arms to absorb the impact.

Braking sequence

Going down a step or over any kind of obstacle will require releasing the brakes for a split second – just enough time to get over the obstacle. You do not want to add up the impact of an obstacle with the impact of braking. So if your bike tilts down while rolling down a step, you must release your brakes to avoid your center of gravity being thrown forward and over.

Graphic: braking adds up with impact and slopebraking sequence wrong

Practice: Caution!

All the following exercises can be conducted any time during a ride. Start on clean, paved paths and repeat the practice when you can on other terrain. Go from paved ground to hard packed dirt to loose soil, mud and gravel (the most dangerous). Your goal is to brake progressively harder and in the shortest distance possible, without skidding.

Practice: Discovering your brakes.

  • Find a flat surface where you can ride for 100 meters at moderate speed.
  • Find a mark on the ground that will define your braking point.
  • Ride towards it at moderate speed.
  • Get in a safe position, off the saddle (very slightly), stable on both feet, horizontal crank (if your crank are not horizontal you will automatically turn while braking).
  • Get ready for braking by shifting your upper body backward. Here again shift your hips back first, collapse your upper body and then push slightly back on your bars but DO NOT have your arms fully extended – you’re ready for the braking impact.
  • BRAKE ON A STRAIGHT LINE. DO NOT attempt to turn while braking. Use more power on your front than your back brake. DO NOT cling on both brake levers, go progressively, and repeat the drill to increase the braking power.
If you skid, you are applying too much braking power or not enough weight on the tire that’s skidding. The harder you brake, the less weight will be applied on the rear tire and the more it will skid.
  • Come to a complete stop and notice how far you are from your braking point
  • Repeat the exercise until you feel comfortable braking hard and you’re not skidding anymore.
  • Then find a gentle slope where you can gather a lot of speed, and try to stop in the shortest distance possible without skidding.

CAUTION: DO NOT HANG from your bar, with your arms completely extended pulling on the grips. This posture will release most of the weight from your front tire and will not allow your front tire to gather the initial traction to stop you. Instead, it will end up skidding.

CAUTION: If your front tire skids, IMMEDIATELY release the front brake.

Practice: Getting over rear skidding

Repeat the skidding exercise but use your FRONT BRAKE only.
You will notice that your braking distances are almost equal to your previous ones using both brakes. This is the demonstration that most of your braking power goes into your front tire.
Now try to apply the back brake again, just a little, a very little. If you skid you’re applying too much of it.

Practice: Slowing down on a steep slope.

  • Find a paved, clean and dry steep path
  • Gather a moderate speed.
  • Adopt a balanced position off the saddle (see practice in Balance chapter).
  • Progressively apply the brakes and slow down to a walking speed.
  • With the slope you will be likely to skid more, so be very gentle on your back brake.
Repeat the exercise at greater speed
Try then to come to a complete stop on the slope’s steepest section. Try to hold your balance for one second (for this keep looking further down, don’t look at your bike), then release your brake and let it go.

Practice Conclusion

Braking hard without skidding is essential to staying in control of your bike. You’ve discovered here how to balance your front and rear brakes, and how to avoid skidding. Braking balance will be essential later in many typical riding situations. Now that you also know how to counter the effect of mass transfer, you’re ready to hit a very wide range of obstacles. Bear in mind that you will use exactly the same braking skills going down a steep trail.

NEXT: Core Skill - Steering

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

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

Core Skills

All mountain bike moves for trail riding are based on 5 core skills that we can summarize into: perception, balance, braking, steering, and pedaling.

Any obstacle will require you to first identify it (perception) and then take the right action response e.g. balance, brake, steer or pedal. In many advanced riding situations you’ll have to combine the skills, e.g. balance, brake and steer at the same time.

When we say “obstacle” we’re talking about anything that can challenge your ability to stay on the bike: bumps, gravels, tight turns, etc. An obstacle is anything that requires more than standard “riding a bike” skills.

The whole point of looking at mountain biking technique through these five skills is to enable you break down your action response to an obstacle into techniques you’ll have already established. You’ll face an intimidating trail section and you’ll see it as a sequence of moves you’ve done already, but that you may not have linked together yet.

Not being able to overcome an obstacle always comes down to a deficiency in one particular skill. For example: overshooting a curve and falling can be due to not looking at the trail but looking at the drop on the side of the trail (perception), not being balanced on the bike while curving and drifting off (balance), coming too fast into the curve and sliding off while using your brakes (braking).

Graphic: identifying the incoming obstacles, anticipating, taking action

anticipation action

Progressive Approach

The only way to learn how to ride on trails safely is to build up these skills progressively. Start by very basic exercises in a safe environment and progressively increase the difficulty level. The basic skills must be mastered in a neutral environment before being challenged by additional factors such as rocks, steep slopes, ruts and slippery ground.

The alternative would be to skip all this and directly attempt the most difficult trails (like Ho Pui Trail). You may be lucky and survive it without any major injuries; you may also be discouraged by having to push your bike most of the way, or be tense and intimidated by the challenging terrain the rest of the time.

NEXT: Core Skill - Perception

Learn to ride a bike again !

Want to get better at riding trails without hurting yourself so much? It’s easy— just learn how to ride a bike again!

lesson group

That’s right. You learned when you were a kid and have acquired enough skill to get by as long as the terrain isn’t too rough. But to mountain bike well—quickly and safely—requires much more than “getting by”.
Mountain biking will push you to your limits. We’re not even talking about big stunts but just standard trail riding. Speed, soil types, weather conditions, trail steepness and all kind of obstacles will work against your ability to remain on your bike. The good news is that you don’t need to hurt yourself to get better; you just need to get back to the basics, and from there build up your skills progressively.

This skills guide will help you learn and/or review your riding technique, advance to higher levels in a systematic way, and hopefully spare you from a load of crashes, injuries and frustrations.

Where and when to practice your skills?

Take time to develop your skills. While riding take time to stop at an obstacle and practice until you can go over the obstacle perfectly smoothly. Try to ride with people you can follow and make sure everyone will agree to practice on skills. Too often beginners spend their time trying to catch up with their group.
It’s almost useless to “follow” better riders because you can’t pay attention to what they are doing. Instead, set up an arrangement with a more advanced rider whereby you can ride ahead and then stop and wait for them to approach, enabling you to check for their line and posture.

NEXT: Core Skills


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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