Are you Beginning Mountain Biking? Start with these Skill Builders

When I was beginning mountain biking, I went to a mountain bike class, where I learned some basic skill builders that really helped me with my balance. The nice thing about these exercises was that I could practice them in my yard or a parking lot. Oh yeah, and don't think I am a geek, but I would recommend always wearing a helmet when practicing these skill builders.

Slow Race
How to Fall
Curb Jumping
Mountain Bike Positions
Know your Bike

Slow Race

The slow race can be done in a driveway, parking lot, grass, or pretty much anywhere that it is relatively flat. The goal of the slow race is to ride my bicycle as slowly as possible without using my brakes. I try to use my knees and elbows to balance rather than turning the handlebars. If I began to tip to one side, I point the opposite elbow and/or knee out.

I was one of the fastest in the race at the mountain bike class that I took when I was beginning mountain biking. Woohoo!...oh wait, that meant I lost. I practiced the slow race more at home and became quite the turtle.

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The goal of the trackstand is to try to be at a complete standstill on your mountain bike. This has been one of the most beneficial techniques for improving my balance, which is important for mountain biking over obstacles and around sharp turns.

When I was beginning mountain biking, I found that it worked best to be facing up a slight incline to do the trackstand. I practiced this skill builder on grass to prevent injuries. I also started out practicing with regular shoes rather than clipless pedals so I could get my foot down quickly if I tipped.

To do the trackstand, I get my bicyclepedals in a horizontal position in the stance that I would normally be in if I were mountain biking downhill. I use pedal pressure with my front foot and the gravity of the incline to keep my balance. I also try to use my knees and elbows to help maintain balance rather than turning my handlebars. I turn the front wheel slightly towards my front foot.

Once I mastered this on an inclined surface (after a lot of practice), I tried it on a flat surface, where I had to use my front brake, rather than gravity, to prevent moving forward.

The cool thing about this mountain biking skill builder is that you can practice it in your living room when there is a foot of snow on the trails.

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How to Fall

Falling sucks, but it happens to all of us at one time or another, so might as well be prepared, right? There are certain ways to fall to prevent major injuries. When taking a fall, stay with your bike as it tips, letting your pedal and handlebar take the impact. Avoid sticking out your arm and hand as you are falling because this can cause you to break your wrist or fingers.

When I was beginning mountain biking, I learned a drill that taught me how to practice falling properly without sticking out my arms and hands. Stand on a soft grassy surface and fall forward by bending and rolling on one shoulder in a somersault motion while keeping your arms tucked in against your chest.

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Curb Jumping

Another skill builder I learned when I was beginning mountain biking was how to go up and down curbs. When I practiced this technique at home, I tried to go up a curb at an angle and wiped out hard (Now do you see why I recommended wearing a helmet?), so an important mountain bike tip is to hit curbs and other obstacles at a perpendicular angle.

Even though most mountain bikes can just bounce right up curbs, it's not a bad idea to practice the pedal thrust wheelie, where you get down into your lowest gear and then quickly mash down your upper pedal. This helped me get a feel for timing in getting my front wheel up over obstacles. When I was beginning mountain biking, it helped me to go up and down curbs to get a basic idea of how it would feel to go over obstacles on the trail. click here for more advanced tips on going over trail obstacles.

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When turning tight corners, One important skill builder I learned was to look in the direction I want to go, rather than looking down by my front wheel. Looking down at what was immediately in front of my tire was one of the biggest mistakes I made as a beginner. While turning, it also helps to turn my torso in the direction I want to go.

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This skill builder is easy to practice in a parking lot. Try turning around within the area of a single car parking space without dropping your foot. Practice turning in both directions. Ride in small circles or do figure 8s. Click here for more advanced cornering techniques.

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Mountain bike positions

Mountain bikers are rarely sitting on their seats. They are often in front of, behind, or to the side of the seat. For example, when riding downhill, I am usually behind the seat. When climbing sharp inclines, I am in front of the seat. When going around curves, I am often positioned at the side of the seat that is facing the outside of the curve.

It helped me to ride in these various positions on flat terrain and feel comfortable with each of them since they are essential for many mountain biking techniques.

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Know your Bike

Do research before buying a bike to make sure it is a good fit for the type of riding you want to do. If you don't ride yet, figure out what kind of riding you want to do. Will it be used mostly for pavement (sorry, but yuck!), gravel roads, or cool fun twisty singletrack? (Can you tell what kind of riding I prefer?) If you are beginning mountain biking, do you want to eventually take your riding to an advanced level and be able to conquer big trail obstacles or stick to the smooth trails?

What type of riding you wish to do will determine whether you want a hardtail or a full suspension mountain bike. Maybe a downhill mountain bike would be suitable for your riding needs. Just don't do what I did and impulsively buy the first bike you see. (Yes, I am embarrassed to say that was how I chose my first mountain bike).

Want some help figuring out what type of mountain bike is best for your riding needs? Check out our page on Types of Mountain bikes.


Once you buy a mountain bike, get comfortable with it. Ride it around and become familiar with the features before taking it on the trail. Learn how to take care of it. Enjoy and appreciate your new friend. You will have great times together!

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