Mountain Biking 101

Mountain Biking 101

Sarah Seads BA Kinesiology

Spring has arrived...can you hear your bike calling you from the garage?  Time to dust off your bike and hit the trails!

More and more people are flocking to the fun world of off-road cycling.  Mountain biking is a great way to spend time with friends, get out and enjoy the beauty of nature and get a great workout at the same time.  If you are planning on trying out mountain biking this spring be ready to get hooked on this fun sport!

Before you take your bike for a spin be sure to complete the following check list to ensure a safe and positive biking journey:

Safety Check:
Bike Tuned Up?  Check over the following or have a qualified bike shop tech show you how to check: tire pressure, brakes, gears, wheels, quick releases, chain, grips and pedals.

Bike Fit for You?  Get a bike fit at your local shop or use the following guidelines to get started:  Seat height should allow for slight bend in the knees and movement to the front and back of the bike. Handlebar width should be slightly wider than shoulders.  Bike size and handlebar reach should allow for a comfortable position for your hands, neck and back. 

Equipped for the Trail?  Besides having a well fitting bike in good condition you will want to be sure you have the following: secure fitting helmet, full finger gloves, sturdy shoes, socks and even long pants / sleeves for extra protection.  Bring a pack with a cell phone, water, energy snacks, first aid kit and a map of the trails.  Be sure to include a repair kit with a spare tube, pump, tire lever and chain brake- and learn how to do basic trail side repairs before you venture off the road.

Buddy Up: Leave word of your route and always ride with a buddy for extra safety. 

Trail Selection: Trails are sometimes rated from green to black but more often the difficulty is only known through word of mouth.  Be sure to start with very easy, non-technical trails so that you can safely increase your confidence and build your basic mountain biking skills before adding intensity or vertical.  Talk to your local bike shop to find maps of local biking trails and find out which ones are rated 'green' to get started. 

Skill Check: Head to a field or other open area to warm up and practice your skills before hitting the trails.  Once you master the following 5 key skills you will have way more fun on your biking journey.

Neutral Position.  Head up, eyes looking ahead, pedals flat, knees, hips and elbows slightly bent, weight even over both wheels, fingers covering brakes - you are ready!  Practice riding in this position until it becomes second nature.

Brakes.  Learn the skill of 'feathering' your brakes and you will descend with confidence.  Feathering is gently pulling and releasing your braking pressure simultaneously with both brakes while adapting to the terrain ahead of and beneath you. Never pull hard and suddenly on your brakes or you risk skidding on the trail or worse going over the handlebars. Master feathering your brakes on flat ground before heading to the downhills.

Descents. Shift your weight back and down by bending your elbows and knees and sliding back on your seat. This will keep equal weight under your wheels and your rear wheel on the ground. Look ahead, stay relaxed to absorb the bumps and gently feather your brakes to control your descent.

Climbing. Shift your weight forward and down to keep your wheels weighted equally and your front wheel on the ground. The steeper the climb the more you will need to shift your weight forward. Change into an easier gear before the hill gets too steep. Pedal with smooth strokes to avoid spinning with your back tire. Stay relaxed and look ahead.

Corners. Control your speed before entering corners- just like driving! Look through the corner to the exit. Lean your bike to the inside of the corner by pushing your inside handlebar down slightly and open your inside knee to the corner. Stay low and relaxed. Lean back to upright as you exit the corner. Look...lean!
Happy Trails!

Sarah Seads is the owner of Equilibrium Lifestyle Management (ELM), a fitness and rehabilitation business based in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. For more information on training ideas and programs go to or call ELM at 338-8998.