Building MTB Skills: Diversity of Activities is Key
By Ross Scatchard, SMBA Coach
Thinking about all the features one encounters on the trails, there are many bike and body movements required to ride smoothly and increase the fun factor. For mountain bike skill building with riders of all ages and abilities, diversity of activities is very helpful. Incorporating a diverse set of skills from an early age keeps things fresh and exciting for young riders. Look at Mitch Ropelato - last month he was crowned King of Crankworks, finished 3rd at an Enduro World Series race, and competed in an endurance XC event, and I bet he even rides a road bike too. Not only is diversity in disciplines good for the body and mind, it also just makes riding bikes a lot more fun! Even though we are looking at these skills with mountain biking in mind, they originate from and can best be practiced through other disciples in the cycling world. Let's look at the background of where some of these bike skills come from.
Pumping - We see the best examples of pumping from BMX or pump track riding where the rider is pressing or extending their arms and legs in a low spot on a roller and bending or absorbing with their arms and legs on a high spot. Doing this movement dynamically and with correct timing to drive on the backside and unweight on the upside can generate momentum with out pedaling and actually smooth out the riders movement down the track or trail. Here's a great video and description for Pumping
Jumping - This skill has its roots in BMX, but is also a key part of downhill, enduro, and even XC mountain biking. A great spot to learn is at a pump track, local dirt jumps, or beginner trails at a bike park. As the timing, coordination, and skill improve, jumping is a fun skill that can add variations to any trail. This Jumping video has a concise description and good slo-mo of the bike/body positions.
Track stand - As the name implies, this skill originated in track cycling and it is a great practice to improve balance and pause on your bike without putting a foot down. Not only does it improve bike handling skills, but it can be very useful on the trail to pause and let someone clear a technical section, or to take a few seconds to choose the best line. Track Stand
Smooth pedaling - A smooth application of power on the pedals in very important for mountain biking to maintain traction and also continue power over the top of the pedal stroke on steep or technical climbs. Some technique work with road riding and on smooth terrain can improve efficiency and power transfer which leads to being able to ride more technical features on the trail. Here's a good article for further reading on efficient Pedaling
Trail vision - Deciding in the moment the best line to ride while quickly moving down the trail is something I refer to as 'trail vision'. There is lots of room for creativity in line choice based upon a riders goals. Is it speed, smoothness, easiest line, hardest line, or hunting for jumps hiding along the trail. In each case, looking forward on the trail and choosing and committing to a line comes with practice and experience. In enduro or downhill riding, riders are looking for the fastest lines, and with proper speed and skills background, this also often becomes the smoothest line choice. Here are a few videos which do a good job highlighting Trail Vision and finding Inside Lines
Each of these skills takes time and practice to improve and having some coaching along the way can help speed the process. Especially with mountain biking, it is fun to see how skillsets from different disciplines of the cycling world contribute to becoming a well rounded rider. Taking some time to play on the bike and try out different styles of riding can be a great way to build up ones overall mountain bike skills. Most importantly, have fun and keep things fresh!