Drills that improve your Mountain Biking


excerpted from Ned Overend’s Performance Mountain Biking

Many of the following skills you can develop naturally through experience, however, conscious study and practice will speed your improvement. You'll have more fun with improved control and confidence. Buy the DVD or Download (guaranteed satisfaction or your money back!). 20% Discount: Use coupon code "morefun"

Technical riding requires a wide range of body movement. You can learn to position your bike and body to maintain balance and optimize traction.

1> Stand-up and experiment with your range of motion. When you are riding, standing on the pedals allow you to absorb shock through your legs. On technical trails you'll prefer to concentrate your efforts on keeping traction, getting over obstacles and making tight turns, rather than on fighting to stay upright. When your wheels are rolling fast, gyroscopic forces help with stability. The slower you are rolling, the more actively you must balance the bike.

2> Practice a trackstand, also known as a slow race. Simply try to stop, or move as slowly as possible. This forces you to balance with no gyro effect at all. Ideally you can stay in one spot. Hint: Pedal against the braking force. Relax!

On a rough section of trail, stand up on the pedals, allowing your bike and body to move, adjusting for the terrain changes. Let the bike float around beneath you.

3> Your bike will handle very differently when you clamp the seat between your thighs as compared to when you ride slightly bowlegged. Riding in an open stance, with your knees out, allows the saddle to float around more. Other times you might prefer to reference the seat against your thighs. Experiment to find which system works best for you!

Pedaling efficiently will help you use more muscle groups, apply more force and even out the power pulses of separate downstrokes. A smoother pedaling motion maintains traction by reducing wheel surges and bouncing.
To incorporate more leg muscles and to smooth out your traction impulses you want to think of pedaling as pushing down at the top of the stroke, dragging your foot across the bottom as though you are scraping something off your shoe, then driving your knee toward the handlebars.
4> A good drill for working on a circular pedaling motion is to take one foot off your pedal and pedal around with the other one. It's an easy technique to practice. Striving for a circular stroke helps you to maintain momentum so you can ride farther, faster, more efficiently.

Learning how to use your brakes in a variety of terrain is a major part of having control and confidence. The fear of grabbing too much front brake results in many riders not using it when they should. Yet with proper weight transfer the majority of stopping power is in the front brake. In addition to keeping you from going over the bars, shifting your weight back will greatly enhance traction when you use the brakes.

5> In this drill we will learn how to maximize braking traction. Pick a short gentle hill on loose dirt, and establish a starting line at the to and a braking line near the bottom. From your starting line, coast, without braking, down to the spot where you plan to apply the brakes.
First use your rear brake.
Stand up on your pedals and get in the crouched position off the saddle. Push your hips back. Experiment with moving your weight back, to find the position for maximum braking traction.
Next try using the front brake only.
The front brake is your best weapon for scrubbing off speed to maintain control, but you have to know how to use it correctly. The harder you squeeze the front brakes, the farther back you have to adjust your weight.
Apply the brake,
constantly adjusting the pressure. This allows the wheel to keep rolling so you can maintain traction and stay in control. Keep the front wheel straight as it tries to twist.

You will find with practice that you can stop much quicker, because your weight is pushing the tires into the dirt and you have a tremendous amount of braking traction. But at the same time it is harder to control. So when you use the front brake what is important is that the front wheel not be turned, and the bike be upright.

Now Try using both brakes together. Again, coordinate the use of your brakes with weight shifting to get maximum stopping power. The art is to find the braking pressure just before your wheels lock up.

A valuable high speed turning drill is to take one turn and do it over and over again as you practice different techniques, experimenting with body positioning to increase your traction. Pick a sharp turn, like the intersection of two empty fire roads.

6> First go through the turn with pedals parallel. This position is useful for turns where stability and traction are not in question as well as in rough terrain when you have to be out of the seat.
If you need more traction, work on angulation. Your hips should tilt with the bike to the inside of the turn, but your shoulders should remain over the tire contact patch.

6A>Next try putting your outside foot down at the bottom of the pedal stroke, and putting all of your weight on it. Focus all of your weight on the outside pedal. Also angulate your upper body to the outside of the turn. What this will do is put all of our weight over the tire contact patches and increase your traction. There are other subtle things you can do to help your stability. Point your inside knee into the turn. This helps maintain balance and stability by giving you a wider stance.

6B> Try the same turn a little faster. If you are going through a turn real fast, especially if it is slippery, you will take your foot off the pedal. This will increase your stability and help keep you from crashing. With your foot out of the pedal you have more adjustment for your balance and you'll get the feeling of better stability at higher speeds. If your rear wheel goes all the way out your foot is in position to save a fall. Hold your inside foot out to the side, knee slightly bent and toes pointed up, skimming your foot just above the ground.
If your rear wheel does break loose you can control the amount of slide by countersteering with the front wheel. Turn your front wheel in the same direction your rear wheel is sliding. This keeps the front wheel rolling, so you can control your line and balance.

6C> Experiment, comparing the different kinds of turns. Try pedals parallel... Try it with your outside foot down and your inside knee out.... Try it with a foot out. You will find different turning techniques work better for different traction surfaces, different speeds, and different radius turns.

Switchbacks differ from other turns because you have to go slowly. People often have trouble riding the tight ones, because a lack of balance keeps them from concentrating on the mechanics of the turn.

7> Remember the trackstand balance drill? You can modify it to practice slow and tight turns. You'll find that in order to ride a tight circle you have to turn the handlebars as far as you can... to turn em that far you have to be going really slow. You'll be using your brakes, and use a lot of balance.


8> Small obstacles can pose problems at slow speeds. This slow speed maneuvering drill will help you to learn how your rear wheel tracks in relation to your front wheel. Line up a row of 5 grapefruit sized rocks roughly 1 foot apart. Practice weaving your front wheel through them, avoiding them with the rear wheel as well. You can see at these slow speeds if the front makes it through, then the back wheel hits a rock, it will stop your momentum.

Getting over obstacles is more a matter of technique and finesse, rather than brute strength. The basic technique is in unweighting the tires. Do it by shifting your weight forward and back, and changing how much pressure you apply with your hands and feet. In certain critical sections, you'll want to unweight the entire bike for an instant.

9> Timing your launch depends on your speed, so it is a matter of practice. The faster you go, the sooner you will need to unweight. Start out practicing these techniques with non-threatening obstacles like shadows.

When you're climbing a ledge or any obstacle, the mini-wheelie is the basic technique you will use to loft the front wheel over the object. Basically this consists of accelerating your bike, pushing down hard on one pedal, throwing your weight backward, all while you pull up on your hands. The key to getting the front wheel up is more than just yanking on the bars. Shift your weight rearward sharply in the saddle. At the same time you pull up the front wheel, give the pedal a sharp down stroke. As you approach the obstacle, make sure you're in a gear hard enough to get some leverage out of a power stroke on the pedals. Once the front wheel has cleared the object, shift your weight forward. Keep pedaling after the rear wheel makes contact and return to your centered position.

10> Practice a wheelie with either foot, to give you more options on a tricky trail section.

Glance up, and scan from the trail horizon back to your wheel for obstacles, turns, terrain changes, and shifting spots. Check the line of your front wheel, then look beyond to the next moves. The faster you are going the farther ahead you must look.
Train your vision patterns to pick the best lines. Focus on where you want the bike to go, not on where you're afraid it will end up. Scan the trail ahead of you, looking up the trail and back. The faster you go, the farther out front --and more often-- you need to scan.

11> A few experiences of looking at the wrong places will convince you of the need for the proper vision patterns. Experiment with your vision patterns to find the most valuable system.

Cleats enable you to use more muscles for climbing power and descending control. But, a lot of people fall trying to get their foot out of their cleats, especially going uphill, when they have a lot of pressure on the pedals. The solution is easy: develop the ability to quickly take either foot off the pedals.

12> Use the trackstand drill to practice getting your foot out quickly. Practice balancing long enough to take either foot out at any position in the pedal stroke, and anticipate which side will be better for putting your foot down for instance so you get better footing and lean away from a dropoff.

A lot of people don't think of motion to get out of cleat. The easiest motion with the least friction is when your foot is parallel to the pedal. You should practice with both feet getting out at full 360 of crank arm movement You'll find certain areas where you aren't used to getting foot out.

If you are new to using cleats, practice lots of releases before tackling technical trails. Adjust or change the cleats or pedals if you are having continued problems. Hint: If you are a weekend rider that generally keeps your wheels on the ground, you might prefer "multi-release" cleats which are available from your local bikeshop. These allow release in a wider variety of directions. 
Some shop employees (young or accomplished riders) don't like these, so you might have to ask persistently.

DISCLAIMER AND SAFETY WARNING: Riding a bike can result in very serious injury or even death. These tips and the accompanying video will show you ways to ride in better control, however, you must decide if the inherent risk is acceptable. Take responsibility for the condition and quality of your equipment, ride in control, and be careful!