The spring can be trying times for us Off-Road athletes. We are putting in long hours on the bike, but in many areas of the country and world, the trails are out of commission. The snow and mud piled high on our beloved trails taunts us as we dream of the days we can ‘shred the gnar’ once again.
While some people can escape to warmer climates or mountain bike get-a-ways, these trips are short lived and you will once again find yourself scrolling through your local trail forums waiting for the green light to ride again.
Then it happens, the trails are dry! You triumphantly arrive at the trailhead, kit up with the coolest clothes and cleanest bike you’ll have all season and you head out onto the trails. Alas, your experience is not as you dreamed. How is it that every rock, root, and corner is in the wrong place? You feel like a monster truck plowing through each segment instead of the agile mountain goat you envisioned yourself being. What could you have done differently? How could you have prepared for this moment?
A few years ago, I started incorporating “skills in the park” into my training routine. It was a fun way to get on my bike in the winter/spring. It allowed me a better feel on my bike, and transferred back to the trails in a way that surpassed my expectations. Now, I incorporate these skills year-round.
Here are my 7 Best Mountain Bike Drills:
Yup, this child’s trick can really benefit your trail skills. While I don’t anticipate you wheelie-ing down the trail, it can play a big role in finding your “sweet spot” on the bike in terms of balance. You will learn how to more effectively lift your front wheel (which you will do frequently on the trail). You will also learn the power of your rear brake to pull you back to earth when you get a little too sendy. Just spend 5-10 minutes rolling around in circles practicing wheelies. It’ll be fun too!
The reverse wheelie. The stoppie will help you find your ‘sweet spot’ of balance on the bike. It also teaches bravery and the power of the front brake.
When we first start mountain biking, many of us are taught the dangers of the front brake and cautioned against its power. We become so afraid that we neglect to harness the power of it! The front brake is your most powerful stopping tool on the bike. Stoppies will help you learn exactly how far you can play with that power.
3. Fast Cornering
Set up one cone, approach the cone at a high speed, grab rear brake as you turn, and stick your inside foot out to catch you. This high-speed cornering drill gave me a whole new sense of power to corner on a dime on the trails. I’m not advocating that this is the best way to always corner, but it certainly instills confidence.
4. Forward/Backward Drills
This is a very simple drill that is great for beginners and experts alike. It helps you find balance on the bike, and uses exaggerated positions to show you where your body is capable of going. When you are trying to lift up over a big object on the trail, you will need to push your hips toward the bars, and in a steep descent you will need to get your hips way behind the saddle. This drill is a great warm up!
5. Ride Skinnies
Look for safe but skinny surfaces and practice riding and balancing on them. This could be as simple as an elevated curb. See how long you can pedal along the narrow surface. This will help you on trails with small lines when precision is essential.
6. Figure 8’s
This is another precision drill. Place two cones or objects as close as possible where you can still do figure-8s around them. Focus on looking through the corner and where you want to go. Make sure you travel in both directions and you can even make it more challenging by only using one hand!
7. Cornering Circuit
The final drill on my list is a fast cornering circuit. Make a slalom style course with cones or object and practice cornering and weaving at high speeds. Focus on having your outside foot down, looking through the corner, and test how fast you can go and how far you can lean your bike! I prefer to do this on grass so that I’m not afraid to really get after it!
But What About…?
Yes! If you are thinking of some other skills or tricks, then do it! Any time you spend playing on your bike will make you a better, faster, and more competent rider! Let’s go play some bikes!