Basic Techniques

Once you’ve got the hang of which end of the bike goes first, you’re pretty much ready to head out and ride.  That said, there’s some things it’s worth bearing in mind.

Climbing: As much as there’s a temptation to stand up and stamp down with all your weight on the pedals, this is inefficient.  It’s great for short bursts, particularly steep or technical sections, but for general grinding climbs it’s better to sit down, change down, and let your legs just tick over.  If you try this and your legs burn and you get winded quickly have no fear – next time it’ll be easier.  When you do stand up to climb, resist the temptation to shift all your weight forward over the handlebars.  This will take all your weight off the back wheel and mean that all the power you put into the pedals just makes the wheel spin.  Instead, hold your weight back over the middle of the bike.

Descending: For the love of all that is holy, stand up.  Your arms and legs provide natural suspension to absorb the bumps in the trail, you have more control to shift your weight around to match the trail and to place the bike exactly where you want.  It’s more aerodynamic.  It’s a lot more fun.

Gears: Essentially, change up for speed and downhills, change down for power and climbing.  Using the highest chainring and the lowest sprocket (see the glossary) or the other way around will stretch the chain, so try to avoid that.  For practical purposes, it’s often enough to stick to the middle chain ring on a bike with three of them, and just use the sprockets for gearing.  If pushing down the pedals is a massive effort, change down.  If your legs are pinwheeling and you’re going nowhere, change up.

Braking: Back brakes to feather to control your speed.  Try not to jam them on and keep them there, this will cause your fingers to lock up and the brakes to overheat and fade.  That said, it’s difficult to avoid at times.  Front brakes for severe braking and stopping the bike, but make sure you throw your weight back when braking sharply or you’ll go over the handlebars.

Cornering: As mentioned in the home page, not my strong suit.  Something about tight cornering to the right while climbing has me foundering.  The problem is having the drive train and my dominant leg on the side that I’m turning towards.  One way to help is to make a conscious effort to lead with your left leg as you approach a right hand corner, intentionally making the left pedal stroke stronger and letting your right foot trail.  Sometimes it works for me.  Sometimes I end up waddling my bike round corners in an undignified fashion and hoping no-one saw.

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