4 Pro Tips for Better Mountain Biking

    World champion and Olympic cyclist Alison Dunlap shares mountain bike skills to move you quickly past beginner and beyond.

    fall color mountain bike ride
    Photo by Jesse Parker

    Looking to take your singletrack skills up a notch? Tired of feeling frustrated by the same rooty, rocky nemeses? There are three simple things you can do to turn your mountain bike ride from a “@%#! what am I doing out here?” to an “OMG, did you see what I just rode over!” kind of ride.

    1. Look up.

    Stop looking at your front wheel, and instead look 10 to 15 feet down the trail at where you want to go. Your eyes and your front wheel are magically connected. If you don’t want to hit the tree, don’t look at it! Your front wheel will always go where you are looking, for better or for worse.

    2. Relax. Relax. Relax.

    Loosen up the arms, elbows, neck, back and shoulders. A loose upper body makes it easier to absorb bumps and unexpected hits, and to roll over rock gardens, roots and ledges. A tight upper body prevents you from moving around on your bike and being able to look side to side. Mountain biking is a dynamic sport, and moving around on your bike allows you to maintain your center of balance, which translates to not crashing.

    3. Stand up when going downhill.

    Even on a full-suspension bike you need to stand up. Put your pedals at the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock position. Center your hips over your bottom bracket with your legs slightly bent and relaxed. Bend your arms, and stick your elbows out for more upper body stability when going over rough stuff. Remember, your arms and legs are great shock absorbers! If the descent gets steep or you want to ride over a ledge or large rocks, push your hips and butt back behind the saddle to keep from going over the handlebars. If the trail drops downhill gradually, you can keep your weight more evenly centered between the front and the rear of the bike. Don’t sit back down until you are ready to start pedaling again.

    4. Counterbalance corners.

    A good tip for intermediate riders or those thinking about trying a race is to learn better cornering. To get your bike to corner, your bike has to lean into the turn, but your body should not lean the same direction as the bike. A lot of cyclists have been taught to lean into the turn with your body and your bike, and when you do, you end up sliding on the ground. So for a regular corner or switchback, the bike leans into the turn, and the body should be more upright or leaning to the outside of the turn. It’s kind of like counterbalancing; people sometimes call it counter-steering.

    As with anything, the more you ride your bike, the better you’ll get. These techniques will hopefully give you lots of OMG rides and let you impress the heck out of your friends. Happy trails!

    Alison Dunlap competed in two Olympic Games, won the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, the UCI World Cup Overall, and is the holder of 13 US National Championships in road, MTB and cyclocross. Since retiring in 2005, she works full-time coaching cyclists and running skills camps and clinics. She is a USA Cycling Level I coach, a certified Professional Mountain Bike Instructor out of Whistler, BC, a Wilderness First Responder, and a graduate of Colorado College. Most recently, Alison was inducted into the US Bicycling Hall of Fame. Alison is a Colorado native and lives in Colorado Springs with her husband where they are proud parents of their 6-year-old son, Emmett. For more information visit www.alisondunlap.com.