You can spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to improve your bike. However, most often the biggest benefit in your mountain biking is actually to improve your own riding skills. How would you like to be able to get past those troublesome obstacles almost effortlessly? This is the #1 concern that most beginners wish to conquer. Here is a direct quote from a Beginner MTB rider:
How do you practice this …and get so good at it that it never becomes a concern ever again?
This is how I did it years ago so bear with me and a bit of background story. I started out years ago with a rigid frame 700c (same size as a 29er) first generation rigid frame mountain bike. The tires back then were also nothing like they have now (similar to hybrid tires now but a lot less grippy). That kind of bike is now called a Klunker. I just snicker every time I hear them called that. Back then most MTB trails were fairly smooth fire access roads, sometimes with a few gentle humps along the way. With no suspensions and tires that did not inspire much confidence, any and all obstacles encountered on the trails were always a challenge. It was really daunting to even see a branch, or some roots, and small set of boulders across the path. They could potentially send you face first into the dirt with little to no warning.
One day I was tuning up my brakes and gear shifts, and lubing up the chain getting ready for a trail ride latter that week. I test rode the bike and started fun-riding around on the street right in front of my house. Just goofing around on the bike, I tried several times to get onto the sidewalk curb from the street. After some repeated attempts, I managed to do it a few times in a row without busting my **s. I then tried it with even taller sidewalk curbs. After some practice it worked perfectly almost every time. This article is not about how to hop an obstacle or a log. That already has been covered countless times before. I am also not going to go into the technical details on how to properly do manuals or wheelies. You can look those up on Google… =) **So the real question was: How can I practice, practice, and practice this so that I can truly master these skills?** Next time I go to the trail I want to “Whoop this thing” and never have to worry about it ever again.
That is when I decided to simply ride down the whole neighborhood and do it urban style! I Hopped every sidewalk curb repeatedly over and over again that I ran into for the next hour or more. I then found myself at a parking lot with row after row of parking curbs. I hopped over an endless number of those just like if they were logs. I stared thinking that I was some kind of urban stunt rider. I then tried to hop up and ride the parking lot curbs the long way (just like a skinny). I eventually got the timing and balance to do that right consistently enough. I also slalomed between the curbs for a while. After a bunch of that, I rode down the street a-ways, and saw some landscaping railroad ties. I also rode them the long way too. Down off them and quickly back up onto the next set, and the next set, and the next set all the way across the front of one of the small businesses near my house.
SSHHhhhhhhh……. I looked around all paranoid, like you would if I had just broken a window with a stray backyard baseball game foul ball. I hope they did not see me doing that and riding all over their perfectly manicured red bark landscaping and short shrubs. I rode those ties a few more times. I followed that up with riding down a short run of stairs at their main entrance. I did those stairs a couple more times, and then I was gone like a bandit. The short stair drops were a great way to practice body position for those drops at the dirt trail.
I was grinning ear to ear after that. Now that was a total blast. No damage done to the landscaping (well not too much anyway) so I did not feel too bad about it. That was so much fun that I could not stop thinking about it later that night. So I ended up doing that same urban stunt run for the next 3 or 4 days in a row. The obstacles became so second nature, that it felt like I was hopping buildings with a single bound! …Well, not really. It was not quite the Freerider mega leaps that you see on Redbull Rampage TV, but it sure was a huge boost to my riding skills arsenal. Later that week when I hit the dirt trail, even those 5” logs and skinnies were not so ridiculously intimidating anymore!
That was many years ago but I never forgot those skills. Several years after riding the rigid frame bike I rode mostly a hardtail 26er. Now-a-days I ride a full suspension 26er bike. The timing is a bit different for clearing such obstacles. With a front suspension, you have to compensate for the suspension extending before the tire lifts off the ground. The front suspension is also more forgiving if your timing is a bit off. Loading and unloading the suspension is still a skill that I often use. If you don’t do that to clear the obstacles on a bike with a suspension, you still end up losing too much momentum so it still applies.
Lesson learned! Have fun riding around on your neighborhood hopping tons of sidewalks and parking curbs, and don’t destroy your neighbor’s shrubs. It might just be some of the best practice you will ever get before you hit the dirt trails. Stay tuned for the next write-up in this series of “The Frugal Mountain Biker”.