The golden rules of mountain biking are far less strict than those of road biking for one reason in particular — it’s more of a solitary sport. It’s just you and the bike and if it is more than just you, it’s relaxed with everyone there for a good time.
Cycling on public roadways is governed by strict rules. It’s because of road cycling’s heritage, and the fact that the roads are shared with motorists and other cyclists. Mountain biking, with its devil-may-care freewheeling attitude, is more like the unwritten code of the west, the last of the cowboys, or throw caution to the wind.
It’s one thing to say that there are no rules in mountain biking, but those who do it on a regular basis know that to stay safe, certain principals apply that help keep the rubber side down.
Test Of Time
The golden rules of mountain biking are not written in stone but rather in mud that may get washed over a bit with the next rain. Instead of thinking of them as rules that you must follow, think of them as dos and don’ts, or suggestions that have withstood that last rain storm.
Of course, if you’re riding a mountain bike on pavement, the same rules of the road that apply to road bikes, cars or other motorized vehicles also apply to mountain bikes. But when you’re out there, careening down the side of a hill, the golden rules of mountain biking are there, for the most part, to keep you safe, and to provide you with the most fun.
Rule # 1 of The Golden Rules of Mountain Biking: Look Where You Steer
It’s a fact that you go where your eyes are looking. Don’t focus on things you want to miss. Look where you want your wheels to go. In other words, if you focus on a large rock in the trail, it’s likely you’ll clip it with your derailleur as you pass by. It’s an easy rule to say, but a hard one to accomplish. Think of it like this; your wheels follow your eyes. Another example is ruts; you see one on the left, and choose a line to the right. There’s no need to keep looking at the rut out of fear as if you do, you’re likely to end up in it.
Rule #2: Scan Ahead
After consulting rule number one, continue scanning ahead. Dismiss obstacles that won’t bother your line. Reach forward with your eyes as far as possible while maintaining control of the bike. This rule varies depending on conditions; if you’re swerving in and out of trees, focus on scanning the next move no matter the distance. If you’ve got wide open trail, scan as far as you can, but stay in control. Don’t look down unless you absolutely need to. Looking down serves no purpose, and takes focus off of the trail.
Rule #3: Two up, Two Down
Ride with two fingers on the brakes at all times. Use the other two to steer. Get used to this position. It allows you to steer and brake simultaneously the instant you get in trouble or to avoid a nasty collision with an obstacle. The constant pressure on your brakes also allows you to feather the back brake for corners or trim it slightly for more control when you get moving too fast. When you get good at it, it’s fine to use your back brake for controlled slides around corners. But do so only if you’ve practiced the maneuver.
Rule #4: Decision Making
Things happen fast on a mountain bike. Be ready to change your gears, your position, your speed and your mind instantly. Be ready to apply your brakes if needed, swerve or jump your bike at high speed. There’s not enough time to think about what you’re going to do and you’ve only got a split second to decide your next move. Never hesitate to change course if needed. If you get into trouble, brake, swerve or hop, you’ve got to do something; just do it.
Rule #5: Embrace Momentum
Momentum is everything on a mountain bike.The more momentum you can maintain while staying in control, the easier everything becomes. You should begin to feel a certain flow up and down through depressions and over humps. Momentum gets you through loose stuff and over technical bits along with sweeping you out of corners with centrifugal force.
Rule #6: Posture Forward
Position your body weight more toward the front of the bike when either sitting or standing. The forward-torso position keeps your center of gravity lower on the bike. The position is gained by using your elbows and knees to act as suspension which brings your chest toward the handle bars and stem. This position assists the bike to turn sharply and brings extra traction to the front wheel.
Rule #7: Stay in the Saddle When Climbing
When climbing, bring your head and chest toward the handle bars by bending your elbows, similar to rule six. Slide your butt forward on the saddle to keep the bike tracking in a straight line. This position also stops the bike from wandering across the trail and keeps the front wheel on the ground as you apply torque to the pedals. If you stand up it offsets your balance, reduces your traction, and your heart rate jumps.
Rule #8: Learn to Hover (Stand, don’t Sit)
The hover or standing on the pedals with your knees bent could be considered the all-round best body position for all purpose mountain biking. The hover position is the most comfortable and allows for the best control of a mountain bike in rough or technical terrain. Stand up with your legs and elbows bent; these are your shock absorbers. Your torso should be slightly forward. Pedals at the at 3 and 9 o’clock position, also known as the platform. Hold this pedal position unless you’re negotiating tight corners. Reacting from this position is a simple process of shifting your weight from side to side, forward or back.
Rule #9: Descending
What goes up, must come down. The torso forward position in rule number seven is reversed. As you begin to pick up speed on the downhill, keep your butt as far back on the saddle as possible without losing control of the bike. Hover or sit in the saddle, depending on conditions, but try to keep the weight to the back of the bike. Too much weight forward can cause the dreaded endo.
Rule #10: Trail Etiquette
Despite being on trails with far less people than the roads, you are still likely to come up on another rider, hiker, or horseback rider and respecting others is the golden rule of “Golden Rules”. Horses always have the right of way and when you come up on them, make sure the rider knows you’re there and give them space to pass. You don’t want a horse freaking out on the trail. Hikers will often give you the right of way as it’s generally easier for them to step to the side of the trail but they are by no means required to do so. Make sure they know you’re coming and slide to one side of the trail to let them pass or if they let you go, give a heart-felt thanks. If you come up on another rider, the one traveling uphill always has the right of way. Slow and give respect. If you come up on another rider from behind make sure they know you’re there. Give a “Hi there. Passing on your left.” or whatever the situation warrants.
Following “The Golden Rules of Mountain Biking” will allow you to ride and navigate the trails with precision and finesse keeping you safe as well as those around you. You don’t have to follow what’s written in mud but as a mountain biker you will want to. Who doesn’t like mud anyway?