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Mountain Bike Basic Skills For Beginners

Mountain biking requires a different set of skills than road bicycling. Balance, power, cadence and control have to be maintained on trails of varying surfaces and steepness. And just to make it interesting, throw in some obstacles such as roots, rocks, logs and bumps. Most of your control and balance is achieved by shifting your weight forward or backward on the saddle and leaning forward when necessary.

A basic rule of thumb is shift before you have to. Practice shifting the gears on your bike and get comfortable with it. Shifting to a lower gear makes it easier to pedal. With practice and experience you will become accustomed to these simple adjustments that will get you up that next hill or over an obstacle.

Some of the essential basic mountain bike skills for situations encountered on the trail are briefly outlined below. More detailed descriptions of skills and techniques will follow. Look into skill clinics offered by local bike shops, tour companies and mtb centers.

Also see Mountain Bike Tips


Mountain Bike Hill Climbing Techniques

Bend your elbows and shift your weight front and back to maintain traction. You want to lower your center of gravity and distribute your weight evenly. If the rear tire starts to slip, slide back on the saddle. If the front wheel starts to lift off the ground, you need to lean and slide forward into the hill. With experience you will master this fine balancing act.

Pick your line and stick to it. Look as far ahead as possible, scan for any hazards and choose your path. Fix your eyes on that chosen path and maintain your momentum.

It is usually better to power your way over any small obstacles on the chosen path, than to suddenly change direction. This will break your momentum, upset your balance and probably result in a walk up the hill or possibly a fall.

Anticipate downshifts. Shift down before you begin to climb. It is  difficult to shift to a smaller ring on the chainring (front) in the middle of a hill so downshift before the hill. Shifting in the middle of a steep hill will also result in lost momentum. Shift down on the freewheel cog (rear) as needed.



Maintain balance and control speed. Keep your feet level, unless negotiating tight corners, and stay centered on the bike. Move far back on the saddle, putting your weight over the rear wheel. Keep your elbows bent and avoid gripping the handlebars too tightly. Relaxed muscles will help to absorb bumps on the way down. You should feel as if you are flowing downhill.

On a fast descent feather your brakes, working them lightly on and off. Too much front brake can send you over the handlebars and too much rear  brake can cause the rear wheel to slip. Start with a little more rear brake and gradually bring in front brake.



Riding over, or “cleaning”, an obstacle such as a log will take some practice. Start small and work up to larger ones. Anticipation is important. Slow down and determine whether you will have to ride around it, over it, or even dismount and walk around it. Riding over it will take some quick weight shifts while staying centered (side-to-side balance).

Speed up to gain momentum and lower your body slightly. When you reach the log have your pedals level, quickly shift your weight back and lift up on the handlebars to get the front wheel over. As the rear wheel makes contact quickly shift your weight forward to help the rear wheel over. While doing this maneuver don’t grab the front brakes, keep centered and maintain momentum with a final push on the pedals.



Don’t begin braking when already into a turn. Anticipation is again key here. Brake gradually to a safe speed before entering the turn then accelerate as you come out of the turn.


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