How to Get Better at Mountain Biking
The aim of this post is simple – to guide you to get better at mountain biking before your arrival at BikeVillage, here in the French Alps.
The better you feel about yourself and your mountain biking, the more enjoyment you will have on your MTB holiday in the Alps.
We want to encourage you to get fit and practice your skills before your visit.
Create a summer goal to feel good on your biking holiday – make it something to look forward to instead of it looming over you because you’re unfit. Prepare for it well.
You’ll feel inspired to ride when you feel like you are working towards something – even if it’s raining. You’ll be peddling between shifts and feel more driven when you’re not in the right mood.
If you do live in a wetter and somewhat flatter part of the world, how can you get better at alpine mountain biking?
Here at BikeVillage, we’ve got a few tips.
You could be one of the fortunate ones, living near accessible mountain bike terrain.
Or you could be city-bound with only one off-road riding opportunity a week to test your abilities.
Regardless of which category you fit into, the goals are the same for everyone.
Mountain biking preparation can be categorised by:
- aerobic fitness,
- physical fitness and strength training,
- technical riding practice.
Aerobic Fitness to Get Better at Mountain Biking
Dedicated mountain bikers obsess over aerobic fitness, often to the detriment of strength and technical riding.
Aerobic fitness IS important. It’s just that it’s much simpler than that. The golden rule is to break a sweat and get the heart rate up for 20 minutes, most days of the week. That’s it!
If there’s good biking near your house, it’s best to get sweaty on the mountain bike, of course. If you haven’t got that option, there are other things you can do.
Indoor cycling is a more enjoyable choice than ever before. Interactive apps like Zwift and smart trainers are now readily available and affordable, keeping boredom at bay.
Maybe prefer running? There’s a great article on the benefits of running vs spinning over on Sport Fitness Advisor.
Got a dog? Run with it, rather than walk it.
If there’s a pool near your work, sneak out for a swim at lunchtime. If you have a gym nearby – sign up to a spin class.
A time-pressured parent could fit a ride or run in during your commute to work. This will help to relieve the stress of fitting in exercise during the busy family weekends.
Remember this: your heart and lungs don’t care why or how they’re working hard, they just love working hard.
Having some basic aerobic fitness will help you to enjoy the pedalling that we always have to face on a mountain bike holiday.
Physical Fitness and Strength Training
The Carlsberg of preparation! Working the parts that most riders miss.
Your body needs to be strong for mountain biking. Not just your legs but your core and upper body too.
Here are some quick ideas for ways to integrate strength training into your life:
Follow and MTB specific strength program – MTB coach and BV regular Paul Watson runs Endle
sstrailfitness. This is the perfect solution. Let Endlesstrailfitness prepare a strength program for you and, crucially, help you stay motivated to follow it through and really see the benefits.
Indoor climbing – such a great winter activity. It’s warm at an indoor wall and there is usually tea and cake available. Children can try it out too so, and they love it, so it counts as quality parenting. It’s pretty cheap and loads of fun. Total win.
Crossfit/cross training/circuits – find a class near you and sign up. It’s social, indoors and will make you a total beefcake, underneath the beer belly. The folk at Fit4racing even have a MTB specific crossfit class for you to try.
Yoga/pilates – find classes or videos to do at home, get strong and get zen. We love Bec Black at BalanceBec Yoga – who loves MTB too and will understand your goals.
Single speeding – this is a bit niche, but gives a great excuse to hang onto an old, well-loved bike and do some tinkering. Build a single speed! Engage the muscle groups that need to be strong for MTB by doing hill climbs in horrendously hard gears. Here’s a good (and honest!) how-to guide for converting your bike to singlespeed.
Ride some back garden trials – lock down friendly! Bike skills really work core muscles, which is exactly how to strengthen them. We’ll talk more about this below, as this helps your riding technique, tons.
Pump track – Go and beast yourself on the local pump track. There is no better prep for biking skills and strength. For the ultimate workout, dig your own pump track! It doesn’t take much garden space, as this handy guide from Red Bull shows.
Technical Mountain Biking Practice
Technical mountain biking practice is a hugely overlooked part of preparation.
Holiday or not – a mountain biker should always be working on new techniques. Practice your new skills on every single ride, even if it’s just a track stand in the car park beforehand.
What Technical Mountain Bike Skills Should You Work On?
My advice is to book in a skills training session with a qualified instructor. Lessons should be obligatory for a mountain biker, at least a couple of times a year.
This counts for riders of all levels. Even Aaron Gwin, one of the best DH racers on the planet, has a skills coach.
What’s your excuse?
You’ll realise how much terrible advice you’ve been given over the years.
A mountain bike skills coach will analyse your riding very quickly and give you areas to work on.
You’ll also receive concrete exercises that will continue to improve your riding, long after the coaching session has finished.
Once you’ve got some new skills, keep practicing them.
The extra bonus of MTB skill work is that it counts as a strength workout. You will build the muscle that you need. Skill-work is hard work!
Even during the current pandemic, you’ve got no excuse – back garden skills are perfect for social distancing and you don’t need a huge amount of room.
Look out for skills videos from Ryan Leech Connection Online Skills Coaching and other top riders.
Try to frequently practice the following few techniques:
- Track stand – the base for all slow speed balance.
- Slow turns – the tighter the better!
- Manual – raising your front wheel without pedalling.
- Skids and endos – trust me – learning how to really use your brakes is essential.
- Nose bonking – what? It’s basically a more useful bunny hop. Joe Barnes shows you how and why.
- Wheelie – just because they’re cool!
There are so many fun, short exercises you can do at home to get better at mountain biking.
Should I Buy a Better Mountain Bike?
I’ve never once said to any of our guests ‘buy a more expensive bike’!
There are ways you can prepare your bike for the Alps at very little cost and we’ll cover them in a future post.
A top bike won’t help your riding if you’re not in good shape yourself.
Mountain Bikers – Keep it Real
Keep a realistic context on all this downhill mountain biking fun.
We’ve missed our opportunity for the Olympics. We’re mediocre at best. However there’s a massive upside to mediocrity: you can do what you want!
The very best mountain biker is the one having the most fun, so don’t stress if life gets in the way. Come and enjoy your mountain bike holiday and stay opportunistic.
For every ride you have to miss for a vet’s appointment there’ll be a trip to the supermarket when you can use the town bike rather than the car.
Hopping onto a bike will always make you smile. Get out whenever you can and you’ll naturally get better at mountain biking before your arrival.