You read a how to get started in mountain biking guide and took action. You then chose a mtb riding style you resonated with and bought a good bike. You bought a fatbike, downhill bike, enduro bike, trail bike, or whatever it is you bought and hit the trails.
A couple months later, you love the whole new you, but you’re now wondering how you could sculpt an even better body. That’s why you want to learn a tip or two on how to get better at mountain biking.
But that’s not all. You’d also like to learn how to better your bike handling skills so you can tear up trails without life-threatening wipeouts.
You want to become a faster rider while rolling over rocks and tackling drops and jumps like a mtb pro. You crave to build your technical mountain bike riding abilities to a place of respect from your dudes.
Good news — your goals are realistic and achievable. But it does take a little learning and consistent dedication to reach them. Pro-level mountain biking happens when you consistently improve your physical fitness, your technical riding skills, and biking speed.
I’ll share with you 12 practical tips that’ll help you start evolving into a more capable MTBber. Without any further ado, here 10 tips to become a better mountain biker:
12 Ways to Become a Better Mountain Biker
Let’s dive right in and learn a few tips on how you can get better at mountain bike riding. Some of the strategies described below requires quite a bit of practice to get down. But all of the tricks are doable and will help improve your MTB riding skills.
1. Understand That Becoming a Better MTBer Won’t be Easy
Mountain biking over chatter. Ratcheting through chunder. Shredding flat corners without over-cooking them or flying OTB. Tackling frightening booters….
I bet you’re past getting bark tattoos Mountain biking is difficult. And since you want to become a better MTBer, you need to mentally prepare for what’s coming. Embrace all the challenges that practicing to improve your cycling abilities will inevitably throw at you.
Also, understand that you won’t always see the results you crave fast. And there’s always going to be someone that handles their bike much better than you, even a few groms. If you keep learning and putting in the work, you’ll soon start seeing improvements. And you’ll know for sure that hard practice in mtbing does indeed get rewarded — over time.
2. Get Your Mountain Bike Dialed Right
I believe you read good reviews from real mountain bikers before choosing your first bike. I assume you didn’t buy some Bike Shaped Object. Instead, you invested in a decent mountain bike that packs tons of modern cycling technology.
You also sized your bike right, choosing one with a standover clearance of 2-4 inches, right? One way to not get better at MTBing is riding a bike that doesn’t fit you, one that’s either too small or too big. It’s hard to control a bike whose setup doesn’t fit you.
But getting better at mountain biking may necessitate upgrading your bike, or at least tweaking a few things. You probably don’t need to spend thousands on new fancy components, but some parts may need some attention.
Get Better Tires
Let’s start with the tires. Are the tires as thick as you’d like for the terrain you’ll be riding? And, do the tires have the right tread? If the tires are worn or you prefer thicker ones, order new ones. Remember, when it comes to MTB tires, skimping often proves to be counterproductive.
Tweak or Replace the Braking System
Examine the brakes, too. You want them operating smoothly, steadily, and consistently for each ride. If the brakes need a tweak or two, handle that. Make sure your bike’s shifting is functioning properly. And if you need to put in a better braking system (disc brakes?), do it. You may want to watch a couple good videos on how to install a disc brake.
Lube the Chain or Replace it if Necessary
Take a look at the chain and if it’s dry, clean it with a rag and lube it. Use a chain checker to see if the chain needs replacement. Replace the chain and cassette if necessary. Replace damaged spokes as well.
Adjust Your Bike’s Suspension
Assess the suspension and fine-tune it. I assume your bike came with adjustable suspension. Watch a few videos on how to adjust the fork and shock. And if you need to swap the frame, learn how to transfer the components to the better frame properly.
3. Exercise More, Get Fitter
Biking is exercise. And there’s evidence that cycling can help you burn calories and give you a healthier, stronger body.
If you want to get better at shredding the gnar, you need to be super strong and fit. However, cycling may not be enough exercise if you desire to grow into an accomplished mountain biker.
If biking was all the exercise you needed, professional mountain bikers wouldn’t be exercising outside of cycling. But they do, and there must be good reasons for it.
Whatever MTB training regimen you choose, make sure it helps you build strength and endurance. Rei.com recommends doing exercises that strengthen the muscles that power your pedal strokes. These muscles include hamstrings, abdominal muscles, and quads.
Your training may also need to include a substantial amount of weight training. Even the best mountain bikers on the planet spend tons of time weight training. You want a body that’ll be a great asset when you want to push your cycling limits.
Still, you need to spend enough saddle time to better your mountain biking skills. More biking may not always men better riding skills, though. However, MTBers that ride less and less while getting better and better don’t exist!
4. Get the Right Mountain Biking Buddies
To build your mountain biking skills and become a better rider, practice with better cyclists. But your riding group needs to have more experienced mountain bikers, they need to be people you trust and like.
The best riding environment is where you get to ride with cyclists you’re comfortable with. Choose people who want to see you grow as an athlete.
The best mountain bike riding partners constantly push you to get better. Pushing you out of your comfort zone might mean you getting dropped, at least some of the time. But if they drop you when you have trail side mechanical issues to address, you got the wrong people.
Good riding partners keep pushing you to become a better rider. But they don’t overdo it. For example, they won’t try to push you to ride at a level above your ability. At least they don’t try to do that too soon.
Also, the right riding partners won’t make you feel uncomfortable when you decide to try new things. With the right bunch, you won’t feel embarrassed when sessioning a rock garden or other extremely technical trail features.
5. Embrace Being in the Air
A substantial portion of mountain biking has you airborne. So, get comfortable with being in the air some of the time.
To become a better mountain biker means mastering jumps, rock drops, rock gardens, riding up ledges, and more. All this requires good technical biking skills. And your tires will be off the ground a lot of the time.
But who aside from professional MTBers feels comfortable flying through the air on a mountain bike? No one, that’s who. No one says you must be able to perform acrobatic maneuvers on your MTB at this point, though.
So, start doing what you can. Even if what you can do is lifting your bike’s front wheel off the ground for a second. Learn to carry your speed through each landing. Then do it again. And again. And again.
Keep practicing. Before long, your riding partners will start calling you dude more often. They’ll respect you a whole lot more for your bike much better handling abilities. You’ll earn their admiration because you’ll have learned how to shred the gnar like a pro.
6. Master Target Fixation
Target fixation is a fancy way of saying stay focused on where you want to go. If there’s an instance when target fixation becomes critical, it’s when biking trails with tons of rocks and tree roots.
Navigating such difficult obstacles is more about focusing on the line rather than looking at the obstacle itself. When cycling through rough terrain, learn to pick the best line. Sometimes the best line through challenging terrain is hardest, but in my experience, the best line is almost always the cleanest.
Mastering target fixation entails focusing on the line you’ve picked rather than on the trees and rocks you’re trying to pass through. Focusing on the obstacles usually has you hitting them, and that’s not the result you seek.
7. Get Your Braking Technique to a Good Place
If you can brake better, you can control your bike better. I know two riding situations that require really good braking. These situations are when going downhill and when negotiating sharp turns.
When riding downhill, feathering becomes super important. Feathering your brakes helps keep them from locking up. But if feathering causes your them to lock up, just ease up on your brakes.
Feathering means keeping your brake lever squeezed lightly for periods of time to reduce speed progressively. This braking technique eliminates the need to press the lever all the way suddenly in certain circumstances.
Another situation where great braking helps immensely is when getting around corners. If you’re moving too fast around a loose or flat corner and then pull the brakes, you’ll likely have a washout.
A washout is when your wheels loose traction and slide from under you. So, start squeezing those brakes a reasonable distance before you reach the turn.
8. Learn to Trackstand on Your MTB
There’s one little mountain biking trick that can greatly and quickly help you enhance your technical riding abilities. That trick is called trackstanding in MTB cyling parlance.
Trackstanding is a MTB riding technique where you demonstrate great skill at balancing on a rig. You simply stand on your bike’s pedals and stay balanced for a period of time. Pro MTBers can trackstand forever if they want, and so can you become a better MTB rider.
How to Trackstand on a MTB Video
What makes trackstanding difficult is that you’re stationary most of the time. And if you’re moving, you’re making very small moves. Plus, you’re not supposed to put your feet down.
So, learn how to trackstand on a mountain bike. Don’t stop practicing until you have trackstanding down to a fine art. The best place to learn trackstanding is a flat surface. Go watch a few good videos on how to trackstand and start practicing.
So, add trackstanding to your repertoire of mountain biking skills. This biking technique comes in handy when you’re weaving through extremely difficult trail sections. When clearing such technical trail sections, you roll very slowly while keeping perfect balance.
I’ll say it again: practice trackstanding. If you need to dab a few times as you learn, no problem. Keep playing until you can do it effortlessly. Someday soon, you’ll start cleaning rock gardens like a real pro.
9. Master MTB Wheelies and Nose Wheelies
Learning to wheelie on a mountain bike can be pretty difficult initially. Admittedly, wheelies aren’t something you’ll master in 15 minutes. Mastering wheelies can take you weeks, months, or even years depending on your commitment level.
Wheelies are like bunny hops in a sense because they can help you jump over obstacles easily. Wheelies will make your life feel like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. My hubby says you never start living fully until you learn how to wheelie. And I agree.
A wheelie is when you lift the front wheel off the ground. And a nose wheelie is when you have the front wheel on the ground and the rear wheel up.
How to Wheelie on a MTB Video
You can do wheelies on a cross country bike, on a city bike, on a fatbike, or any bike. That said, doing wheelies on a bike with a shorter chainstay feels easier. Also, having tire pressure lower than it normally is helps a little with balance.
Also read: Different Types of Bikes
Another way to make wheelies easier is to stay low. So, lower your saddle about a half inch down. But don’t lower the saddle to the point where pedaling your bike becomes uncomfortable.
To do a wheelie, find a gently sloping surface. A grassy patch or a gravel road without traffic will do. Now, start riding your bike preferably on a low gear.
The best time to launch into a wheelie is when the pedal is up. At that point, lock your hands on the handlebars nice and tight as you apply downward pressure on the pedal.
Then, shift your weight backward while pulling the handlebars up until the front wheel lifts. If you feel you’ve moved too far back, squeeze the rear brake. Pulling the rear brake should bring you back down.
To do a nose wheelie, lean forward a little to shift some of your weight forward. Then, push forward on the handlebars to keep the front tire down nice and stable.
As you do that, pull the rear portion of your MTB up using your feet. Those movements and weight transference should lift the rear wheel off the ground.
I suggest that you learn wheelies on flat pedals rather than clipless pedals. Why? Because flat platform pedals allow you to hop off the bike quickly if you need to. If you have clipless pedals, keep one cycling shoe unclipped.
10. Learn Bunny Hopping on Your Mountain Bike
Bunny hopping means jumping over objects of all kinds on your bike. It’s jumping over rocks, logs, tree stumps and whatnot the way a bunny would. This trick is also called the American Bunny Hop.
How to Bunny Hop on a MTB Video
Why master bunny hops? Because hopping can help you avoid crashing into rocks and tree stumps. That means hopping can get you out of trouble.
Hopping can also help you keep riding forward fast without losing momentum. And when it comes to clearing rock jumps, this little but relatively difficult trick helps a lot. Combine trackstanding and bunny hopping, and you’ll push your mountain biking skills to a whole new level.
Doing a bunny hop is similar to performing an Ollie on a skateboard. It’s not easy, and you’ll likely experience a lot of frustration, at first. But bunny hopping on your MTB is an art you must perfect if you want to get better at trail biking.
This maneuver consists of two main parts. The first part is shifting your weight back to a place behind the rear axle. The second part is pre-compressing the suspension or preloading it.
There’s a little science behind preloading a MTB’s suspension. But it’s nothing too complicated. Preloading means pouring potential upward momentum into your suspension and leveraging it to carry your bike up over the obstacle.
Don’t Use Your Hands to Lift the Tires Off the Ground, Though
You shouldn’t use your hands to lift your tires off the ground. If done right, preloading the suspension should provide enough force to spring you and your bike up into the air.
When learning to bunny hop, it’s best to work on the front wheel first before proceeding to the rear wheel. Timing is critical. And the goal is to get both wheels off the ground at once.
While these two parts of the bunny hop may seem like separate parts, they need to happen at once — fast.
11. Improve Your Pedaling Cadence
Your cadence is how many pedal revolutions you can manage per minute of your saddle time. It’s how fast you’re turning your pedals. Few cyclists ride at the same cadence the entire, though. But can you believe Chris Froome,a British road racing cyclist, maintains a cadence of 100 rpm even when riding up hills?
To better your MTB skills, you need to develop a good cadence or spin. Good cadence makes your ride more efficient, saving you energy. You’ll roll faster while expending less pedaling power.
What’s more, good spinning helps you maintain good traction and stability. And good traction and balance are critical when biking over trails with loose rocks and whatnot.
Good spinning helps you to pedal in circles as opposed to pedaling in squares. And pedaling in circles boosts cycling efficiency. Good cadence is about changing gears to maintain good MBTing RPMs. If you keep your cadence between 70-100 RPMS, climbs feels less challenging. And navigating rough trail sections seems to get easier.
12. Start Exploring Unfamiliar Trails
Becoming a better mountain biker means becoming someone who can demonstrate their cycling chops anywhere. Soon, you’ll know your local trails really well; you’ll master them.
But what do you do when all you have is the same trails each day? You get bored, and you might even start riding less. That’s the best time to start looking for new trails to conquer.
So, get your riding gang to organize a trip to some far, far away place. There, you’ll encounter new challenges, and new challenges will force you to get more creative.
You’ll put your riding abilities to the test. Each time you ride an unfamiliar trail, your biking skills will get sharper.
How to Become a Better Mountain Biker: Final Thoughts
Getting better at mountain biking takes a whole lot of work, plus tons of focus.
First off, get a good bike setup. If your bike isn’t set up right, you’ll struggle more than you otherwise would.
Then, get into the right mental state. Embrace challenges as you tear up trails with others.
Also, choose good people to ride with. Find people who are better cyclists than you and who are willing to support your MTBing career. Practice harder. Be willing to try new things.
Get your cadence right as well as your braking technique. Master wheelies and nose wheelies while also practicing trackstanding. Additionally, teach yourself how to find clean lines.
Once you’ve conquered your local trails, plan tours to new locations. Find new trails that throw different and exciting challenges at you and your cycling abilities.
Most importantly, keep learning and practicing. If you stay consistent, you’ll certainly evolve into a more competent mountain bike rider.