How to Ride a Mountain Bike

Santa Cruz Mountain Bike at Black Rock Bike Park
A tool for self-improvement



At home, pay attention to your bike. Or don’t. Groom it well: Inspect and smooth its sore joints and strong stanchions. It has many ailments, always one thing after another, but that’s the price of admission. They’re strange beasts, mountain bikes; They don’t care if you neglect them, but they will tell you when you’ve been remiss.

You don’t want to be remiss.

Wake up early, hopefully on a weekday. Food is optional, though recommended. Coffee, black, is mandatory. After steaming your face and mind with the fresh brew, stow all necessaries in you car or truck. The shoes, jersey, backpack, water, tube, pump, patch kit, tire irons, chain break, snacks, goggles or glasses, helmet, gloves, shock pump, chain grease, these have to come along. A hassle, you’d think, but this game is all about rhythm and with each ride the packing becomes a ritual of preparation. Are you ready?

Close the hatch, hit the road, and savor the anticipation.

The trailhead may be cool and misting, or hot and dusty. There may be other riders, or no one, or worst of all, horses. No matter. Check again that your wheels are well-attached and then embark upwards.

The first pedal strokes are forgivably awkward, like a child trying to skateboard. Persist. No one is watching you. They’re all busy trying to skateboard too.

Sit tall, and spin your legs. It’s slow work harvesting gravity, but this is the time that riding gives you to tell filthy jokes, or to give unsolicited advice to your friends. Compare, during brief coasts, the sound of your freewheels ticking along. Remark on the cleverness of your suspension, which stiffens in response to your climb. Drink water though you are not yet really thirsty.

Time drags on, a climb lasting forever right until it ends. Silently weep for joy when the top comes into view, but act outwardly as if you expected twice the climb. Do you ride cross-country? Then now is the time not to stop and plunge onwards. Your fitness is admirable.

Freeride you say? Then pause, catch your breath, don your armor, drink a beer. This isn’t a race.

A pregnant moment: To sprint those first turns of the crank arms and plunge off the edge of the road and into the down. I can’t tell you how to do this, it being more a practice of not-doing resistant to instructions.

There are, however, some tips to point you in the right direction. Heed them as you will.


Ten Secrets

1. Ride often, and think as you ride. Consider your technique, review your line through the last berm, and ask yourself whether you really needed the brake. You were just scared, weren’t you?

2. After lengthy practice, stop thinking. Thinking interrupts doing, and this is a practice of doing thrust along by the jetfuel of gravity. There’s no time for philosophy.

3. Don’t ride on the trail, but with the trail. As it dips, so too do you dip, compressing and storing yourself. As again it rises, so too should you rise like an uncoiling spring flying light over rocks and roots. At first, this feels dangerous, but you will discover the higher level of control that results when you relinquish control over the little things. Don’t be afraid to fly, as the air is much smoother than the ground. Be aware of where you land.

4. Ride too fast. This is not driver’s ed– your brakes are not your friends. A bicycle has a miraculous capacity to recover from mishaps at speed. When deflected sideways or bucked about, it will return to alignment provided that you do not try to help it. Have faith. Brakes are used in anticipation, not as a recourse. Find them too quickly or too enthusiastically, and you will find yourself on the ground.

5. Hoot and holler. If climbing uphill is slowly banking the crop of gravity, then this is your spending spree. Like any good tool, the bicycle gives you unimaginable power. Revel in your improbable deeds. Cry out in fear and then laugh when what you feared does not come to pass.

6. Ride new trails, in every sort of soil and across every kind of hill. These experiences are your library, stored for your reference.

7. Also, ride the same trails repeatedly. Hone your technique with familiarity and, once comfortable, discover creativity and express it across new lines or down larger drops. Build comfort where you used to have fear, and find delight in new lines through old terrain. Feel your improvement.

8. Go with friends. Run a train through a line of jumps and laugh when you crash together. Friends give you courage, and show you lines you would never have considered. If they are better riders than you, then bring them beer, as tithe for their knowledge.

9. Do not resent the effort. If you resist it, it will resist you. In those brief climbs between bouts of flying, crank up the RPMs and feel your power. You don’t like riding because it’s easy.

10. Finally, go when you please.  A whole day or a morning spent flying are strong medicine for the modern man. Remember, often, that you are an animal of courage.


When finally you emerge from the forest or the desert onto the road, feel the speed that was just pushing you break like a wave over your slowing body. Breath deeply, slow your heart, shake out your aching hands. We go out, and we come back enlivened. We pay the price in sweat, cuts, and the odd broken bone, but it is a small price for even a moment of that delicious no-time when we disappear into our ride and just execute, smoothly and beautifully.



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Category: Mountain Biking


One comment

  1. at first I thought it was a bit presumptuous of you to write something with this title.

    but now I understand a bit better.

    coffee isn’t mandatory ATMO.

    there’s always time for philosophy, if you make it.

    this is the tool, this is how it works.

    this game is indeed about rhythm. most games are.

    bleeding and limping are small prices to pay for education.

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