– TIPS FROM THE MASTER

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents - WORDS AND PHOTOS: MIKE BLE­WITT

AMB edi­tor Mike Ble­witt fi­nally con­cedes he doesn’t know ev­ery­thing about rid­ing and learns just how valu­able MTB skills cour­ses can be.

As a 36-year-old Aus­tralian male moun­tain biker, it takes a lot for me to ad­mit that I don’t, in fact, know ev­ery­thing there is to know about moun­tain bikes and how to ride them fast and ef­fi­ciently. And of­ten I’m re­minded at my lo­cal moun­tain bike park that sim­i­larly aged rid­ers aren’t the ex­perts that we’d like to think we are.

Thank­fully, the growth in moun­tain bik­ing means growth in skills cour­ses too. Sea­soned moun­tain bik­ers, or those new to the sport, can fine tune their skills or learn the ba­sics with­out be­ing left to fig­ure it out alone (and prob­a­bly do­ing it the wrong way for too long in the process).

Dy­lan Cooper, of Ride Tech­nics, has de­liv­ered skills tu­ition to new and ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers alike for over 12 years. With a his­tory of rac­ing go­ing back to the mid 1990s in down­hill, cross-coun­try and now en­duro, Cooper has amassed a wealth of knowl­edge on what the most es­sen­tial skills are for moun­tain bik­ing – no mat­ter your cho­sen dis­ci­pline.

On a re­cent visit to Can­berra and Cooper’s lo­cal haunt Mt Stromlo, we took in a lap of the trails so I could glean

some tips from the master. While we worked on some finer points, I came up with my own mes­sages to work on for home­work.

DON’T FOL­LOW THE MASSES

It’s too easy to fol­low the well-worn line on popular trails, but Cooper en­cour­ages you to look beyond what ev­ery­one is rid­ing, to what lines are faster, and of­ten safer and more ef­fi­cient.

READ, DON’T RE­ACT

Look­ing up the trail is an es­sen­tial skill, and some­thing Dy­lan makes rid­ers prac­tice – since each trail fea­ture af­fects the next. You should be look­ing ahead beyond the im­me­di­ate ob­sta­cles, so you’re link­ing your lines to­gether, and not just re­act­ing to what’s di­rectly in front of your front wheel.

RIDE THE DIRTY LINE

My fo­cus is cross-coun­try and marathon rac­ing, and as we ride Cooper points out the im­por­tance of chang­ing your lines and be­ing open to new ones as con­di­tions change. A big thing here is find­ing trac­tion within the bounds of the course tape – and some­times that means get­ting fur­ther onto the edge to where your tyres will dig in. It might not be as clean – but it can give you more space to work with to main­tain speed and con­trol.

LIGHT HANDS

Look around on the trails and you’ll see a lot of peo­ple grip­ping the bars hard, look­ing su­per stern and prob­a­bly not go­ing that fast. Then you’ll see some­one cool as a cucumber, go­ing ef­fort­lessly at su­per-speed. Some­times the dif­fer­ence is how they’re us­ing their body. Our lower body is the strong­est con­nec­tion to the bike we have, and keep­ing pres­sure down through the pedals to push the bike with our legs and hips through cor­ners does a far bet­ter job of get­ting caught over the front of the bike too much and us­ing a death grip.

PUMP AND JUMP

One of the big things Cooper has me do­ing is find­ing straighter lines in the trail. This isn’t cut­ting through cor­ners, but pump­ing over fea­tures and jump­ing other small ones to save the ef­fort of turn­ing and the need to find speed from the pedals. It main­tains mo­men­tum and trac­tion, plus the ac­tion of pump­ing down a slope can even get you some free speed. It also of­ten lines you up bet­ter for the next fea­ture.

PRES­SURE IS EV­ERY­THING

If you’re go­ing to push your bike harder, setup is cru­cial. Get­ting the right tyre and sus­pen­sion pres­sure to suit your rid­ing and the trail con­di­tions makes a big dif­fer­ence. I know how to use a dig­i­tal pres­sure guage for my sus­pen­sion and tyres to make sure I’m spot on for the trails I’m rid­ing. And these pres­sures also change as your tech­nique im­proves.

CHOOSE A BIG­GER GEAR

While Cooper doesn’t sug­gest mash­ing the pedals, we of­ten end up rid­ing too light a gear which means we can’t get the plat­form we need to loft the front wheel or re­ally kick out of a cor­ner when we need to. A slightly more solid gear has you mov­ing bet­ter over ob­sta­cles as you have bet­ter feed­back from the pedals and more torque go­ing through the bike - there­fore more speed, sta­bil­ity and con­trol. I have plenty to work on, but Cooper had me hit­ting well-known fea­tures faster than ever, and with more con­fi­dence. If you feel like your rid­ing has plateaued, or you just want to learn how to do things the right way, get­ting some pro­fes­sional skills tu­ition is highly rec­om­mended.

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