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MTB

Ask the Expert: 4 Essential MTB Skills

Learn the foundation skills to get you up and over any obstacle on the trail

There’s no feeling quite like conquering a feature, or learning a new skill. Progress is truly addictive, especially in mountain biking.

Watching the professionals sailing over rocks, soaring over gaps and tackling some of the steepest and gnarlist tracks just looks so easy.

Martha mtb snow jump

However, like with all hobbies and skills, you need to learn to pedal before you can gap jump, so we go back to basics for a little refresher course in mountain bike essential skills.

Expert: Cheri Mills

Cheri coaching womens mtb

We met up with mountain bike coach and guide, Cheri Mills, at Llandegla’s top trail centre, Oneplanet Adventure.

With over 20 years of multi-discipline cycling, and finding her home on the forest trails, Cheri decided it was time to share her expertise and help encourage the growth of female riders.

Cheri explains how she became a mountain bike coach: “I’m a big social rider, and I enjoy cycling in groups. I would often find myself helping out friends and offering tops that could improve their riding. It feels so rewarding to help others progress and celebrate that success with them.”

We took Cheri out to the skills park to brush up on the basics: manuals, rear wheel lifts and bunny hops. These essential skills can get you through anything.

Manuals

Front Wheel 01

Manuals are usually the first thing you begin practising and messing around with in car parks. It’s the movement of picking up the front end of your bike, but why is this an essential skill?

Skills every MTBer should know

Learning to manual is the first motion executed in a bunny hop, and the same motion required for drop-off’s as well. Manuals come in handy for puddles, ditches and even roots. By lifting the front wheel slightly, it enables a smoother roll over obstacles and reduces the impact taken by you and the bike.

How to manual:

  • Centre yourself on the bike, standing high with pedals level. *All your movement is in the hips, so keep them in line with the seatpost on approach*
  • Drop your hips down towards the saddle
  • Drop your heels and slide your weight off the back of the saddle in one explosive movement
  • Your hips should be far back enough to be roughly in line with your rear hub
  • If successful, your front wheel should lift with your movement.
  • Remember to cover the back brake at all times. Gentle pull to drop back forward
  • The correct position should be extended arms, and bent legs with you bum back over the rear wheel
  • Cover the back brake at all times

It may take a lot of tries to even get a couple of inches off the ground, but more practise will see higher and longer results.

The whole movement is explosive and exaggerated: Drop the hips down – Drop the heels – slide your bum off the back of the saddle. Your bum effectively draws an “L” shape motion.

Rear Wheel Lift

Back Wheel lift

A back wheel lift is what connects with the manual to create a bunny hop movement.

Essentially, it’s the opposite of the manual in action and movement. This is useful on the trail to get up and over little features and helps with recovery from slide outs also.

How to lift your back wheel:

  • Centre yourself on the bike, standing high with pedals level. *All your movement is in the hips, so keep them in line with the seatpost on approach*
  • In a sharp motion, thrust your hips upwards and forwards towards your stem
  • Dip your toes down and scoop your feet up, picking up the pedals
  • With this motion, your rear wheel should lift with you
  • Remember to NOT touch your front brake

Having practiced the movement of a manual and rear wheel lift separately, it’s now time to try and combine them into a Bunny Hop.

Bunny Hop

bunny hop

The bunny hop is a classic skill that comes in handy for a variety of reasons. Hoping up curbs, overcoming obstacles and even getting some air on those jumps. The bunny hop is key for unlocking a lot more fun in mountain biking.

Once you’ve gotten to grips with lifting both front and back wheels, it’s a matter of linking them together:

  • Centre yourself on the bike, standing high with pedals level. *All your movement is in the hips, so keep them in line with the seatpost on approach*
  • Drop your hips, drop your heels, and push your bum off the back of the saddle to lift the front wheel
  • When the front wheel is at its highest point, shift weight through the hips towards the stem, scooping the pedals an lifting the rear wheel
  • The front wheel should land first, followed by the back

It’s an easy skill to do, but a difficult one to learn because there’s a lot of little things to remember in quick succession. It’s best to practice on flat ground with a smooth surface and keep going until you begin to get to grips with it.

Drop-Off’s

Drop

These skills are crucial for improving your riding ability and furthering your progression because they can be translated to overcome any trail feature.

What’s hindering your progression?

Dropping off a rock, bridge or trail can be a little daunting, especially when you feel you’ll go over the bars. The key for drop-off’s is learning the manual successfully, and maintaining a decent speed throughout.

Timing is important. When your front wheel reaches the edge of the drop, explode your manual, pushing the bike out in front so that both wheels can land at the same time.

Additional Tips

Practice really does make permanent when it comes to learning new skills on the bike. To help yourself improve, consider placing a stick or obstacle on the ground to give yourself a target. Add more sticks as you get higher, or as you are able to manual for longer.

Speed is your friend, contrary to how it sounds. The faster you ride, the easier it is to manual and bunny hop. Your technique may suffer, but the effect still works. When you’re riding slowly, you have to overcompensate those explosive movements with a lot of exaggeration.

There’s nothing like learning new tricks and progressing your riding, but it isn’t easy and it wont come overnight.

The great thing about these essential skills is that they can be done anywhere: the street, your garden, car park and on the trails. So get out, give it a go and get shredding like a pro.

You may also enjoy:

How to: Ride Rock Gardens with Confidence

How to: Conquer your trail obstacles

 

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