The 3 Most Important Things You Need To Know As A Beginner Mountain Biker
By Amy Hopkins; Photography by Bernard Bravenboer
What you need to know before you get on the saddle.
“Boobs to bar!” shouts Joanna Dobinson. Clad in Specialized gear and a bright-turquoise helmet with a blonde ponytail sticking out, Jo is a passionate pocket rocket who’s not about to let us take her for a ride… We pedal up and down the soft (read: difficult to gain speed over) grass at in Stellenbosch, while Jo teaches us how to master the ‘Attack Position’.
When I first decided to enter the world of off-road cycling, I didn’t realise how tricky and dangerous it could be. Every downhill, corner, uphill, root and rock suddenly became an obstacle. The truth is, I had no idea how to corner properly, how to maintain my balance and how to use the bike as if it’s an extension of my body. Instead, I was spending so much time concentrating on gears and brakes that I wasn’t looking ahead of me, examining the terrain, navigating the slippery stones – and all of this can lead to falling. Badly. Like any new sport – adventure or otherwise – you shouldn’t just start without a little training. Jo owns mountain-biking training company, and has over 20 years experience. She was a junior champ herself and now works with South Africa’s top female mountain bikers, as well as absolute beginners, like me. Here are the three most important things she taught me from our first meeting – and I’ll use them for the rest of my life.
1/ Speed Is Your Friend!
Say this to the girl who inches downhill, hoping with every breath and squeeze of her brakes not to topple over. But Jo got me to change my perspective on this. “You need to use your momentum,” she says. Keeping the bike moving means you’re less likely to fall over, whereas going extra slowly requires more bike control.
2/ Look ahead!
I’m totally guilty of looking directly below my wheels – par for the course when you’ve been going to slowly and are scared AF of falling. But, once you’re using momentum you need to look further ahead. Plus, this way you’ll know what’s coming. Duh, right? The other things is that lifting your head and chest makes for better posture and balance on the bike. “Imagine a spotlight is shining out of your chest and is aiming four metres ahead,” says Jo. When you’re going downhill, start looking 12 to 30 metres ahead of you, depending on how steep the hill is.
3/ Get Into Attack Position!
This position will be your arse-saving grace. It allows you navigate any downhill course with optimum balance and control. Here’s how to get into attack position: Lift your butt off your seat; make sure your feet are balanced equally with the ankles dipping slightly downwards on either side; keep your knees slightly bent; ‘boobs to bar!’ – make sure you bring your chest forward; stick your elbows out to the sides; keep one to two fingers over each brake for ‘feathering’ (lightly tapping); look ahead and go!
Do not: squeeze your knees together.
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