Written for 303cycling By Amanda Wilks
If you are new to the world of mountain biking, you are likely eager to start mastering the MTB skills you need to eventually compete. As you work to build a base before you move on to more specialized training, there are a few skills you can master right away. These skills – the manual, the steep descent, and the stoppie – are vital for ant MTB enthusiast to know, and they are crucial to success in any race. By working on them now, you can help to ensure that, by the time you reach the racing scene, each one will be second nature.
Mastering the Manual Technique
The manual – when your bike rolls on just the back wheel – is an essential skill for any recreational or competitive MTB enthusiast. While a manual is a great way to impress people, it has important applications on the trail and the race course. If you’re on a trail with deep ruts and want to keep your front wheel from tracking in those ruts, a manual can let you continue riding at a high speed while also avoiding potential balance issues.
Before you jump into learning the manual, it’s a good idea to practice wheelies, since a wheelie is essentially a short manual. When you do start working on the manual, it’s important to think about centering your body over the back wheel. You’ll need to use your weight to pull up the front end of the bike while pulling slightly on the rear brake if needed. Then, you can keep the front wheel in the air by keeping your weight toward the back of the bike.
While watching can be helpful, one of the best ways to master this and other MTB skills is by practicing. While you will probably need to put a lot of thought into your initial practice sessions, you will eventually need to perform manuals and other skills with only a split-second notice, especially of you’re navigating steep descents (which we’ll cover in a moment).
One useful piece of advice for mastering the manual and other skills comes from profession mountain biker Becky Gardner. Gardner’s suggestion to all riders is to “ride the things you’re bad at.” While it can be discouraging to keep repeating a skill that’s difficult for you, practicing that skill is what will ultimately make you a successful MTB rider. Of course, while mastering skills, it’s also important to build endurance, but you don’t always have to be on the trail to do so. You can do this from the comfort of home while on a high-performing trainer.
Mastering the Stoppie
The stoppie is another of the mountain bike skills you’ll need for eventual racing. This is also sometimes called a rolling endo. In a sense, it’s the opposite of a manual in the sense that you’re making the bike roll on its front wheel instead of the rear wheel. Like the manual, the stoppie takes practice to master. Once you master it, the stoppie can help you navigate fast-paced switchbacks.
When performing a stoppie, one of the greatest challenges is figuring out how much pressure to apply to the front brake. Applying too much pressure too suddenly can result in the rider going over the handlebars, while too little pressure won’t result in a stoppie at all. You also want to get your
weight forward on the bike, since this will allow the rear wheel to get off the ground. Your first attempts may be short, but as you get more comfortable, you’ll be able to keep the rear wheel off the ground for longer periods of time.
Mastering Steep Descents
While most beginning MTB riders will start out on flat or near-flat surfaces, every rider needs to eventually master the art of the steep descent.
It may be easy enough to decide when to manual, stoppie, or bunny hop when you’re on a flat course, but on a steep descent, everything comes up much faster. As with any other skill, one of the best ways to master the steep descent is simply to practice riding different steep descents. It helps to already be very good at skills like manuals, stoppies, and switchbacks, since instantly knowing which skill to use will help you on any steep descent.
While your exact technique and the skills you use will vary depending on the descent you’re riding, BetterRide head coach Andy Winorhadsky offers good general advice. He suggests staying centered at all times, keeping your weight on your feet. This can help keep the bike steady, and when you’re in a centered position, you’ll be less likely to come off the bike if you hit a bump.
While mastering MTB skills can take time and dedication, being able to execute these skills as soon as they’re needed on a trail or a race course is something that can get you ahead of the competition. Be patient with yourself, watch demonstrations, and seek out a coach if needed, and you should be navigating tough courses with ease in no time.