Cycling to work is a great way of staying in shape and saving you a lot of money. It’s also a good way of staying sharp and improving handling skills.
Play the game
Practising your mountain bike skills on the road has to be done with a great deal of consideration for other people. That means waiting for the coast to be clear before demoing your manual or working on your bunnyhop. A lot of drivers will get annoyed if you jump the lights, resulting in riders being treated as wrongdoers, so it’s a good idea to play by the rules. If you do everything right then you have a much better case in the event of things going against you. Filtering to the front of a queue is perfectly legal if the traffic is stationary, but be aware that some drivers will think that you’re racing them. Remember to say thank you when drivers let you out in front of them or give you space. It’s amazing how much difference a quick wave makes to a fellow road user’s mindset.
This is especially useful to get over potholes, up and down kerbs, or for avoiding tramlines. It’s unlikely you’ll have to hop over any rocks or fallen trees, but you never know. Even just being able to unweight your bike so you don’t slam into something is a great advantage here. Remember to start low and drive your body weight away from the ground. You’ll need to hook your feet by driving your trailing foot back into the pedal. This will allow you to make good purchase with your feet and the bike will come with you. If you use panniers then it will take a little practise to work out how to get the extra weight off the ground. It’s still possible but you’ll likely need to move your weight forward and think about driving your trailing foot back on the pedal to clear the obstacle. If you can bunny hop your commuter bike and land it smoothly then an mtb will feel weightless.
Having a short, deliberately executed manual up your sleeve will be a great way of avoiding those slippery surfaces mid-turn. Think metal grates, or pedestrian crossings. A short front wheel lift is enough to avoid your front wheel sliding in the wrong direction and taking you down – especially when it’s wet. If you’re stood up and in your normal mountain biking position this will be a lot easier to access. Remember to shift your weight back so that your front wheel is off the ground as you pass over the slippery bit, and let it return once you’re out of harms way, making sure you snap back to your neutral riding position. Now, when it’s time for a proper mountain bike ride you’ll have practised this so often your movements will be like clockwork.
So many traffic lights. So many opportunities for learning the holy grail of commuting skills. This will pay dividends on the trail because your natural balance on the bike will improve – any slow bits of trail like steep chutes you tip into, or trialsy sections, will feel easier.
To learn the trackstand you’re best finding a road with a slight uphill. Come to a stop with your brakes covered and your normal foot forward. You want to keep your front wheel at an angle and weight on your lead foot with your hub/freehub body engaged. If you feel like you’re about to topple let go of the brakes and let the pressure on the pedal drive you forward a bit. The direction of your front wheel will take you slightly sideways meaning you can regain your balance – same as you normally do when you’re riding only slower. Now the tricky bit. If you need to balance the other way, instead of turning your front wheel and continuing to pedal, take the pressure off the pedal and allow the slope of the hill to drive you backwards. You’ll have to back-pedal ever so slightly to let this happen but with a bit of practise you’ll do it without losing the engagement of your hub.
Mountain biking sucks in our concentration like nothing else, and commuting is a good place to practise that skill and train your brain… it’ll keep you safe too. Try not let your mind wander and instead scan the traffic – pedestrian, wheeled or hoofed – for telltale signs they might stray into your path. It’s almost like a zen state that you need to constantly scan and assess for any potential or developing hazard, just as it is on singletrack. This also extends to behind you, so always look over your shoulder regularly or if you’re about to change road position. Remember, you’re the one that will likely come off worse in the event of a collision, so do everything you can to be seen, predictable and noticed, but pretend like you’re invisible… never assume that you’ll get the space that you often need.