As restrictions start to lift we're all looking forward to being able to ride our bikes a little further from our homes and visit some of our favourite riding spots once again.
If not, no bother, over the next few months we’re going to look at how to get back out on your bike safely, and back up to speed with confidence. We’ll cover a few basics, and give you some larger goals to help you feel like you can get back into your groove as quickly as possible. With any luck you can continue to make progress and tick off a few new experiences along the way and 2021 can be your best year’s riding yet.
We’ve all missed the social side of mountain biking. Riding on your own can be liberating, or even good if you just want to get away from it all, but nothing beats pulling up at the bottom of a trail with a group of good mates and comparing your runs with smiles on your faces. Try and ride with other people for your next few rides. Even make an effort to chat to other riders on the trail. We’ve all been through this last year together, even if from your own perspective it seems like you’ve been somewhat isolated. A friendly chat with a like-minded soul out in the hills might brighten up both of your days.
The first couple of times you head back out on your bike you’re going to be a little out of practice. Staying positive is going to depend on you acknowledging this before you even start your ride, and admitting that you’re not going to be able to just pick up where you left off last year. Don’t head back out and expect to be able to hit all your usual lines. Some of the trails will have changed over winter and you are very unlikely to come back with a bunch of PRs on the climbs. Instead, focus on smaller, safer loops, and execute them well. That way you can complete each ride feeling like you’ve achieved something rather than flogging yourself or getting arm-pump on your first descent. Safer trails that will get you round in one piece might be a better idea than the hardest trails in the area.
In order to get back into the swing of things, try focusing on good form and neat lines. You’re probably going to hurt the following day, regardless of what you do, so the first weekend you head out, one of your goals should be to take it easy. You’re trying to limit the amount of damage you inflict on your de-conditioned body. Even just a few consistent weekends of riding in the hills will give you a base to build on for the better weather that we are undoubtedly going to get this summer.
Take it right back to basics and remind yourself how to stand on the bike, and how to get into that neutral body position
to descend the trails. The aim is to spread your weight like a long shadow over the whole bike. Focus on keeping your legs straight and heels down between trail features, this allows you to rest on your skeleton instead of doing all the work with your muscles, saving your energy for when you need it. Up front, your elbows are nice and bent and your head is up ready for the trail ahead. The key is to keep your body position in check as you’re riding. That’s especially true as you get tired as you might catch yourself sitting up and backing away – if so, put yourself back into that neutral body position to save your energy for longer descents.
Whether it’s the technicality of a trail, or the overall distance you’re planning for your next adventure, go easy on yourself. The important thing here is that you allow for some wiggle room. A lot of trails will have changed over winter. Lines will be different and there might be wear and tear on the trail where you don’t expect it. Go steady. Whether the unexpected setback takes the form of tired legs, a crash on some new exposed roots, or even a mechanical out on the hill because you haven’t lubed your chain for months, you’ll be glad that you left a little room for manoeuvre.
The approach to new and unfamiliar drops can sometimes be daunting. It’s all about building confidence and neutralising these drops with this slow-speed skill. After looking at your drop, roll in slow and check your body position on the approach. You want to get nice and close to your bars – this will allow just your arms to extend and your front wheel to essentially fill the hole. After your back wheel has cleared the drop, make sure you return to that neutral body position ready for the next trail feature. This slow-speed skill smooths out the trail, feels neutral and builds confidence as you get used to your bike moving around underneath you.
One of the best trail features to get you back into good habits has to be jumps. Riding them correctly requires you to focus on using your legs to consistently drive your weight back against the feature with a strong balanced push. Do this correctly and you’ll ground your momentum in such a way that as you are released from the top of the jump you are already locked into a consistent trajectory. It’s a control mechanism that allows you to not only scale up your jumping, but will allow you to carry speed in corners.
What is push?
The term pushing into a corner, or pushing away from a jump, is a misleading one. It often comes across as if you have to make a sudden explosion of energy to propel yourself away from the feature. In reality, it’s more about balancing the force acting against you. This equalising of force often looks like nothing is happening from the outside, but the tyre noise that doing this properly creates, is the giveaway.
As you start to feel more confident you may want to take on slightly bigger jumps. Remember that as you scale up the feature, you need to slow down the movement. You’re trying to deliver the same balanced drive that was explained previously, but apply it over a longer distance. This means, instead of coming in faster, or pushing more aggressively, you need to slow your timing down so that your effort lasts the whole way through the feature. Right off the top, your legs should be straight in the air and you should feel like all of your effort went into driving away from the ground.
A berm is just a jump turned on its side. The same forces are in play and you need to use that all-important push. If there is no push you’ll feel like you are getting sucked into the corner and your body position will collapse as the berm pushes against you. Instead, approach the corner nice and close to the bike, this allows for the full range of movement as you straighten your legs and push all the way round the berm. It’s not a quick movement, it’s a long, slow push with your legs the whole way round the berm as it pushes back. You should hear a tyre grip noise – brrrrrrrup – and pick up free speed as you exit the berm.
Remember that if this is the first time you’ve been out for a while, you will need to be patient. You’ll only be able to make progress this year if you stay positive and look for steady improvement. Initially, focus on reminding yourself why you enjoy riding. Have some fun. Get used to your bike again and let your body settle in its own time.
If you’re riding with a few friends that you haven’t seen in a while, or even if you’re out for the first time in weeks and you fancy taking it easier than normal, then why not pack a wee surprise that your buddies and you can enjoy at the summit. Pouring a sly cuppa, or pulling out an unexpected slice of homemade cake could be the perfect way to let your mates know you’ve missed them too. You never know, you might start a trend.issed you” like coffee and cake.