Hit the Trails this Fall
Unlike most two-wheeling enthusiasts, the first performance bike I owned was a mountain bike. Many training rides were on the pavement, but it wasn’t until I got my first road bike that I realized how complementary road and mountain biking were, both physically and mentally. The road bike is great for building general fitness, power as well as smooth, fast and efficient pedalling. On the other hand, riding a mountain bike can bring the obvious change in scenery, as well as pedal power, and improved bike handling finesse.
Here are my tips for getting the most out of some complementary mountain bike training:
1. Follow your skilled friends: The best way to improve your technical skills and have more fun is to ride with others who can challenge your current ability. My best riding has been when following a friend’s lines, and not thinking about what I was doing. Following gets you in the “just do it” frame of mind and doesn’t allow room for hesitation or anxiety to get in the way.
2. Leave your heart rate monitor (or other gadgets) at home: While checking your phone in your car is distracted driving, constantly checking your numbers such heart rate, speed and cadence while riding your mountain bike can be akin to distracted riding. Riding trails is often full of short, hard bursts to get up steep hills or up and over obstacles. Of course the more efficient you become at bike handling the less effort you’ll use up and downhill as you relax more into tricky descents. While mountain bike training will bring many benefits like power and bike handling to your road riding, triathletes should think of it as playtime in training, a mental break from the structured training numbers of road riding.
3. Chin up: Like most other sports, your eyes will lead your body and your bike. Look far ahead, to where you want to go, not at what you want to avoid. If your chin is up, you will look farther ahead rather than directly down at the ground. You’ll also keep your speed up, and have much more time to anticipate and adjust for what’s coming up. Mountain biking is all about momentum, so the more you have the better for clearing and rolling smoothly over those rocks and roots.
4. Elbows out: This is my reminder to myself and others I’ve coached on the mountain bike that you need to be in that attack position, constantly ready to adjust your weight over the bike. Visualize a cat getting ready to pounce. When your elbows are out, you are less rigid and better positioned to move forward and back as well as side to side. The ability to “weight” and “unweight” your wheels is a key skill for keeping the wheels turning and maximizing traction.
5. Ride like jelly, flow like a river: Finally, remember to breathe and stay relaxed. While it may seem counterintuitive if you’re anxious about riding something, the more you tense up, the more likely you will bounce off every root or obstacle like a tin can. The more relaxed you can be, the more you will absorb the bumps, react and make necessary, often subtle, adjustments – just like a leaf flowing down a river full of rocks. If you have trouble with this one, try smiling. Even if it feels forced, a smile sends the message to our bodies that we are in a happy place. It always works for me when I ride something in my “this is kind of scary” zone.
Danelle Kabush, PhD loves to ride, run and swim in Victoria. She works with athletes and teams as a certified mental performance consultant.