Getting Past the Beginner Stage: What I’ve Learned About Mountain Biking

Starting in British Columbia this August I started riding my mountain bike a lot more.  In the last three months I’ve had the opportunity to ride in British Columbia, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado.  This variety of experience is great as I move beyond the beginner stage and start to learn the technique I will need to be an intermediate rider.  Of course, riding intermediate level trail also requires fitness and practice.

Sharon's bike on Peavine Trail

My bike on the Peavine Trail (like a rail trail) in Prescott

I have been trying to ride a mountain bike for the last 5 years.  Over most of that time I was focused on the a few simple lessons:

Beginner Lessons:

  1. Momentum is your friend.
  2. Proper form for rolling over rocks and roots.
  3. Look where you want to go, not at the obstacle right in front of you.
Now that those principles are solidly in my mind and body, I’m trying to learn new things to improve my riding and get me through more technical terrain.
sharon on schultz creek trail

One of my earlier and not very successful mountain biking experiences

Moving from Beginner to Intermediate:

Jay and Sharon on Intrepid Trail

Jay and Sharon on Intrepid Trail at Dead Horse Point State Park

  1. Food is a performance enhancing supplement – On the Rainbow Rim Trail in northern Arizona I started to bonk on a long uphill stretch through often loose rocks.  I was getting SO frustrated and thought that I would not be able to make it the full 11 miles.  I sat down in the shade and told Jay to go on alone to the next Canyon overlook.  He could pick me up on the way back.  Well, after eating a snack, drinking some water, and resting in the shade I realized that I had just been getting lightheaded.  I was back on the bike and so excited to meet up with Jay at a beautiful point overlooking the Grand Canyon.
  2. Learning to Failure – One challenge we have on the road is that we often only get to ride each trail once.  While we were in Flagstaff, AZ for a week I decided to get the benefit of repeating a trail and rode Soldiers Trail three days in a row.  I picked up a book on mountain biking and the author recommended “learning to failure” instead of “learning to fail”.  He suggests trying a tough segment a few times in a row, moving on to the next thing if you still aren’t getting it instead of just repeatedly crashing.  If you left yourself crash repeatedly on the same point it builds up as a major obstacle in your mind and can become a permanent road block.
  3. Will your bike through the sand – There are so many different types of trail and trail conditions.  Riding in sand was very new to me until I got to Moab.  We started on the Intrepid Trails at Dead Horse Point State Park and Jay explained that sometimes you just have to will your bike through the sand.  Strange as it sounds, it works.  By looking out ahead, holding momentum, and keeping a steady relaxed grip on the bars you just trudge on through.  Sand is still not my favorite surface to ride on, but it no longer terrifies me.
  4. Spin in a Lower Gear – A multi-day bike trip on the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park was sort of a cross between mountain biking and bicycle touring.  We were covering 25 miles a day and so it was important to keep moving at a decent pace.  I kept getting dropped by Jay’s dad and his friends and finally asked Lisa how I could keep up.  She recommended dropping down a gear and spinning (pedaling at a consistent and quick pace).  This did seem to help and really became important when we hit the epic climb up Shafer’s on the last day (5 miles of uphill switchbacks).
  5. Keep it in a higher gear through the rock garden – Having just come off of the White Rim, I was used to using all of my gears.  When we got to the Magnolia Trails in Nederland, Colorado I was trying to drop to a lower gear in order to keep pedaling through some rocky section with an uphill slope.  This was usually ineffective, I just didn’t have the power to keep the biking moving over the terrain.  Jay reminded me that for most trails I ride and for rock gardens in particular, I want to keep it in the middle chain ring and just use some power to muscle my way through.
Sharon carrying bike on Walker Ranch Loop

Some trail is just not safe for anyone to ride, such as these rock steps along a cliff at Walker Ranch

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2 responses to “Getting Past the Beginner Stage: What I’ve Learned About Mountain Biking

  1. You nailed the basics and even covered my favorite which is have the good sense to get off the bike at times and just walk. Jay mentioned it in a post in Canada where he wisely used good judgement realizing a wipeout where he was would be catastrophic. Injuries happen but some can be avoided with this simple thing.

    • Yea, of course after posting this I fell on my ride today for the first time in awhile! Oh well, it was a fall similar to Terri’s and nothing serious, though I didn’t start laughing.

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