It may seem complicated, but it isn’t really. When riding a mountain bike there are really only a handful of basics you need to learn; and once they become second nature, you will not only feel more confident while riding, but will also be able to go a little (or a lot) faster. Start with this one simple change.
By Joanne Badenhorst
Most feel comfortable while sitting on their saddle during a ride. And of course, you do need to sit to pedal. Everyone needs to sit in order to pedal properly along flats and on uphills. But that’s it. The rest of the time, your saddle is actually in your way.
When is the ‘rest of the time’? When you’re freewheeling, which is usually on a descent. This is when you need to be moving your weight off your saddle, by either unweighting it momentarily, or standing on your pedals for the full descent.
But why? Sitting on your saddle, particularly on descents, makes you more unstable. Think about it like this. What is your body weight? Whatever it is, it is a lot more than your bike’s weight. Most mountain bikes weigh between 10-15kg. So, when you are on your bike, you have a far heavier weight on top of 10-15kg bike.
By sitting on your saddle (usually the highest point of your bicycle), your centre of gravity is chest high, making you very top heavy and unstable. And on a descent, where you can go quite fast, this can be at best, unnerving, forcing you to brake all the way down, at worst, dangerous, since you’re at a higher risk of crashing.
As soon as you unweight your saddle, or stand on your pedals, your centre of gravity drops to between your knee and your ankle, making you more ‘bottom heavy’ with increased stability. A low centre of gravity is better on descents, but you do have to sacrifice your contact point between your backside and your saddle and this can take some practice.
Standing also makes it easy to allow your bike to move around under you, giving you the control over your balance and stability. With ladies that are new to mountain biking, this requires building a little more leg strength and conditioning to standing more.
Standing (with ‘soft’ knees – not locked knees) also makes you use your legs more to absorb bumps; and, for more experienced riders, gives you the option to weight your outside pedal on fast corners, giving you more traction and control.
If standing for a whole descent is too difficult or intimidating, try unweighting your saddle over bumps or ruts first. Practice unweighting your saddle more often until you are eventually standing for full descents.
For anyone getting into mountain biking, we highly recommend doing a couple of skills lessons with an instructor, and even more importantly, practice the skills you learn so that they become second nature every time you ride.
Here is a list of female skills instructors that we can recommend:
Ride Like A Girl (Gauteng)
Tel: 082 893 6704
Cycle Training (Western Cape)
Tel: 076 579 1722
Over The Bars (Western Cape)
(Search for Over The Bars via Facebook)
Daisyway Coaching (Western Cape)
Tel: 082 2200 002
Dirt School (KZN)
Tel: 079 508 7268
Biking in the Bosch (Western Cape)
Sarah Hill (Gauteng)
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