Mountain bikes are different animals. They require more strength than road bikes and a bit more agility to operate on rough or steep terrain. You can be as tough as any mountain bike by practicing a few simple drills to familiarize yourself with this beast. It's just a matter of regularly practiced routines, pushing yourself gradually to do better each time.
Intervals are short bursts of speed repeated over and over. This type of drill enhances lung and muscle capacity. Start out by warming up gradually, just pedaling your bike normally for about 10 minutes. Your intervals can be of any duration that you feel comfortable with, but start out hard, pedaling as fast as you can for one minute at the highest intensity you can maintain without getting light-headed. Let off and rest for one minute while pedaling to catch your breath. Repeat hitting it hard again for one minute, and then rest for one minute while pedaling. If you're up to it, keep repeating the phases for 10 minutes. If you feel sick or light-headed at any time, back off and rest.
Long slow hills create power. Short steep hills create speed. Find some hills near your home if possible that meet this criteria. Don't ride too far to find them though, because if you overdo it, you'll have to ride back home exhausted, or worst case scenario, hitch a ride back home. Choose your hill and then climb it at a moderate pace while timing your ascent. Don't rush it. Try to maintain a constant speed as you climb. If you blow up at the top, you've climbed too fast. For example; if you can't speak legibly when you've reached the top, you went too fast. Back off and find the range you're comfortable with. Vary your hills. Don't stay with the short hills, mix it up with the steeper hills. Always time the ascent if possible, use the timer on your bike computer. If you're up to it, climb the hill several times. Write down your best timed effort. Return to the same hills and try to beat previous efforts.
Mountain bike handling is often referred to as a technical skill. It's because you're constantly weaving in and out of ruts, rocks, tree limbs or compressions. This is one of the most important skills you need to learn when riding mountain bikes. Locate an area that has some or all of the obstacles. It's best if it has a slight downhill slope to it. Choose a trail that's only a few hundred yards long so you can climb back up. Put your bike in the middle position on both front and rear gears. Roll up to the start. You should have two fingers on the brake lever at all times. Remember this rule to keep it straight: two up and two down. When you apply the brakes, don't use your left hand excessively, it's for your front brake and can cause you to loose control when your front tire slides. Practice braking and leaning your bike, using your body weight to turn the bike while keeping your eyes on the trail ahead of you. Repeat the drill over and over again until you're comfortable at increasingly higher speeds.
One of the most overlooked of all mountain bike skills is learning how your pedals work. Most mountain bikes have clipless pedals. They have a special clip that locks onto a cleat on the bottom of a special shoe. This set-up is highly recommended because it gives you superior handling and increases your power and endurance by positioning your foot perfectly over the pedal axle. Unfortunately for beginners, they can also make you crash when you forget about them and roll to a stop. Get on your bike with your special shoes. It will might take a few moments, but practice pushing your foot down until you feel the shoe click into the pedal. Flick or twist your foot sideways to feel it release and listen for the click. Click it in and out while standing still. When you're confident you understand how it works, begin riding at a slow pace and continue clicking in and out of the pedals on both sides. Do this drill regularly until it becomes second nature.
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