The first step to increasing speed is improving your bike skills. Whether it’s climbing or descending, refining your balance, precision, and control will make you faster and more efficient.
Practicing balance will improve your ability to negotiate technical ascents and descents, as well as enhance your overall bike control and handling skills, ultimately making you a better rider.
Balance is a skill that doesn’t require you to be on the trail to practice. Practicing in your garage or driveway is a great place to learn and refine your skills. Start by practicing with flat pedals, or tennis shoes on your clipless pedals, because at first, it can be a steep learning curve. It is best to start next to a curb so that you can turn your front tire into the curb. This well help you get the feeling of making small weight adjustments through the pedals.
2. Wheelies and manuals
Climbs often feature obstacles such as roots, rocks, and trees. Rather than going around the obstacles, or even worse, walking your bike up them, a small wheelie will often do the trick. Start by putting power down with your dominant foot, while simultaneously shifting your hips back. You’ll want to start your wheelie about a foot or foot and a half before the obstacle and focus your eyes on top of the obstacle. Maintain your momentum as the front wheel clears the obstacle and allow the rear wheel to track up.
This same concept can be applied to descents. Lift the front wheel by moving your knees forward and then snapping them back and shifting your weight to the rear of the bike. In this case you’ll start your manual about 4 or 5’ ahead of the obstacle and keep your weight over the rear wheel as it hits the obstacle, this will prevent the bike from bucking you over the bars.
3. Negotiating rock gardens
Rock gardens vary in style and difficulty, but the technique remains the same. After selecting a line that you’re comfortable with, you’ll want to get your body in an attack positions on the bike. Squat down and shift your weight towards the rear of the bike. Keep your elbows up, grip firmly on the handlebars, but keep the rest of your body loose to allow the bike to move underneath you. Start slow to learn how the bike reacts and as you become more comfortable, you can increase your speed and start to skim through the rocks.
4. Nose wheelies
My personal favorite move is the nose wheelie. This move requires a lot of practice before you can effectively apply it on the trail. Begin by rolling at a low speed and compressing your rear suspension. As the suspension rebounds, shift your weight forward by dipping your knees into the front of the bike while gently applying the front brake. Keep your elbows slightly bent and put pressure on the bars. Start small, too much front brake can also cause the front wheel to slide or even worse, throw you over the bars. Once you become comfortable with this move, you can move the rear wheel left or right to help you get around tight switchbacks.
When used properly on the trail, these skills can help you ride faster and more controlled.