Focusing on the basics

MTB dawn by Andrew Gills
MTB dawn, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

For the month of April, I focused my training on improving my MTB riding skills. It started with me having a shocking race at the iAdventure Sprint in late March, resulting in me buying a new bike the next day. I even bought a magazine called 128 Mountain Biking Tips.

My riding has improved out of sight over the past month. To the extent that I’ve reached a new plateau where I’m finding myself stressing while out riding, trying to force new breakthroughs.

This morning I started out riding a moderately challenging single trail at dawn. I struggled the whole way with my body feeling rigid and my movements jerky. I almost took myself out on a tree and had to walk a few sections due to self-imposed anxiety giving me the shakes.

It’s normal for this to happen when training and working on skills. I’m not the most patient person in the world (actually, that’s an understatement). I want to be good at mountain biking now; not in a year or two after I’ve had some practice.

The trick is to work out the best way forward. For me, thinking of mountain biking as training is a mistake that will stop me progressing. See, I rebel against formal training. I just want to go out an play; give me a routine or set me tasks and I’ll rebel. Even when I am my own taskmaster.

So, at the end of the frustrating single trail, I decided to relax by riding some fire trail. As I rode, I recognised that one of my biggest mountain biking mistakes is that I tend to look just in front of my wheel. This means I am constantly reacting, rather than establishing plans that can be more easily executed.

As I cruised the fire trails and a lovely easy flowing single track, I simply worked on keeping my head up to look at the trail ahead. It will take me some time to perfect this seemingly easy skill. I keep worrying about what’s under my wheels, fearful that I will get tangled up in something like loose sand or obstacles.

But, this month, rather than focus on my technical performance on the bike, I want to just enjoy some easy trails to build confidence and practice this whole looking ahead up the trail thing. Besides, now that I’ve signed up for the Brisbane Marathon, my focus discipline for May will be running; the rest of my outdoor activities can just be done for fun.


  • 15.7km MTB
  • 12.9km cycle commute (this morning)
  • 15km cycle commute(tonight)

9 responses to “Focusing on the basics

  1. Once I learnt to look ahead and keep loose my riding improved loads. Anticipation of what’s coming is better than reacting to what’s happening.

    I am pushing my skills and now trying to do those on my 29er as I fell that next year my 26″ full sus bike may be traded for a bigger wheeled machine…

    • I think that’s what I need to do – look ahead and keep loose. I am quite tense on the MTB when I’m riding single trails; it doesn’t come naturally to me and I don’t really have anyone to learn from (my sister aka team mate is also a beginner).

      Ooh … new bike. That’s something to look forward to šŸ™‚

  2. When I go out with my friend’s 11 year old it’s the thing I saw most often: ‘look up!’ šŸ™‚

    The thing I ask myself most often is ‘am I going too slowly?’ I do find myself losing momentum and almost wobbling over on tricky downhill bits – taking fingers off the brakes is the solution then.

    • That’s something I do too – ride too slowly. I am scared to go fast. I don’t even really like going fast on my road bike.

      I used to fly around as fast as possible a few years ago but the 5-6 years off the bike seem to have really affected my confidence. Though I also think I might need to get my ears checked because I have noticed my balance isn’t what it used to be (also not on my motorbike)

  3. Please be careful out there. There are plenty of us out here that do NOT want you to get hurt because you pushed to hard!

    • Don’t worry Robinson šŸ™‚ I ride like a nanna and can’t see myself ever pushing too hard. I am thinking about heading out with knee and elbow pads for some of my training rides where I feel like I might test myself a little. At least they should help reduce some impact.

      I have no intention of being out of action again like last year. šŸ˜‰

  4. Hey Andrew, check out a book called Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes, I just recently purchased a copy and it is very good, and straight forward in explaining the various skills etc. You might find it useful to break through your plateau. – Simone

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