Beginner’s guide to mountain biking, part 6

Psychological and physical preparation

In part 5 of this guide, our novice mountain biker Ruth passed on some of the tips she learned during a CTC skills course at Aston Hill Bike Park in Buckinghamshire. This week she looks at the second two levels of the ‘Why to’ method psychological and physical and the concept of energy management.


Once we’d checked everything was set up comfortably we then moved onto the ‘psychological level’. Here Ian introduced the concept of the ‘four Cs’ – control, commitment, concentration and confidence. 

Without these, you’ll be psychologically unprepared for mountain biking. You’ll question your own abilities, and this will stop you from riding sections which are actually within your capabilities.

We’ve already covered ‘control‘, which means adjusting your bike so that it feels comfortable to ride and is easier to manage. Next we looked at ‘concentration‘ and how it can be helpful to mentally prepare yourself before you set off on any ride.  

Whether this is done by putting your gloves on, adjusting your riding glasses, taking a deep breath and relaxing on the bike, or simply saying in your mind, “Let’s ride!”, any of these psychological triggers can help you to get in the right frame of mind. This will help you go out and enjoy your ride fully.

With control and concentration covered, you’re now ready to ride. Next is the ‘commitment‘ stage; this is a difficult ‘C’ to master. Ian suggested that visualisation can be helpful.

Imagine you can see your route on a massive screen, blown up in high definition with surround sound. Next begin to visualise yourself riding round the trail and successfully tackling every obstacle you come across. Commit to your ride on the screen, and you should find it easier to commit to your ride in reality.

Confidence‘ is the last of the ‘four Cs’ and builds naturally from achieving the first three, along with learning new skills. To gain confidence, we moved onto the physical level of the ‘Why to’ method.

Beginner's guide to mountain biking, part 6
Beginner’s guide to mountain biking, part 6: beginner’s guide to mountain biking, part 6
Ruth Schofield/BikeRadar

Ian told me that when you approach any section of a trail you need to think about the following performance points:

1 Body position

Ask yourself: Is your saddle at a height which is comfortable for you to tackle obstacles? Are you relaxed on the bike with your breathing steady? Are you in the ‘ready position’, with your knees, elbows and wrists bent, and hands covering both brakes evenly?

You can also think about using your hips to balance the bike. Twisting them in the direction you want to go will help you to ride round corners. Imagine you have an eye in your belly button that needs to look round the corner. If you twist your body enough to allow this, the bike will follow.

2 Footwork

Think about your feet. If you’re going round a corner, make sure you put your outside pedal down to give you extra balance and drive. This will also ensure that your inside pedal is up and therefore less likely to catch on any obstacles on the inside of the corner.

3 Looking

Are you looking ahead on the trail to the nearest high point within your line of sight? This will help to carry you forwards to that point. As you approach it, you can start looking for your next high point.

Beginner's guide to mountain biking, part 6
Beginner’s guide to mountain biking, part 6: beginner’s guide to mountain biking, part 6
Ruth Schofield/BikeRadar

4 Speed Control

Think about the speed at which you’re approaching the trail ahead of you. As a beginner don’t be afraid to use what is known as ‘comfort braking’. This is where you lightly dab the brakes to adjust your speed. In time you’ll begin to find the correct speed for you and will need to ‘comfort brake’ less and less.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learnt on the course was energy management. This is all about making the most of any energy you expend and gaining extra momentum from the trail itself. The most obvious examples of this are the pumping technique we covered last week, and downhill sections, where gravity gives you a helping hand.

Once you begin to think about energy flow, trail obstacle seem far less threatening. You’re no longer thinking about how steep a downhill is and how difficult it’s going to be to control the bike; instead you’re thinking how much speed it’s going to give you to boost you up the following hill.

Having looked over all of these basic points, Ian suggested practising these techniques on a weekly ride. He explained that they’re not just for beginners but are used by elite racers too – it’s just that they’ve had a lot more time in the saddle to practise them. Riding time and experience is therefore something that I’m determined to build on ready for my next skills course.

Beginner's guide to mountain biking, part 6
Beginner’s guide to mountain biking, part 6: beginner’s guide to mountain biking, part 6
Ruth Schofield/BikeRadar

About the author

The staff of BikeRadar, Mountain Biking UK and What Mountain Bike  have vast amounts of knowledge on mountain biking and I’m always left wondering how these guys are so clued-up. Where did they start?

As a complete novice, I had very little idea of what I needed to start riding, or even where I could go to learn how to ride. So I decided it was time to get knowledgeable.

For this series I’ll be riding and writing from a complete beginner’s point of view. I’ll visit a variety of locations and take part in skills courses, and then tell you honestly what I’ve learnt.


Follow me through the series and by the end I’ll be aiming to take on the massive challenge of riding down Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. This will be the ultimate test of the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired, and it’ll prove that mountain biking isn’t just for the elites!