You’re never too old to learn! While it may be easier to learn new things when you are young, it doesn’t mean we can’t still progress when we are older. I’ve been mountain biking for about 20 years now, and I am still improving my capabilities and learning new things. For most of my mountain biking life, I’ve simply been a trail rider; I love just riding through the woods. Most features, like log-overs, short steeps, small to medium drops, roots, sharp climbs and the like, I have gotten pretty decent at over the years. I went from being terrified of 4″ logs when new to the sport to now I can hop over 18-24″ logs without too much trouble.
But there are still some things I’ve never been able to do that I would like to master. One is the basic wheelie. I’ve only ever been able to manage a short power-wheelie: that is when you can keep the front wheel up only while accelerating. I can’t just get to the balance point and ride it for long distances. I’ve also wanted to get better at some trials moves, like hopping on the rear wheel or hopping the bike about to turn or get over an obstacle. And I love skinnies, so I built a few to get better on those. Finally, I want to get better and more confident on dirt jumps. So I’ve been working on these, slowly getting better. I’ve started calling this year the “Year of the Wheelie.” I plan to be able to ride a decent wheelie at the balance point by the end of the year.
Here’s a short vid working on rear wheel hops.
I don’t plan a tutorial on these maneuvers, but here are a couple tips I’ve learned along the way. 1. Train to Failure, not to Fail. This I learned way back from William Nealy who wrote a great introductory book to mountain biking called Mountain Bike! Anyway, training to failure means practice only until you are tired or find yourself not progressing, then try something else or try again another time. Don’t keep going at it the same way until you get hurt or completely frustrated. For example, I was working on the new jump line at Cacapon. I struggle on keeping speed through the berm after the first jump. So I was working on that. I tried numerous times of jumping the first then trying to keep my speed to hit the second. Well, after 15-20 attempts, it became clear it wasn’t working, I kept finding myself braking in the berm. So I changed gears: I started with rolling the first jump slowly and taking the berm at a low speed on purpose such that there would be no temptation to hit the brakes. And just kept rolling faster and faster. I found it helped a lot. Once I can get through it fast without braking, then I will link the first jump and berm together so I can move on to the second jump.
I’ve also found it is good when you are working on something new to do something you know you are good at afterward, so that you leave the session on a high note. Some of the things I’m working on I know are going to take many, many sessions. But it makes it more fun and a better memory if I end the session by doing something I’m good at. So, like in the above example, after working on the jumps, I did the last run down the drop line, because I enjoy the drops and have no trouble with them.
And, of course, being willing to try again after you don’t succeed; get back on the horse and give it another go! This was a rather easy little jump to skinny, but I didn’t quite get it right the first time, lol.
Learning new skills is not always easy, but it makes the sport of mountain biking so enjoyable. As you learn new skills, it opens up more trails to you, and allows you to ride trails you couldn’t make it through before. Keep practicing, keep progressing!