MTB insight: pulling a wrist made me ride better.

Posted on April 25, 2018

In February of all months, I’ve picked up cycling. In this post, I want to jot some insights I’ve got about using a hardtail MTB bicycle in the Winter versus dry Spring conditions and where do I plan going from here.

Cross-country hardtail as the first bicycle

First of all, I want to say that I have opted for a decent cross-country hardtail for the following reason: it does everything. You can ride it in the Northern European winter and have a firm grip, you can change tires and pump them up for a decent speed in the city. As a sidenote – I haven’t done that yet, being fine with the speed I have on the streets (I rarely ride on the road these days). Despite what full-suspension elitists say, you can and should take it to a trail for some downhill experience. Didn’t get a chance to do that yet, but the better I get at riding this particular bicycle, the more enthusiastic I feel about flying with it to a less flat country with it to test it on a beginner-level trail. Actually, even in the countries like Latvia that are super-flat there are some MTB trails in locations like Sigulda, so I might not even have to take a plane. And, of course, that sort of bicycle delivers the full joy of riding over obstacles in a forest as well as down the stairs in the urban environment.

Seeking challenges and learning

Now why am I jotting this post? I want to share the most important revelation I had while learning how to ride aggressively in dry terrains. Of course, in the winter just getting from point A to point B over snow, ice and semi-frozen puddles is fun and challenging enough. Breaking and turning while being seated in the seddle positioned at a road bicycle height is fun, you learn how to drift and how to control your trajectory on slippery surfaces without moving your body around too much. As the ground gets drier, drifting becomes more and more entertainment without any purpose and a desire for new challenges arise. To me the challenges are:

The key to learning to ride properly

Since I’ve started to ride more aggressively, I’ve been putting a lot of strain on my arms. I was doing everything with my arms. Want to pedal quick? Push and pull the handlebars to “help” legs! Want to lift the front wheel to get on a curb? Lift the handlebars while counterbalancing the lifting force by sitting on the seat! Of course, not long after I’ve started doing that stuff, I pulled my left wrist. A side-note on curbs, by the way. The guy in the shop, I bet a road-biker, told me to close the suspension completely while being in the city. Of course, it makes picking up speed so much easier, but come on, I’m driving a G-d-damn mountain bike in the city anyway, I’m not in it for optimizing for speed. An actual experienced mountain biker (Arseniy) yelled at me for that and told to use suspension, since it’s there for a reason. Well, guess what? You don’t even need to lift your wheel to get on a ten-fifteen centimeter curb if you’re not flying into it at 25km/h. Let your suspension do its work! Lift the front wheel only if you need a practice in lifting the front wheel. Wooh, I’m done with this mini-rant. So I pulled my left wrist, and I couldn’t do anything I “knew” with my bicycle, so I figured, I should try to do the same things I was doing, but moving my body a little bit back so that hands aren’t straining as much. Yes, I know that in all the biking videos they say “don’t pull with your hands”, but for me it took an injury to see that you don’t even need healthy hands to do most basic manipulations with the front wheel or ride in the town, or even take stairs. So, the purpose of this post is to convey the following thought: while lifting the wheels or going over vertical obstacles, hands are secondary to the appropriate body positioning. As a rule of thumb (no pun intended), you should be shifting your weight to the back. Lower your seat, go over that rear wheel, make sure that the soles of your feet are pushing into the pedals and counterbalancing each other. Keep your pedals level, and you’re gonna hop on and off stuff in no time. Just be aware that if you, like myself, don’t know how to lift your rear wheel yet, you can damage all the mechanical parts around your chain, and I’ve been told those are pretty expensive. Make sure you understand at which height your bicycle’s “vitals” are when you hop on things by lifting the front wheel. Finally, a great side-effect of knowing how to move your weight backward and forward, depending on the situation, is that you will learn how to break properly from a high speed to zero. Here’s the recipe: move as much of your weight back while keeping your arms bent, then break with both breaks. Instead of flying over the handlebars, you’ll get back in the neutral position and will experience this amazing stable and straight breaking that will feel unreal at first.

I guess, that’s about it. Move your body, make the bike its extension, understand the physics of balance, and good luck with starting out!

If you have any questions, suggestions or think that I wrote a bunch of nonsense, please reach out to me at jm at this domain.