MTB skills training is one of the best investments you can make. It’s a great way to get out of your comfort zone, build new skills – and break bad habits.
By Adele Mitchell

Those wonderful long days in the saddle on fast, dry trails are so close you can almost smell them. So, in order to get the very best out of what is to come, now is the perfect opportunity to do a little skills training.

When I first started riding ‘skills training’ meant tagging along on the wheel of someone who had lots more experience and trying to do what they did whilst keeping up and not screaming too loud. If you reached the bottom of the trail in one piece – despite not knowing how you actually managed to stay upright – you could consider yourself to have improved. Or, more accurately, to have got away with it. In other words, it was largely a question of trial and error until you found a way that worked for you.

But ‘progression’ is now a big buzzword in MTB, and coaching is becoming an increasingly popular way of improving your skills both safely and quickly. As a result, mountain bike skills training has become a flourishing success story, with courses available to teach everything from basic skills to cornering, drops and jumps for groups or individuals.

Like many of us out on the trails, I’m no newbie: and if anything that is a disadvantage because it’s often a question of having to unlearn bad habits – and things you do automatically – in favour of something more effective, but that initially feels unnatural (you can of course, try denying the aforementioned bad habit – but as most coaches will video you whilst riding, it’s impossible to fight the evidence!).
My worst habit, for instance, is not looking where I am going. Rather than looking down the trail, reading what’s ahead and anticipating it for a smooth, fast ride, I tend to peer over the front wheel the minute I hit a technical rooty section or series of drops. I actually had no idea I was doing it until I paid someone to coach me and he pointed it out.

By looking down I put weight over the front wheel where I don’t need it and slow myself down so I’m more likely to topple over. It also means that in effect I am riding ‘blind’ when it comes to choosing a line. It took moments for my MTB coach to point this out, and then weeks of practice on the trails to unlearn the habit. So don’t expect to walk away as a changed rider: you’ll need to put the work in over the following weeks as well.

Coaching also introduced me to the joy that is sessioning: riding the same section of trail over and over until you have perfected your technique and – crucially – built your confidence so that you are ready to progress onto trails that are more challenging.

Going backwards and forwards over the same two hundred yards is surprisingly challenging physically so if you don’t consider a ride a ride unless you’ve journeyed through at least two counties then don’t worry – you’ll still get a workout. Sessioning with friends is also lots of fun – particularly if you are of similar ability – as you can learn and grow as riders together. And yes, I know sessioning is what teenagers do and you’re a grown up with a swanky bike – but this is why teenagers turn out to be the ones with all those ‘natural’ skills!