Mountain Bike Basics: How to Improve Your Balance

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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With terrain that can be unpredictable and constantly changing, mountain biking has certain challenges you don’t get on the road. For example, learning to perfect your shiftinghandle corners and brake on a mountain bike requires time and practice as does improving your balance.

The key to conquering a technical section of trail or bombing down a fast singletrack is balance. By mastering this basic mountain bike skill, you’ll become more confident and comfortable, and you’ll achieve better bike-handling to help you stay upright and safe.

Follow these tips, exercises and drills to improve your balance and gain greater control of your bike no matter what the trail throws your way.

Balancing on a mountain bike as it shifts beneath you sounds easier than it actually is. While more riding time gradually improves your balance, getting in the proper position when greater balance is needed on difficult terrain is where you should start. Here are some basic body position tips you can utilize to make balancing easier:

  • Head: Keep your head up and your eyes fixed on where you want to go, not that spot you’re trying to avoid. Always look up the trail instead of down at your tire, which improves your balance.
  • Shoulders: Lower your shoulders toward the handlebars, keeping your elbows bent. This helps lower your center of gravity.
  • Arms: Bending your elbows helps absorb impact and lets you maneuver your from bike side to side. When pedaling in the standing position, you can rock the bike by straightening one arm to lean the bike to that side. Then switch and straighten the opposite arm, creating a windshield wiper movement side-to-side with the bike.
  • Legs: Lift your backside off the saddle to ride faster sections of technical trail. Keep your knees slightly bent and the pedals level.
  • Hips: For longer technical sections that aren’t as fast, you can stay seated if you prefer. Drop your seat post to lower your center of gravity, making it easier to balance in this position.
  • Feet: Level pedals help shift your weight from side to side. When you have to lean excessively, dropping one heel slightly below the axles provides a counter balance.

If you don’t have good balance on your feet, chances are your balance on the bike is going to suffer, too. To improve your balance and core strength on the trail, these three exercises help:

BAND TRUNK ROTATION

Anchor a resistance band at chest height. Stand with your feet at shoulder-width distance so your right side is closest to the band, then reach across your body to grasp the handle or end with your left hand first, then your right. Pushing through your right foot, straighten your arms and rotate your trunk toward the left side. Twist your trunk as far as possible. Slowly return to start for one rep. Repeat on the opposite side.

SINGLE-LEG SQUATS

Standing on a box or a bench, balance on one leg. Lower into a squat and return to the starting position. Complete 3 sets of 10 on each leg. To make the exercise more difficult, hold a medicine ball or other weight as you squat.

PLANK LEG LIFTS

Get into a pushup position or a forearm plank. Slowly lift one foot up off the floor, balancing only with the other leg. Hold this position for 5 seconds before returning to the start position. Raise the opposite leg and repeat. Complete 10 repetitions on each side.

Once you know basic body position and have the strength necessary to stabilize your body weight, the next step is to practice on the bike. These two drills help you work on your balance in a safe environment before heading onto the trail

THE SLOW DOWN

In a parking lot or on a flat, grassy section at the park, pick a line and ride as slowly as you can across it. The goal should be to get to the point where you feel like you’re about to fall off, forcing yourself to recover. These slight adjustments help improve your balance. Once you can ride across a painted line in a parking lot really slow without falling, set up a line of cones and practice weaving in and out of the cones as slowly as you can.

THE TRACKSTAND

In a safe area, practice standing on the pedals and keeping your bike upright without moving forward. Apply pressure to the pedals as needed while pressing the brake levers. When you get off balance, release the brakes for a second or two until you recover. Stay upright without putting your feet down for as long as possible. Practice beating your record.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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