5 Tips to Improve Safety in Your MTB Practice Sessions
RLC founder Ryan Leech shares advice drawing from a 27-year pro riding & coaching career. Ryan has performed thousands of stunt shows around the world, including Cirque du Soleil, IMBA World Summit and Crankworx.
Do you know what will slow down your skill progression more than anything? Getting injured! On top of any injury sustained, many riders need to keep their body functional for work, so the consequences can be quite costly.
Recently, one of our members shared a crash video of going over the bars during a bunny hop practice session. I don’t want to single that rider out so I won’t share the actual video, but what I do want to crystalize and share the 5 tips that emerged from all the thoughtful conversation around this crash from within our community.
- Practice on Grass When Trying Something New
I’m a big believer in practicing close to home so you can get into a routine practice habit without a barrier (or excuse). Sometimes that means riding in a back alley, a driveway, or a parking garage is the only option. I get that. Though many of my courses suggest starting out on grass, especially skills like wheelies, cornering and manuals. Not only does it provide rolling resistance and traction to boost your learning for these drills, but It’ll be a much softer landing if things go wrong - and grass stains are easier to deal with than road rash! So spending some extra time finding that perfect grassy zone is time well spent!
- Be Mindful of Your Front Brake (Especially on Landings)
For example, when you’re bunny hopping or jumping on the trail, you will often require immediate braking action when you land. This is why hovering a finger on the front and rear brake levers is a good habit to get into when practicing. When you’re in a learning situation where you’re landing with weight too far forward on your front wheel, too much front brake will further exacerbate the mistake and perhaps send you over the bars. The chance of this happening when learning skyrockets because of panic when things don’t feel safe - and that panic often does lead to mistakes like grabbing a ‘handful of front brake!’ We recommend all our students go through the braking lessons in the new Bulletproof Basics course because it guides you through all the braking extremes and body positions, and it gets you into a habit of balanced application so you're much less likely to make this common front brake mistake.
- Watch Out for the Death Grip
The ‘death-grip’ I'm talking about is different than a no-brake manual - the issue I want to highlight is gripping your grips way too hard - aka: white knuckle grip - aka: death grip! The reason is that riders who are pushing the limits or perhaps experience some fear can tense up and this often shows up in grip strength. Grabbing your bars too tight will stiffen your wrist, elbow and shoulder joints making it much harder to absorb bumps and landings - not to mention ramp up forearm pump on long descents. So forget about fluidity of technique! By keeping a more natural grip on your bars (discussed on the site) you'll find greater sensitivity to the trail and lower stress! It's almost as powerful a trigger for flow as conscious breathing is!
- Practice on a Set of Flat Pedals
I advise all riders to use flat pedals when practicing for a few reasons. It’s mandatory for skills such as manuals or wheelies where there’s a risk of looping out (backwards off the bike), but perhaps more importantly, it forces you to learn skills in the most effective and efficient way with no bad habits. Clipless pedals (feet mechanically attached) have their place, but when you’re developing new skills, it’s so important to be able to put a foot down. In addition to safety, you’ll be able to fight to maintain your balance on certain features much more confidently.
- Practice Your Dismounts
A well executed bail is one of the flashiest skills you can learn! One of many to practice is jumping both feet off your pedals at the same time. I teach a variety of bails throughout the RLC Library, including an hour long webinar on the topic - these drills will pay big dividends when you lose balance in a technical trail section. Here’s a sample of one drill to practice next time you’re on the bike (scroll to the Lesson Preview).
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