Ya’ll ask so many great, specific riding questions, which is awesome! But I do get these “how do I ride like you?” questions that are so general I’ve never known how to answer. But the real answer isn’t how to “ride like me”, it’s how to ride like you, at the best of your abilities.
It’s no secret that practice gets anyone better. But exactly how to practice can often be the “secret” that we all need to find. I’m not going to say that these drills are the only drills worth doing, or that they are even the best drills, but I will say it’s what I’ve done and what has helped me.
First off, just like with yoga, before you get started with these drills, set your intention. This is like a goal, but less specific. Is your intention to become faster? More consistent? Safer? More aggressive? More confident? If you can pick one specific thing to keep in mind as you practice, it makes it a lot easier to improve and will keep you motivated. Then as you get better with the drills, you can then find some specific goals. An example of a goal would be “I want to be able to stop from 4 pedal strokes within only a 6′ space.”
And finally, use flat pedals for these. While you might prefer clipless pedals for offroad riding, learning these on flats is safer and teaches more overall skills.
Drill 1: aggressive braking
Often overlooked, being good at high performance braking is a HUGE skill. This means being able to brake hard, in the least amount of distance possible, and with as much control as possible. This means no skidding, but lots of stopping. The intention I set when I practice this is to be as aggressive on the brakes as possible. Set up start and finish lines, with another marker to help you find your ideal brake point.
Sprint towards an obstacle (3-5 hard pedal strokes) and brake before you hit it.
Goal is to not skid, but get as much performance out of your brake as possible
ALSO- sprinting into this will improve your pedaling efficiency and clarity of how much is possible with just a few pedal strokes. When I do these, I DO NOT think about how I almost ended myself two weeks ago after only four pedal strokes.
Some folks instruct to stay centered on the bike, while others say to get back. One thing is certain- get low on your bike. I get very rearwards on my bike, as that’s my personal attack position. I get even more rearwards when I’m on a steeper section of trail. For a more in depth tutorial on this drill, check out this previous vid. I also have a lifetime of practice riding like this, and have spent years in the gym to support this posture of mine.
Drill 2: basic trials circuit
We’ve all gotten to that tricky section of trail that we can’t quite ride easily. While a challenge is awesome, having to stop and walk really interrupts a trail’s flow, and it also doesn’t help your confidence. These general bike skills will make you one with your bike when the going gets tough. A good intention (or goal) to set for this is low-effort consistency. If you can do these smoothly, with a goal of getting through the section smoothly, it’ll build those slow speed control skills that end up separating the discerning riders from the newbies.
Repeat- and when you can do it no problem every time, find a way to make it harder
This is a classic moment for the clipless folks to say that they can’t do this on flats. Well, that means you need to learn! There will be a moment when you need to do this on a trail but somehow came unclipped before hand. Learn how to do this on flats and you’ll be that much more well rounded, and confident, of a rider. For more info on the specifics of the best trials drills, check this video.
Drill 3: cornering
The old saying goes jump for show, corner for dough. Cornering is often what separates the fast from the sketchy. This drill is my favorite of all that we’re doing here, but it’s also the hardest to find a good location for.
Set up a cone course slalom. Try to incorporate 4-6 corners. The wider the cones are, the more you’ll need to turn. Now, the increased frequency will also make for a tighter turn. I recommend moving the cones a few times to change this all up. It’s just as important to practice the slow, tight turns as it is the faster ones that incorporate a bit of a drift. You’ll find all of these on the trail.
Goal is keep feet on the bike and to not skid the rear wheel through the turns
Practice that pumping motion to work the bike through the turn
Lean the bike down and into the turn while keeping your body centered over the cornering knobs. You can get started by dropping the outside pedal, and as the corners get wider or faster you’ll find that this is less important. I did a full cornering tutorial here.
The most important aspect of all this is repetition. These drills are neat, but it’s a good idea to change them up consistently so that they don’t get boring! You can totally integrate the braking drill into the cornering drill, and you could even have a mini trials course to get back to the top of the slalom. But then it also gets a lot more complicated, meaning the effectiveness of each specific drill will go down. Regardless, find something that’s fun and beneficial for you, and stick with it. Let me know if you have any questions, and happy practicing!