I am a relative newcomer to mountain biking, taking up the sport about a year ago after being intentionally side swiped by a van while out on a road ride. From that moment on, I vowed to log more miles on the trail and less on the road, at least when in the Bay Area.
With minimal skills and a couple of epic wipeouts under my belt, I headed to the Trek Dirt Series women's mountain bike camp in Park City at the end of July. My goal was to hang out with a bunch of rad women for the weekend, learn basic skills in a supportive environment, and generally get more comfortable on my mountain bike. I wanted to start looking forward to and enjoying my rides instead of constantly gripping the handlebars in white knuckle fear.
Over 60 women turned out for the camp, many of them local from the Salt Lake area, with quite a few traveling from as far as Wisconsin, Michigan, Idaho, and Wyoming. We were spilt into 8 different groups based on our riding experience and type of riding (XC versus downhill). The mornings consisted of a variety of skills clinics held at the base of Canyons Resort (much to the amusement of many onlookers) and taught by some of the most amazing women in the sport, followed after lunch by afternoon rides where we could session our skills on real life trail situations.
We learned everything from braking, switchbacks, straight line riding, front wheel lifts, roll downs, and drop offs. It would be impossible to remember and apply every technique, but I have taken with me a few keys points that have enormously improved my riding and comfort level out on the trail.
- In terms of bike setup, I have switched to flat pedals for the time being. The ability to quickly get my feet down has given me much more confidence to try new things. For moderate trails with tons of uphill riding, I will switch back to the clipless, but on more technical terrain, I will use the flat pedals until my skills improve.
- Probably the one most important lesson I took away from the weekend is to always look ahead. Whether it be riding over rock gardens, climbing over roots and other obstacles, trying to keep a straight line on bridges and teeter totters, or turning through tight switchbacks, looking ahead at where you are going is the key. As soon as you look down at your front wheel or the obstacle in your path, it's game over.
- Always have one finger, and ONLY one finger, on the brakes at all times.
- Keep your arms and legs relaxed and wide, not pulled into your body (unless riding uphill) or clinging on to the seat. This enables the bike to move beneath you instead of with you, letting you remain balanced and stable.
- If you are not pedaling, you should be in the neutral position, up out of your saddle with pedals parallel to the ground at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock.
- Keep your weight centered over your bike but be ready to shift forward or backward without collapsing your body when going over objects.
- The key to switchbacks is not only continually looking ahead at where you want to go but also turning your chest in that direction. This position will automatically pull your bike around with you.
I am way more comfortable on the bike and actually now look forward to practicing my skills when facing obstacles on the trail. I never thought I would be 1/4 pumping over logs, riding teeter totters, or cruising up and down tight switchbacks before that weekend. I guarantee I will be back for more next year and can't recommend it enough for any woman (or even man with the co-ed clinics) who wants to up their dirt skills, whatever your level.