3 Laws of Mountain Biking

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Sean Badenhorst of TREAD Skills

#CountryCyclist completed the TREAD Skills Intermediate 1 MTB course on Saturday – trusty GoPro in tow. Here’s what he learnt.

You get your mountain biking that amounts to jumping into some running shoes, grabbing a bike and rumbling along a dirt road. But then you get real mountain biking. This is a distinction I only began to comprehend on Saturday afternoon, when I took on a riding course with biking guru Sean Badenhorst.

My first mistake was using this as the debut for my brand new kit. Anyone who has migrated from pedals and takkies to clip-in cleats will understand that. The result was my second, third, fourth and fifth falls of the campaign. That said, Badenhorst set in motion the wheels that will prevent many potential crashes to come. His ‘three laws of mountain biking’ will see to that.

24 years riding mountain bikes, some of them editing TREAD magazine, have made Sean Badenhorst a respected brain on the topic of riding trails. He runs famously energetic skills clinics, and kindly had me along for the afternoon session on Saturday at the PWC Cycle Track in Bryanston. Each adapted from a law of physics, Sean’s three laws of mountain biking are keystones every cyclist – roadie or rambler – should master as a matter of urgency.

1. Momentum
Sean demonstrates the first law in Billy Nye the Science Guy fashion: hold a bicycle wheel at the axle and rotate it side to side. Easy. Then he sets the wheel spinning and instructs you to do the same. Much harder this time. The upshot: momentum is good. You’re far more stable when your wheels are spinning at a good rate. So, counter-intuitively, slowing down (all other things equal) makes crashing more likely – as I learnt.

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Momentum test. Science meets sport.

2. Look where you want to go
This is a psychological phenomenon. Think of any sport you’ve played. Let’s take tennis. When you get nervous, you overthink your shots. You end up visualising the shot you want to avoid and, perversely, end up playing that exact shot. The same applies to MTB. Stare at a frightening rock or the edge of a bridge long enough, and that’s where you’ll go.

The solution: command that your eyes stay 10m ahead of you for every 10km/h you’re traveling, and stare only at the line you want to take. It may feel unnatural at first, but the impact is profound.

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Don’t look down!

3. Centre of gravity
This is another rule you have to work at to convince your brain to play along. When you’re sitting on the bike saddle, your centre of gravity is somewhere around your chest. Standing up on the pedals may raise your profile, but it lowers the centre of gravity to your shins. Of course, a lower CG means more stability. Which we like!

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It all comes together in a corner: stand up, outside pedal down, eyes on the prize.

Law three dictates standing on the pedals whenever added stability is required. That certainly includes downhill riding. Standing is also ideal when taking corners, specifically with the outside pedal at it’s lowest point, ie 6 o’clock, and the inside pedal up at midnight.

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Pupil and master. An appreciative #CountryCyclist with Sean after a day on the trails.

My four crashes confirm these aren’t easy rules to pick up, but the benefits are clear and substantial. Every prang I had was attributable to my breaking at least one of the laws. This course alerted me to how much I have to learn in the skills arena. I felt serious benefits near the end of our three-hour session, but plenty more technical sessions at the bike park are in order.

Many thanks to Sean Badenhorst. This is a hugely valuable course that I’d recommend to all cyclists somewhere between novice and experienced. SeeĀ Sean’s website for more info on his clinics that start with an intro for the real beginner and go right up to advanced courses for hotshots.

My GoPro and Chesty soldiered along with me on Saturday. A few screen grabs from the footage help tell the tale.

  • GoPro check.
  • Gorgeous day for a ride.
  • How it's done.
  • Crash 2.
  • Crash 3.
  • Crash 4.

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