Q: How do you become a better rider?
A: Dick about more.
There’s no mystical medicine that can make you a better bike rider. No shaman can miraculously bestow skills upon you. It takes a bit of hard graft to become a better rider. But hard work doesn’t have to be entirely joyless.
I know one way to get better. Not faster, fitter or stronger but better as in being more capable off-road, riding safer, maybe riding faster.
The secret to becoming a better rider is to dick about way more than you probably already do.
- Ride your bike, everywhere.
Your mountain bike doesn’t have to be a special tool for special days. Get out and ride around the block, go to the shops, ride it to work, ride it everywhere. Basically, spend more time on it, learning how it balances, how to move it, and all the while your muscles and brain will be storing all these tiny moments of information. It will feel more normal to throw your leg over the bike on Sunday when the trail riding begins.
2. Skids and wheelies
Part of this go-anywhere, ride-anything outlook is just about pratting about. When you ride to the grocery store look out for curbs to hop up, on and off. Skid in the leafs. Pop wheelies in the driveway. Jump off the curb cuts. Do wheel lifts off ledges. And skid some more.
Just be more of a child. Get back to riding a bicycle in a fun way, not a purposeful way. Don’t worry about looking like a wally, make people envious of all the harmless fun you are having. Learn to just love biking in the way you did as a child.
Again, all this time will pay off on the trail and all the little skills you will get from hopping, jumping, pulling wheelies, skidding, generally being free to dick about, will help make you more comfortable on your bike.
3. Waiting in the car park
Mountain bikers are bad at timekeeping. Say you’ll meet someone at the trailhead at five-thirty and it will be six before everyone is there and ready to go. Use this time to just dick about more. Practice wheelies, track stands, skids, hopping up things. It will warm you up for the trail and give you more practice, and tune your body and mind of all the fine motor skills you need for mountain biking.
4. Trials challenge
Faff is another thing mountain bikers have down. (Rule Of Faff). Don’t just sit there while Terry plays with his low-speed compression dial, John changes the height of his handlebars and Lisa decides whether she wants to ride with her jacket on or off. While everyone is mucking about set little trailside challenges.
Dylan Wolsky (Nomads All Mountain Team) and I have been playing Trials Challenge for a while now. One of us will set a challenge, usually really silly, sometimes difficult, and then we will both attempt it until we get it, or the faffing is over. It could be just hopping up a log and riding along, or riding through a creek, up the bank, round a tree and back again, it might be doing a manual the length of a skinnie. Anything, just think of fun, little daft things to try.
Again, it will move you a bit closer to the 10,000 hours that Gladwell (LINK) says is necessary to master anything. Oh, and you’ll probably be laughing at yourself and your friends (in good nature) while the attempts go on. Laughing is good for you and having fun is essential to biking.
5. Have fun, take it less seriously.
All of these things will teach you that biking is fun. It is a preposterous pasttime when you look at it – grown men and women larking about in the woods on children’s toys. That’s all it is, nothing more. Don’t be embarrassed, just go with it. Laugh at yourself and then get on with smiling more.
Dicking about can’t fail.