Photo: Matt DeLorme
She dominated the downhill mountain bike scene for years before switching to riding enduro MTB and carving out an equally successful enduro career. So who better than Tracy Moseley to share tips on tackling descents on a mountain bike?
Between looking after her baby and squeezing in rides, Trek athlete Tracy very kindly took time out to relay her tips on tackling downhill rides on the mountain bike. This one’s for beginners – enjoy!
#1. Lower your saddle before descending
For those of us used to the higher saddle position of a road bike, a lower MTB saddle height can feel a bit alien. However, saddle height is “massively important”, says Tracy. “Having the saddle out of your way, so you can move more easily and get off the back of your bike when it gets really steep, is really important,” she explains. “The advent of the dropper seat post – where you change the height of your seat by a lever on your handlebars – has made a huge difference to riding steep terrain.”
#2. Keep your body position central
For MTB newbies, body positioning can be tricky – should we be leaning forward or hanging back? The key is to adjust your body position but keep it central, says Tracy. “A good central position over the bike is important, and wide, bent elbows and a slight bend in the knees with your eyes and head looking ahead is the perfect starting point.” And as for hanging back? Save it for really steep descents. “Only when it’s very steep do you really need to be hanging off the back of your bike, and then only for short amount of time. Many people make the mistake of being too far off the back of the bike when they don’t need to be and they lose control of their front wheel as they have no weight on it.”
#3. Vary your gaze
Rather than keep your eyes fixed a metre in front of you or directly ahead of your wheel, the key is to vary your gaze. “You need to be looking ahead at where you want to go so you can pick good lines and judge your speed, but your eyes should track all the time from closer to further away so you’re always aware of what your wheels are about to roll over and also what’s ahead of you,” Tracy explains.
#4. Speed is your friend (mostly!)
When tackling descents for the first time on a mountain bike it pays to know that taking it too cautiously and hammering your breaks constantly can be counterproductive. “Speed is definitely your friend in most situations, as it can help with your balance and momentum to get over rough obstacles,” reveals Tracy. “However, you also need to be in control as crashes at high speed can be painful!”
#5. Use both brakes –gently
Tempting as it is to clench the brakes tightly and abruptly whilst descending (especially when you get The Fear), this can cause the bike to lurch and could end in a spill. Instead, Tracy suggests gently using both brakes. “Try and imagine you’re using a dimmer switch instead of flicking a light switch on and off; it should be gentle and subtle and ever-changing to match your speed and terrain.”
#6. Corner with your bodyweight central and feet balanced
“Cornering is such a big topic and depends so much on factors such as your speed, the gradient, the terrain, your ability etc, but the main things are to look ahead at where you want to go around/after the corner, and try to keep your bodyweight central with a nice bend in your elbows and knees,” Tracy explains. Keeping your feet balanced on the bike will ensure you’re ready for whatever the corner throws at you. “Often when you have banked corners/berms you can have both feet level. When it’s a flat corner with no support you may need to drop your outside foot to lean the bike into the corner and maintain good grip.”
#7. Build up your MTB skills for confident riding
To get the most out of your riding, take the process steady. “Start slowly and progress your riding, look before you leap and work on all aspects of your riding from skills and fitness to even having your bike set-up well, as these are all important when going fast,” explains Tracy. “The main thing is to have fun and don’t be tempted to ride beyond your ability, as that’s when crashes happen.”
#8. Mix-up your terrain to boost your handling skills
You might feel more comfortable sticking with terrain you know, but the secret to better mountain bike riding is to mix up where you’re riding. “It’s so important to experience different terrain,” says Tracy. “Learning to ride in the wet, dry, on rock, roots etc will make you a better rider overall.”
#9. Adjust your riding according to the weather
“Terrain and weather conditions are a huge part of riding safely and fast,” says Tracy. “Obviously when it’s wet and muddy and the soil is like clay, it’ll be very slippery and harder to stop and change direction, and any roots and rocks will be more slippery than in the dry. The same can happen in extreme dry conditions where the dust becomes loose and slippery, so you need to learn to control your speed and gain experience in all sorts of conditions; feeling confident is the most important factor.”
#10. Enjoy it
Tracy’s final tip for beginner mountain bike riders feeling anxious during descents? “Start off small, get some coaching and make sure you can have really good brake control. You can stop and get off your bike if you don’t want to ride a section – build up slowly and your confidence will follow.”