Feeling inspired by the mountain bike races at this year's Commonwealth Games? Check out these tips on better biking from top off-road pro triathlete Sam Gardner…
1. Start with your bike tyres
For muddy conditions, look for deep tread depth with wide spacing between the knobbles, but make sure the tyre isn’t too wide that the mud stops it turning in the frame. For sand and soft, dry surfaces, you want a wide tyre for maximum surface area; for rocks and hard-packed dirt, a tyre with lots of small, close-spaced knobs is preferable.
2. Lower your tyre pressures
Tests have shown that, unlike road riding, this actually reduces rolling resistance off-road. Because the bike doesn’t waste energy being lifted vertically every time it goes over a root or rock, the tyre deforms and the rest of the bike doesn’t move significantly.
Many top riders go as low as 18psi. For general conditions, I like to ride with the front tyre at about 26psi and the rear at about 28psi. It’s best to run the rear tyre a little harder to avoid pinch punctures if you hit a rock.
3. The short line isn’t always the fast line
Consider going a slightly longer route in training, with less mud or obstructions on it, and see if you gain or lose time. If you can train with partners, race them over different routes.
4. The rear wheel will always follow the front
Sometimes it’s safer to lift the front wheel over muddy puddles or slippery roots by pulling a wheelie. The front wheel ‘washing out’ on these obstructions is what causes a crash. If you can put the front wheel down on smooth ground after the obstruction, the rear wheel will follow through or over it.
5. Try to ride over roots and other obstacles at 90° to the direction of travel
This will stop the front wheel from sliding sideways. DON’T ride roots or similar at 45° to the root – this will almost always end in trouble!
6. Don’t look at the obstacle you’re trying to avoid
This is always the first rule you’re taught when skiing or cycling, or any similar sport. Look at the route you want to travel, and try to also look as far down the trail as possible when safe to do so.
Tests on top athletes in both sports have found that they constantly alter their focus between about three metres ahead and 30 metres ahead. This is the way they process what they’re approaching.
7. Bend your arms and legs, and get out of the saddle when descending
Your limbs can give you five times as much suspension travel as the bike itself will have. Keep your centre of gravity back and stay standing with bent arms and legs to absorb the bumps.
8. Finally, relax
Many road triathletes aren’t used to the bike moving underneath them, and this is when they tense up and start to brake. In mud and soft conditions, the bike will try to follow the course it wants. It’s generally best to let it do this to a certain extent. Don’t be afraid of the rear end sliding around corners as this only helps point you in the right direction.
Feeling ready to hit the trails? Check out these five off-road bike sessions here