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  • Writer's pictureGary Moller

My daughter doing some heart-stopping mountain-biking

Updated: Mar 4

Our children are the products of an adventurous childhood, combined with good nutrition. It is wonderful to see them, as adults, to be in great physical health and still out there living life to the full. This includes getting out of their comfort zones and pushing their limits.

As much as it thrills Alofa and me to see Mary-Ann pushing her limits, the last thing we, as parents, ever want is for our children to get hurt. As you watch this video, you may appreciate why my heart raced and skipped a few beats here and there! Good video, Tommo!

A week later, Mary-Ann won her age group over this course and finished 2nd woman overall.

While it helps to be daring, a mountain-biker doing anything akin to what you watched in the video is firstly and foremost, highly skilled. If their skills are lacking relative to the course being negotiated, the rider will suffer serious injuries. Possessing the right skills reduces risk to acceptable levels.

A few tips from an "old hand" for cross-country mountain-bikers

In case you are thinking of riding over a course like that on a cross-country bike for the first time, my advice is: Don't do it!

Do these first:

  1. On a grassy field, practice doing the tightest and slowest of figure-eights (this prepares you for negotiating tight turns without wobbling and falling).

  2. Practice going the slowest you can and balancing at a stop (track-standing). You can practice this at traffic stop lights as well (this prepares you for when teetering at the top of a nasty drop).

  3. On a grassy field, sprint then brake to stop within the shortest distance, shifting your weight back and getting the maximum out of your front and rear brakes without skidding (this is all about getting the balance between front and rear brakes, especially in an emergency when the inexperienced person may "freeze").

  4. Find a small drop-off and practice rolling over and down as slowly as possible, using mostly front brake to control your descent. Practice getting your bum as far back over the rear wheel as possible (this will pay off later when you go down any enormous and steep drops).

  5. On the same small drop practice "popping" over it, getting slightly airborne. Do this by thrusting the bike out in front of you and bum back over the rear wheel (some drops are best negotiated by "popping").

  6. Go to a BMX pump track and practice pumping at speed (this will take your cornering to the next level, allow you to negotiate humps and bumps safely, and it is an energy-saver!).

  7. On the grassy field, get off your bike, take off your helmet and practice forward and side rolls (this is to prepare you for surviving the inevitable falls!).

  8. Practice taking left and right feet out of the clips, so you are a natural at putting out either foot when on dodgy trails, and not just one like your right foot).

Practice these essential skills repeatedly and keep going back to polishing them, no matter how expert you think you are!

Mary-Ann on a massive drop
Mary-Ann on a drop that scares her parents!

A few rules for cross-country riders

  1. Keep the rubber glued to the trail - keep your tyres on the ground. Getting airborne is not for you, or your sketchy bike (cross-country bikes are not designed for jumping, or for taking hard landings).

  2. Keep your tyres on the ground, pump your way over undulations to save energy and build speed.

  3. Be super-smooth, especially with the brakes. We call it the "no skidding rule". At least 70% of your braking power comes from your front brake - be easy with the rear brake.

  4. Go carefully around blind corners unless you already know what is there. There could be a nasty drop waiting to get you!

  5. The steeper, longer and more sketchy the drop, the slower your entry at the top (hence, the reasoning for the balancing and turning skills practice).

  6. Give way to pedestrians on dual use tracks.

  7. Downhill riders give way to those coming up hill.

  8. On two-way trails, call out, "bike!" when entering and exiting blind corners. It forewarns anyone coming the opposite way.

  9. When stopping on a trail, especially if there is a cliff on one side, always unclip and put out the uphill foot - never the foot on the down-sloping side!

Three handy tips:

  1. If you are doing an advanced trail for the first time, do what Mary-Ann did and ride it with someone like Tomo who can point out the hazards and assist their safe navigation.

  2. Get onto YouTube and watch instructional videos to help further develop your skills.

  3. Hire a professional mountain-bike skills coach for several sessions. This applies to everyone, including the world champions. Even the best can always do better!

Enjoy your biking, get out and enjoy what New Zealand offers, but keep safe!

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