1. Self-taught is best – just learn by riding
Mountain biking is a skill sport much like tennis, golf, and skiing. Specifically, there is a wrong way and a right way of performing many moves on the bike. Most folks are self-taught and seem to think technique is mostly doing what feels good and is chosen by personal preference. They scoff at any form of instruction and reserve that for beginners. The problem is many experienced riders are doing it wrong as they are self-taught wrong.
New riders can make huge improvements in their skills by getting instruction, now that the sport has been around long enough for skills to be defined and mountain bike coaching has become a viable profession. Can you imagine teaching yourself tennis or golf? You may be a phenom or may get lucky but chances are, you’ll do most of it wrong initially or take three times longer to learn, if ever. Thus, getting instruction either through group lessons, one-on-one coaching, through a friend or even instructional videos and books can make a big difference.
A great upside is riders can bypass a series of inevitable tumbles, lost skin, and broken bones as they figure out how to ride. Unlike the other sports that require coaching to reach a high level, mountain biking involves cliffs, rocks, ruts, trees, and the greatest nemesis of all… corners. Any one of these elements can slap a rider to the ground when performed with the wrong technique or caught with inattentiveness.
Mountain biking shouldn’t be dangerous. But riding with the wrong technique and going beyond one’s skill level is. Don’t just “do it.” Do it right with proper progression and technique.
2. It’s not about the bike – it’s all rider
Folks who are very, very skilled say this. Or folks who hate technology and avoid spending money convince themselves of this as they ride their severely outdated bike.
But for most mountain bikers, the bike plays a very key part in the enjoyment, performance and safety of the rider. Put the same rider on a $300 bike and a $1200 bike and the ride experience will be very different. On the $1200 bike, the rider will be faster, safer and will have a bigger smile on their face.
Of course, there is a point of diminishing returns where one hits the sweet spot of price and performance. Great gains are made for every dollar spent up to that point. But after that, large amounts of money are spent pursuing the last 10% of performance.
On the same vein, get at 15-year old $3000 full suspension bike and a new full suspension bike at the same price and the same rider will have a much better experience on the new bike. Mountain biking is a young, evolving discipline and huge strides have been made in the last decade in bike design. Also, many different mountain bike types now have evolved for different types of riding and matching the two makes a big difference.
Does the rider matter then as well? Of course. We believe the rider is still the majority of the performance equation. But we should never dismiss the role of the bike in this sport and its ability to keep the rider comfortable, safe, and constantly progressing.
3. Only downhillers need to wear knee pads and protection
Most folks don’t wear knee pads because they are cumbersome and they “don’t plan to crash”. The problem is no one really maps out their extreme adventures and schedules their crash rides. Crashes happen as terrain and traction constantly change and debris and obstacles interfere with the ride. Crashes or ‘unplanned get-offs’ occur and they can either be just dusty affairs with knee pads or trips to the hospital with many stitches required.
The other x-factor is most crashes happen on easy, familiar trails and the usual cause is inattentiveness. Often, one is so familiar with a trail that one loses focus. Any rut or corner can cause a crash and those can sometimes be serious crashes since the rider is completely unprepared and is slapped to the ground.
The good news is technology has caught up with the sport and there are many types of knee pads and protection now. Trail and cross-country riders can go with more lightweight padding and this is the most exciting category of protection. Knee pads are best when they don’t call attention to themselves during the ride, especially climbing. And when one crashes, you might think the knee pad didn’t do its job since there’s no pain or wounds but that’s usually a sign it saved the day.
All-mountain/enduro riders and downhill riders can opt for thicker, more protective pads that take bigger impacts but hinder pedaling a bit more.
4. Dropper posts are riders who don’t have descending skills
Again, this is often preached by old-school riders who think they perfected riding twenty years ago. Often they say, “I never drop my seat during a ride. Why would I need a dropper post?”
This is a case of old techniques and habits and a refusal to learn anything new. Dropping the saddle during steep descents is just one small part of the dropper post advantage. It is effective in preventing endos or going over the handlebars.
But dropper posts do a lot more than that as they play a big role in cornering now. Dropping the saddle allows the rider to move their mass around and that is a very potent tool during technical, aggressive descending and cornering. The body is like a ball of energy and it can be used in key moments to center the bike. Shift back when there’s a steep drop, move forward on a steep pitch. Stand upright when there’s little traction while cornering on gravel.
Related: The Best Dropper Seatposts
Sure these are possible with the saddle propped all the way up. But it’s way easier, safer, and more effective when the saddle is out of the way. And if performance or aggressive riding is not what you’re after, consider the safety that a dropper post delivers. It’s so much safer and that allows one to learn and progress better and take on more challenging terrain.
5. After the beginner stage, you need to move up to clipless pedals
Clipless pedals are not too bad for experts who have skills and confidence to clip out in a millisecond, but they’re a huge liability for beginners and intermediate riders. New riders should learn on flat pedals and when they’ve gained enough experience and confidence, they can stay on flat pedals. There should be no set schedule when they should switch to clipless, if ever.
Related: Best Flat Pedals for Mountain Biking
Instead, they can look into clipless pedals if they want to compete in high-level cross country or Enduro races. Clipless is a hair faster in cross-country races and long endurance events since the shoes and pedals are lighter and stiffer. The foot is always in the optimal position too so there is no time lost searching for that spot. Sprinting too is an advantage as one can lift up on the pedal and use more leg muscles in a sprint and be secure with pedal engagement.
But the problems with clipless are plentiful including:
– a steep learning curve that includes injury
– unlearning how to use physics to stay glued to the bike
– lose the ability to separate from the bike in a millisecond of peril
– forced to use a shoe not ideal for hiking up a cliff or walking into a restaurant
The good news is the rider has a choice now, not only when they’re learning or reach their highest level. A couple of decades ago, everyone was compelled to switch to clipless and no high-end flat pedals or shoes were available. They can stay with flats forever or they can switch to clips. Or use the right tool at the appropriate time.
6. You should learn how to ride properly on a hardtail
Hardtails are good for beginners because there are numerous affordable models, but also because they have a good price/weight ratio, and they do teach you what NOT to do on trails because they will punish you with pain or with a crash.
However, preaching that all beginners should learn on hardtails to learn proper technique is hogwash. It is equivalent to saying one should learn to drive on a racetrack using a truck to learn the proper driving techniques. There is an ounce of truth to that where the driver will be forced to carry momentum and find the right racing line. But there is so much wrong in it as well. Same goes for learning how to ride a mountain bike with a rigid fork, or rim brakes or singlespeed. It’s just bad advice.
Using equipment not suitable for the task slows down learning and increases the risk factor. One can’t do the challenging terrain as quickly and mistakes can lead to crashes and injuries. The ideal bike to learn on is a trail bike with about 120mm of front and rear travel. And having a dropper post on that will enhance its teaching abilities even more.
Of course, full-suspension bikes are not cheap so not everyone can afford to learn on them. Hardtails are fine too as they fit many budgets and in that category, a hardtail with Plus tires (2.8 or larger) and a dropper post fits the bill quite well.
7. It’s all just marketing hype and BS
This one, we believe is false since many of the greatest mountain bike innovations like suspension, disc brakes, dropper posts, 1x gearing and tubeless were considered by many as marketing hype at one point. But we understand the disdain for changing hub and bottom bracket standards and incompatibility.
What do you think?