Mountain biking is all about being out there, free to explore the natural terrain—but it also requires more technical skill than any other form of riding. Nobody knows that better than Rebecca Rusch, a tough-as-nails pro mountain biker who’s garnered seven national mountain biking titles in addition to winning the legendary Leadville 100 four times.
“Technical riding has never been my strong point,” Rusch says. “I’ve definitely had to put in my time to up my game.” She recommends you do the same—and concentrate on your weaknesses—if you want to access more trails and have more fun in the saddle.
There’s nothing better for mastering skills than repetition, Rusch says, and a good bike park with chairlift access and purposebuilt mountain trails is the ultimate, allowing for tons of practice in a given day. You can choose from different levels of terrain and progress as you become comfortable. Pump tracks—small roller- and berm-filled playgrounds—are the best place to learn cornering and body position over the bike. They’re meant to be ridden without pedaling, instead using body English to work the bike and your body around the track.
Pros like Rusch regularly practice bike-handling drills—figure 8’s, small circles, bunny hops, wheel lifts onto a curb, track stands— but races are key to improvement, too, and you don’t have to be a pro to enter. “I consider races awesome skills practice,” she says. “The adrenaline and electric atmosphere make you rise to the occasion in ways you
They can also be chances to learn from the best: Riding behind someone who’s better than you gives you the opportunity to mimic their body position and line choice before you even really know what you’re doing. It’s learning by example at its very best.