Fitness fades, but skills are permanent. It is perhaps one of the lesser truths in mountain biking, but once bike skills are acquired, they add massive value over time.
With greater skill and confidence behind the bars, you’ll extract more value from your bike or that latest component upgrade. You’ll also find trails rewarding, instead of anxiously intimidating, and most importantly: you’ll have reduced crash risk.
The accessibility of cycling has created a dangerous false economy with regards to mountain bike skills. It is desperately easy to pedal a bike, but the moment you start descending any trail on a mountain bike, your elementary commuter bike skills are of little use.
With roots, rocks, berms, off-camber turns, drops and jumps, a mountain biker’s quarry requires a diverse set of new riding skills. And those skills will not develop naturally.
Very few mountain biking novices have the innate ability to round off-camber corners with the outside pedal at its lowest crank position, navigate rock gardens or land drop-offs. Hesitation, incorrect body positioning and applying brakes at the incorrect moment, are all habits which are dreadfully difficult to unlearn without expert third party tutoring.
Mountain bikes can be wonderfully liberating and exciting to ride, but there is always the potential for injuries. The terrain and gradients involved mean that unchecked speeds into technical obstacles will have unhappy consequences.
Although we obsess about gram saving carbon-fibre component upgrades, low-friction bearings, dual-sided power meters and all manner of new kit, the best single upgrade you can ever make to your mountain biking, is investing in yourself.
Your skills are the difference that no component upgrade can match
Rider input, body position and skill has the most overwhelming influence on mountain bike performance, enjoyment, speed and safety. A skilled rider on an average bike will always be much faster than an average rider on an exceptional bike.
Supervised alterations of your body position and rethinking braking inputs, can magically improve your riding in only one coaching session.
There is no point in buying more expensive parts, in the hope of going faster and feeling more confident, when the issue is a fundamental skills discrepancy or misunderstanding of how to read and conquer technical trail features.
Bike skills and certified coaching sessions are an absolute must if you want to be a faster and safer rider. It is a strange dichotomy, but being slow and nervous on trails, especially approaching technical features, is effectively a crash and nasty injury waiting to happen.
Hydraulic brakes, air-suspension, tyre and overall mountain bike frame design has evolved to such a point, that rider error cannot be blamed on subpar equipment anymore. Bikes are now more capable and faster than ever, which means you truly owe it to yourself, to go for a few skills clinics and get those weaknesses sorted.
A weekend skills clinic is a great group activity and the goal is always to be smoother and safer. This, of course, has the ironic benefit of making you faster too.