What mountain biker would not like to be able to ride their bike faster?
That desire to ride quicker, better and harder is what fuels the whole mountain bike industry. It’s the selling point behind every new bike and component that is released. Why else would we spend thousands of Euros on a new bike, when in reality our old bike served us perfectly well?
I am no different from any other mountain biker, if not worse. Having built up my last three bikes from parts myself rather than buying an off-the-shelf complete bike, the Internet browsing and comparing of components is a regular pastime of mine. All in the belief that the next big component upgrade will help me to beat that Strava PR on any given trail.
However, over the last few years, I’ve found that going quicker is not all down to what bike you ride or how many carbon components you can fit.
These are my top tips that have had the most noticeable effect on my own riding.
1. Lose weight
You can spend tens or even hundreds of Euros on a bike part that weighs two hundred, a hundred or just fifty grams less. I’ve been there and done that. In reality, rarely does knocking a couple hundred grams off the total weight of your mountain bike have a game-changing effect, if you even notice it at all. And it becomes a game of diminishing returns, the cost of the next upgrade will keep going up where the weight loss will become smaller and smaller.
Now consider the single heaviest components on your bike. The rider. You. How much do you weigh? The likelihood is that, unless you are a professional fitness model, there is some extra weight that could be lost. With a simple calorie intake adjustment you could lose hundreds of grams in body weight in as little as a week.
This winter I cut down my portion sizes a little, I cut down on in-between meal snacks and the biscuits I’d have with my cup of tea in the evenings. Having kept this up over a few months I lost several kilos in weight. That’s a weight reduction that is virtually impossible to achieve by simply swapping components on my bike. And it cost me nothing.
I feel better, I have more stamina and can keep riding for longer. And with those, I feel more confident, the best upgrade regardless of what bike you ride.
2. Tyre choice
How often on a regular ride do you hold back in corners or on steep descents because you are thinking about whether you will slide out or not? Are you still riding on the tyres that came with your bike? I’m a compulsive tyre swapper, frequently trying new ones because it is slated to be better on a given surface or for a new season. And the one thing I have learned is that not all tyres are created equal, nor is there a tyre that will do it all. Consider the type of trail you ride most frequently, the surface type and how much they change from summer to winter. Choosing a tyre combination that is designed for those conditions will do wonders for your riding. If I have confidence in my tyres, I stop thinking about them on rides and I will automatically push harder. To see what 13 regular Irish mountain bikers use on their local trails check out our Mountain Bike tyre choices article. And, personally, I’ve recently started using Veetire Flow Snap tyres. Watch out for a review coming very soon.
3. Strength training
Strength exercises help with comfort and mobility, give you a stronger core, arms and shoulders which result in better bike control. All of which equals more confidence. At the beginning of the year, I started a 12-week fitness programme aimed squarely at mountain bikers. Every few weeks I notice an improvement in my bike control on rough terrain, which in turn is doing wonders for my confidence. The plan also includes regular interval training, which can be done on the trails or on the road, but I do on a turbo trainer. This is making a big difference to my leg power on sharp climbs and short flat or uphill sprints on trails. Read the review on the 12 Week MTB Training Programme
4. Eat & drink
The biggest problem I used to have was burning out on a long ride after a couple of hours. And for ages, no matter how much I rode, I couldn’t really get over that wall. Until I started paying attention to what I ate before a ride and how much I drank during rides. Having a good breakfast before and regular snacks during means my energy levels stay relatively constant. I tend to have something to eat after every big climb or every 30-40 minutes on long days out. What you eat depends on your own preference and what works best for you. Personally, I prefer to stay away from sweets and chocolate bars and have more natural nut bars or homemade flapjack type snacks. Have a look in our nutrition section for a couple of ideas.
Hydration is even more important than food I’ve found. Especially in the warmer seasons, even if the sun isn’t out. Only on the shortest of rides, lasting less than an hour can I get away with not bringing any water. For everything else, I make sure to carry about a litre of water for every hour I intend to be out, or enough to last me until I can refill my water bottle or hydration pack. I notice very quickly if I’ve not had enough to drink, energy levels drop and my concentration starts to slip. Another point I’m discovering more recently is that hydration has a cumulative effect. If I make sure to drink enough over the course of several days or a week before a day’s riding I feel much better than if I just pay attention to the amount I’m drinking while out.
I’m sure a lot of us fall into the same trap: the time we have to go for rides is restricted due to other life responsibilities. Then when we do get out we want to cover as many trails or miles as we can in the time we have. But in doing that I found that while I was maintaining a decent level of fitness, my abilities never really improved much. More recently on some rides, I’ve tried to focus on specific skills while repeating a single trail or section of trail. Or if I mess up or chicken out of a certain feature I try to go back and repeat it until I get it right. While this means I’m not setting any Strava records on those rides, my abilities are improving and overall I’m getting faster and more confident.
6. Ride with faster riders
If you are the fastest in your regular group of rider you are unlikely to improve much more. There is nothing like trying to keep up with someone else to spur you on. Following quicker riders than me down trails, I find myself pushing harder into corners, trying new lines or spotting different lines they’re trying.
Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash