This is a bit of a digression from the plan set out in the first Beginner’s Guide to MTB. What can I say? I got bored and I changed my mind – I’m sorry. For those that were eagerly waiting how to ‘talk the talk’, maybe I’ll write it sometime. But this is much more important!
It doesn’t matter whether last weekend was your first time out or your 2000th, there is no-one that wouldn’t benefit from some technique coaching. There is a major focus on endurance in South Africa; with all the half and full marathon events (and longer) it is easy to fall into the trap of doing just base training. If you’re unsure of what base training is; it is training at a low intensity for a long time, usually >3hrs – it builds your endurance (or ‘base’ fitness) but does very little for the speed you ride at, and even less for your technical ability.
Long slow cycles produce long slow cyclists. (Something I heard somewhere, paraphrased…)
There are plenty of more advanced training techniques such as fasted riding, pyramid intervals etc, and these are required for competing at a professional level; but for the average rider (as the vast majority of us are) you will see huge improvements with these simple and fun tips!
Do shorter rides, faster
Short rides are great because you can fit them into an hour or two before or after work. To get the most out of a short ride bump up the pace a bit or throw in a few sprint sections. Riding like this will have the effect of building strength and increasing your overall speed. This is where apps like Strava are useful as they allow you to track your progress (I’m a self-confessed Segment Slave) – just remember not to take Strava too seriously, it’s not the most accurate and you risk becoming a ‘Stravasshole’.
Focus on skills
This is probably the area that gets the least focus (especially in SA) and yet there are huge gains to be had with very little effort! Upping your skill level will allow you to spend less energy trying to stay on the bike over technical terrain, walk less, pedal less, pedal more efficiently, generate speed with your whole body, and not be the one holding other people up on the singletrack. And the best part? All this is without a doubt the most fun to improve, and far cheaper than buying a lighter bike! It is worthwhile to take a skills clinic (EnduroMTBWorld, Biking in the Bosch, iRide Africa) as they will revolutionise the way you ride your bike – no matter how good you are.
Then get out and challenge yourself – try an intermediate (or advanced) route that you haven’t done before, play on your bike; do jumps and try wheelies. If you think you’re having fun now, remember this; mountain biking is one of those sports where the better you are, the better it gets!