As a 36-year-old Australian male mountain biker, it takes a lot for me to admit that I don’t, in fact, know everything there is to know about mountain bikes and how to ride them fast and efficiently. And often I’m reminded at my local mountain bike park that similarly aged riders aren’t the experts that we’d like to think we are.

Thankfully, the growth in mountain biking means growth in skills courses too. Seasoned mountain bikers, or those new to the sport, can fine tune their skills or learn the basics without being left to figure it out alone (and probably doing it the wrong way for too long in the process).

Dylan Cooper, of Ride Technics, has delivered skills tuition to new and experienced riders alike for over 12 years. With a history of racing going back to the mid 1990s in downhill, cross-country and now enduro, Cooper has amassed a wealth of knowledge on what the most essential skills are for mountain biking – no matter your chosen discipline.

On a recent visit to Canberra and Cooper’s local haunt Mt Stromlo, we took in a lap of the trails so I could glean some tips from the master. While we worked on some finer points, I came up with my own messages to work on for homework.

Don’t follow the masses

It’s too easy to follow the well-worn line on popular trails, but Cooper encourages you to look beyond what everyone is riding, to what lines are faster, and often safer and more efficient. 

Read, don’t react

Looking up the trail is an essential skill, and something Dylan makes riders practice – since each trail feature affects the next. You should be looking ahead beyond the immediate obstacles, so you’re linking your lines together, and not just reacting to what’s directly in front of your front wheel. 

Ride the dirty line

My focus is cross-country and marathon racing, and as we ride Cooper points out the importance of changing your lines and being open to new ones as conditions change. A big thing here is finding traction within the bounds of the course tape – and sometimes that means getting further onto the edge to where your tyres will dig in. It might not be as clean – but it can give you more space to work with to maintain speed and control. 

Light hands

Look around on the trails and you’ll see a lot of people gripping the bars hard, looking super stern and probably not going that fast. Then you’ll see someone cool as a cucumber, going effortlessly at super-speed. Sometimes the difference is how they’re using their body. Our lower body is the strongest connection to the bike we have, and keeping pressure down through the pedals to push the bike with our legs and hips through corners does a far better job of getting caught over the front of the bike too much and using a death grip.