What do you do when trails are closed or you can’t get out to ride your bike? Why not practice skills and tricks that will help you when you get back out on the trails?
While mountain biking is all about adventure and getting “out there,” you don’t actually need much space to learn many of the basic skills. Whether it’s in your back yard or, for some of these, in your living room, here’s seven skills and tricks you can learn without much physical space.
As you roll up to the curb, compress your front suspension and arms, like you're compressing a spring.
Shift your weight back and lift the front tire off the ground
Front wheel comes off the ground..
And lands on the curb
Shift your weight forward to start unweighting the rear tire
Lift up with the pedals (a "scooping" movement if you're on flats) and lift the rear tire over the curb
Re-centre your weight on the bike and roll away
If you have a yard or even just curb near your place, you can learn to get up and over obstacles on the trail without touching your wheels. Learning how to do this will make your riding smoother, help you clean new trail features, and keep your rims from damage – especially the back wheel. Start slow – practice lifting your front wheel and back wheel up over the curb until you can do that without hitting either tire. Then build speed until you can do this at trail speed. Once you have that, the next step is bunny hops, or bigger obstacles.
Start by compressing down, just like you would if you were going to do a standing jump. Making a weird face, like you're trying really hard, is recommended but does not help in any functional way.
Explode out of that crouch, driving your feet into the pedals and pulling up on the bars to lift the front end of the bike.
An aside: for whatever reason, I started looking down at my tire here. Don't do that - look where you're going. See, we're all learning something today!
Once the front wheel is up, it's time to lift the back end of the bike. Pull up on the pedals by angling the foot down a bit, and pushing back againt the pedals. Imagine you've stepped in dog poop, and you're scraping the bottom of your shoe clean on a curb - same movement.
As you do the "shoe scrape," push forward on the bars, lifting the front wheel off
Both wheels off the ground, it's time to think about landing
Try to put both wheels on the ground at the same time, gently
Then compress your arms and legs to make the landing softer. Like bonus suspension on top of what the bike has. Or the Mighty Ducks catching a an egg on a hockey stick. Again, look forward at what's coming up on the "trail" - not down at your front axle.
Bunny hops are one of the most useful skills on the trail. They’re also one of the most common for riders to struggle with, or to have poor technique. This is especially true for riders that learned to jump on clipless pedal, instead of flats, and pull up on the pedals to get off the ground. While not wrong, this technique does limit how high you can jump.
Throwing a pair of flat pedals – even a cheap old pair – and taking the time to learn to bunny hop without relying on your cleats will pay off when you get back on the trail. It’s easier to learn while rolling, but if you’re crunched for space and can track stand, you can do this in your garage or apartment.
Track stands are hugely helpful on the trail. To learn, it's easiest to start on a slight incline, using slight pressure on the pedals to keep from rolling back
The bike will move back and forth as you try to keep balance. The goal is, eventually, to balance with no brakes and little movement.
Of course, all of this is easier if you remember to install a cassette on your bike ...
That's it. That's the trick. Just staying upright without moving.
Track standing is an infinitely useful skill and requires zero space to learn. Even if you don’t have a yard and can’t go outside. This is one you can practice in your living room, without destroying the house.
Bonus round: Try balance while sitting down. With one hand, or no hands. How about one foot? There are so many variations. Then sign up for Instagram and #trackstandchallenge.
Don’t listen to me on this one. Trials master Ryan Leech is offering his online 30-day wheelie course free right now, though, and you should definitely listen to him. He’s really good at doing, and teaching wheelies. If you need proof, go watch his segment from The Collective.
Stationary manual box. is great for learning the movement and feel of balancing on the back wheel.
Fixing the back wheel in place helps teach balance, while side struts keep you from tipping over sideways.
The contraption is relatively easy to build.
Extra lateral support out front helps keep the bike stable.
This is another one that remains elusive, despite years of trying. But it is one you can start practicing with minimal space using this manual-box. It is relatively simple to make at home. While it isn’t quite the same as a moving bike, it is a safer way to learn where the balance point is when riding on just the back wheel. While using the back brake will keep you from going over backward, you can connect an old tube or bungee cord to the front wheel for extra security.
Drops on trails can be one of the more intimidating trail features. But you can start learning the technique for this more advanced move in a low-risk way close to home. All you need is a curb, or similar 4-6″ surface you can roll off of like a deck. Use the skills you learned with wheelies and manuals (though you don’t have to have either move mastered to try these – all you need is to be able to unweight your front wheel) and apply them to this simulated trail feature! The goal is to consistently land smoothly, softly, with both wheels touching the ground at the same time. Learning in a low-risk setting keeps you safe if the front wheel does drop.
Opposite foot forward
Got all of them down? Try them with the opposite foot forward. It’s way harder. But, it is very useful when you need to react to the unexpected on trail, and don’t have time to switch to your normal stance. Plus, balanced muscle development is good for your body.