Friday, May 21, 2010

Mountain Bike Skill: Looking Down the Trail

Looking through the corner.
A month or two ago I wrote a guest blog for, in which I briefly touched on the most fundamental skill inherent in mountain biking: looking down the trail.
One of the fundamental skills of mountain biking is keeping the eyes up, looking down the hill and reading the trail. The general rule is: the faster you’re going, the farther ahead you need to look. As a beginner, this flies in the face of the instinctual urge to stare at your front wheel. This deceptive urge must be overcome. If you look down the trail, you know what’s coming at you. Your brain will remember what you have already seen and where your front wheel is going and what is directly in front of you. If you are staring at where the front wheel hits the ground, however, you will have no idea what is coming down the trail. Roots and rocks will catch you by surprise and cause you to crash. Quick hills and turns will come up suddenly and if you’re not looking ahead, you’ll shift late, and lose your flow.
  One of the key things that needs to be added to the above summary is that wherever you are looking, that's where you will go. If you are looking straight down the trail in your intended direction of travel, the odds of ending up there in a matter of seconds are in your favor.  If, however, you are staring at a tree or rock you don't want to hit, you will probably hit it.  Instead of staring at that tree or rock, you need to look past it to where you want to go.

The same holds true on a really exposed, bench-cut trail. If you look over the side and down the hill to where you don't want to fall, chances are you may end up veering off the trail (or at least coming close to it). Instead, keep your eyes trained ahead, looking at the singletrack, narrow and exposed though it may be. If you keep your eyes fixed on your intended path of travel, you will make that intention become a reality.

This skill is also the key strategy to riding switchbacks effectively.  I will write more about that soon!

The Rest of the Series
Be sure to round out your arsenal of Mountain Bike Skills by reading the rest of the series here.

What have been your experiences with looking down the trail? When has it helped you, and when have you fallen because you weren't looking far enough ahead?  Do you have any tips for helping teach beginners how to look ahead?


mikal qualls,  June 9, 2010 at 11:34 AM  

i am only 12 years old and i just ordered my first 850 dollar mountain bike in monroe michigan so email me at and tell me a close mountain bike trail in monroe michigan

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Greg Heil is the Editor in Chief for He's been writing and publishing online since before blogging existed.

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Mountain biking, plain and simple. Trail reviews, ride reports, and philosophical musings induced by delirium from grinding up way too many vertical feet.

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