23 May 2017


On dirt, the key to speed is as much about body position as it is pumping the pedals. Your own weight plays a huge part in finding – or losing – grip. Here’s how to control it, and maximise every situation in your mountain biking life.

Descending trails

Everything starts with the ‘attack position’ – it’s also called the ‘ready position’, and though that’s less exciting it’s more appropriate. That’s because it’s actually very neutral.

Stand with knees and elbows slightly bent, ready to flex. Lower your chest, but keep your head up. Drop your heels – easy to forget if you use cleats, but it’s vital. Most of your weight should be on your legs, with your hands light on the bars. Whether you ride hardtail  or full-suss, and regardless of wheel-size, it’s the same principle.

Now the bike is free to move a great deal without pulling you off balance, yet you’re well on top for control. Imagine your legs and arms as shock absorbers – they move in and out to allow your core, and your center of gravity, to remain stable.

Take the attack position whenever things get fast or rough. Standing lets you move the bike very rapidly, allowing much faster direction changes than you could manage in the saddle.

If you’re rigidly connected to the bike – either by the seat of with stiff limbs – your entire body mass has to move as well. That takes more energy and time, and when the bike pulls back at you, you’ll be instantly off balance.

Last, but absolutely not least: keep your head up. Don’t look down at the front wheel. Looking forward makes everything feel slower, plus it almost magically improves your balance. Few things make as much difference to control. Even the best riders constantly work to look further down the trail.

Steep descents

Move your weight right back while dropping your heels, and get used to going low – you can buzz the rear tire if necessary! You’ll probably find it takes a bigger stretch than you think. The steeper the trail, the further back you must go to avoid being thrown over the bars.

This is where a shorter stem, combined with a longer frame, pays off. This combination puts the front axle further ahead of your mass, reducing the bike’s ability to lever you up and over the bars.

Steep climbs

Sitting down is most efficient, and gives the best rear grip. However, you need some weight forward for steering, so sit on the front of the saddle, lower your chest and drop your elbows. A properly-adjusted seatpost is a huge benefit here. Just a couple of centimetres lower than full height gives room to maneuver, while efficiency can be regained by dropping your heels.

Hover over the saddle for steps, roots and short ramps to allow the bike to roll up and over.


Push the bike down beneath you while staying relatively upright – it digs the tire knobbles tires into the trail for grip. Your inside arm should be almost straight, while the outside elbow is heavily bent. Keep that elbow up. The key is to turn your whole body, not just your head, into the turn.  A wider bar can really help, as it makes the position more natural, and the greater leverage improves stability.

What you must not do is lean in and try to keep the bike relatively upright. It might seem safer, but it’s not.

When you push the bike down and stay up, your body is only slightly inside the line of the wheels. This means when you lose grip, your mass has very little leverage with which to push the tires away. You have time and opportunity to save the slide.

If you’re leant further than the bike, however, there’s loads of leverage. A slide will see you simply fall down the inside of the bike, shoving the tires away as you go.

Remember that weighting the outside pedal sits your mass as low as possible, again reducing the leverage your own body has to push those lovely lightweight wheels away!