Welcome to the first of a series of skills based articles with Brisbane-based riding coach, shredder, and all around top bloke Cameron Allonby from Dirt Skills MTB Coaching. We’re kicking things off with a run down on basic riding positioning to give us a strong foundation to build on as the series progresses. Stay tuned for new articles dropping at the beginning of each month!
Every time you stand on the pedals, it is beneficial to follow a process that will make sure your body is in the same neutral position. The neutral position is standing tall on the bike with arms and legs almost straight. This reduces fatigue, keeping your limbs feeling fresh for the times when trails get gnarly and you need to get low and into the ready position.
Following a process each time you stand is important because it allows the body to learn patterns, creating muscle memory and autonomous movements. Fundamentally, the neutral and ready positions begin by following this effective process:
- Drop the Heels
- Hinge at the Hips
- Elbows Out
- Chin Up
1. Drop the Heels
Keeping the heels dropped allows riders to use the full range of movement in their ankles, which helps to transfer forces through the bike and into the ground.
Using the ankles keep your legs straight, but not locked out, and puts them in a strong position while keeping your knees relaxed and ready to bend. This gives your body a little extra suspension when needed to absorb bumps on the trails. For flat pedal riders, dropping heels also maximises grip on the pedals.
2. Hinge at the Hips
This is all about keeping your weight centred on the bike. Riders and bikes come in a myriad of shapes and sizes but as a ballpark guide, keeping your hips above the seat and chin over the stem will keep weight centred. Using the hips as a hinge is the best way to get the body in this position.
3. Elbows Out
Keeping your elbows out will bring your forearms in line with your forks. As your bike moves up and down with the trail, think about your elbows bending in the same way as a regular push-up rather than a tricep push-up. Moving your arms in this way is strong and efficient, while effectively tripling your suspension travel for free.
4. Chin Up
Lifting your chin raises your eyes and elevates your field of vision, allowing you to scan further down the trail. At the same time, it will make sure your back stays straight and help keep your core muscles engaged. Biomechanically, this is how the body works best. With a strong core, your head can remain stable to focus on the trail ahead while your limbs are free to make dynamic movements and help maintain balance.
Get Your Weight Centred
Once you have followed the drop, hinge, out, up process, it’s time to make sure you are stable by getting your weight centred on the bike. A good riding position helps create stability. Stable riders have a relaxed grip on the handlebars and their weight is centred between the wheels. This maximises traction from both tyres and puts the rider in a strong position to resist forces from the trail. From this centred position, a rider can move quickly and efficiently to react and recover, balancing as needed.
The easiest way to do this is to ride along and adjust your weight slightly forwards and backwards until you feel as though you can hover your hands slightly above the grips, when you get this feeling, your weight is centred.
Treat this centred, neutral position like a joystick, it is your go-to position whenever you stand up. From here you can make dynamic movements in any direction to regain balance and manage instability. Always make sure you spring back to the centre, ready to move and react to the next trail feature.
Neutral Vs Ready Position
Think monster truck (neutral) Vs rally car (ready).
The monster truck is tall, relaxed and has a lot of room for the wheels to travel up and down. It is ready to roll over rough terrain and absorb anything in its path; however, with a high centre of mass, the monster truck is unstable and gets a lot of body roll in corners.
Rally cars are low, aggressive and ready to corner like they’re on rails. With a low centre of mass, these cars are unbelievably stable; however, put large bumps in the way and there isn’t enough room to absorb the impact, hitting the car hard and sending it off course.
Thankfully for mountain bikers, we can adjust on the fly and aren’t stuck in just one position. Being tall and relaxed in the neutral position will be strong and comfortable enough to hold all day, a great spot to be in between the technical sections.
When things get rough, nasty and gnarly, getting low and into the ready position will increase your stability and improve your range of movement. This is great for performance but wears you out quickly. Try your best to be fluid between these positions so that you are always in the optimal riding position for the terrain beneath your tyres.
If you ever find yourself heading over the ditch with your bike, Cameron is available in the Brisbane area for small group coaching for 1-4 riders as well as holiday programs for the groms. Check out Dirt Skills for more info.