3 Essential Bike Skills


 Essential Skills for a Successful Day of Riding

Topics Covered:

1.       Equal weight on the pedals

2.       One finger on the brakes at all times

3.        Eyes scanning ahead

Anyone who has ridden a mountain bike before can tell you it’s a lot of fun, but the journey is not always smooth sailing. Depending on your skill level, experience, and the terrain that you are riding, the three essentials will stay the same but their implications will vary.

The Three Essentials for riding any terrain are weighting the pedals equally when not actively pedaling. Riding with one finger covering the brake lever at all times. And looking ahead with your eyes or scanning the upcoming terrain.

Think of these three essential skills as a triangle, and your feet make up the base.  We all know that while actively pedaling it is challenging to weight the pedals equally because as one leg drives the pedal down during the power stroke the opposite leg has to reduce pressure for the recovery stroke. But just what do we do when we are not pedaling?

This is where the equal weight on the pedals comes into play. When we want to coast or stop pedaling, we will need the pedals in the neutral position. If we think of our crank in the terms of a clock, and the pedals as the hands, we want to coast in the 9 and 3 positions. But why you ask? This affords us more ground clearance and the ability to equally weight the pedals for braking. This intern helps us absorb the shock of bumps and load the bike for front wheel lifts and other skills required to clear obstacles on the trial.

Neutral pedal position allows the rider to equally distribute their weight on each pedal.-Photo MST Adventures, Rider-Corey Spoores


The second essential skill is using one finger to cover the brake levers at all times. This should always be with your index finger. I know what you’re thinking. But trust me; your brakes can be used in climbing and a multitude of other skills vs. just stopping or slowing the bike down.  Covering the brake lever with your index finger is easy to do once you get the levers set up correctly. So depending on your grip position on the handle bars, you may need to move the levers in-board or out-board in order to position the end of the brake lever at your index finger.  Adjusting the brake lever up or down may be necessary based on your arm position as well. Keep in mind that we want straight lines from our forearm through our hands to the brake lever. If we have a large angle between our forearm and the top of our hand it will reduce our effectiveness when holding onto the handlebars, and create uncomfortable pressure on the palm of our hands.


Covering the brake levers with one finger is essential to control. The rider should always use their index finger, and the lever should be between their first and second knuckle. Photo-MST Adventures, Rider-Corey Spoores


The third essential skill is looking ahead while pedaling, or scanning the trail ahead.  Like new drivers, people who are new to mountain biking tend to look only at their front wheel and the small patch of ground just in front. But the more experienced rider and driver’s alike, look further ahead on the trail or road. How far is far enough?

The act of scanning ahead is one that is in constant flux, depending on your speed, the terrain, and your skill level. I recommend scanning 3-4 seconds ahead of your position while riding. This is crucial when it comes to maneuvering over, around, and through chunky terrain. By looking ahead it provides your brain the ability to process the upcoming trail and develop a plan of attack for your line of travel.

The third essential skill, eyes scanning, picking your line, and identifying obstacles on the trial. Photo-MST Adventures, Rider-Corey Spoores

Using the three essentials skills of equal pressure on the pedals, covering the brake with one finger at all times, and scanning ahead, will help develop good habits in your riding style. By developing these good fundamental habits early in your mountain biking career, it will help pave the road for skill development later on.


About the Author

Corey Spoores, has been riding bikes since he was a child. His first mountain bike was a Huffy Hammer. His first mountain biking class was with IPMBA (International Police Mountain Bike Association) in 2006. He is an IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) Certified Ride Guide and Fundamentals Instructor. Corey's favorite trail to ride is located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, at the Hiawatha Sportmans Club.