Skills Coaching Overview

The following will be covered extensively throughout clinics and coaching sessions (this overview is merely a brief description of the main points and segments of the clinic. Riders will receive a very detailed written/digital curriculum when they attend the clinic).

The curriculum is designed to start with the most important elements of riding and build off of these. For instance, without proper body position and weight placement on the bike—without a proper ”foundation”—the rider will have a very difficult time providing effective movements and control on the bike: therefore, position is covered first. As the instruction progresses, it will vary, somewhat, due to the needs of the rider. However, riding is fundamentally the same regardless of the rider’s ability: a professional downhiller will use very similar skills as the recreational rider but in much different manner and under different conditions.

1) Descending Body Position. This is the foundation of riding the Mountain Bike Riding in technically challenging terrain. Much of what we do on the bike will build off of this position and it will frequently be revisited throughout the clinic.

Proper body position allows for optimal balance, optimal support of body mass, optimal movement and power. It also allows the rider to work most effectively in accord with the design of the bike. Proper position is critical and often misunderstood, thus, we will also address many myths and misconceptions that have been passed around MTB riding circles.  For instance, we don’t want to “lean back” on descents or drop-offs (as is often taught), nor do we want any weight to be on our hands and bars/front wheel in order to gain traction (again, a common misconception…which will become super obvious as we move through the instruction). Often terrible riding advice is passed around by people/riders that are viewed as authorities on the subject: just because the local pro is super fast; the local shop owner has been around forever; the marketing guy for X company knows everybody in the industry… none of that means they know and/or can effectively explain how to properly ride the bike.

This segment deals primarily with kinesiology: movements, and functions of the human body, and, how this is optimally applied to MTB riding. It draws heavily from personal training, motocross, stick and ball sports, etc., that are, and have been, quite a ways ahead of MTB instruction, coaching, and technique for many years. I back up any instruction that I give with knowledge and understanding of biology, sports-med education, etc.

Demonstrations and drills will accompany all instruction and will give riders the tools necessary to for step-by-step progression to all levels of riding.

2) Ascending Body Position. As with descending, there are many misconceptions and myths that surround climbing difficult terrain on a MTB, and these will be addressed. What may work on the road bike, or easy sections of MTB trail, often, will not work very well once the MTB trail gets technically difficult. Proper body position and weight placement, pedal cadence, being able to properly accelerate the bike (essential to many of the skills listed here), lightening and lifting the front wheel, timing pedal strokes and “ratchet pedaling” in order to avoid pedal strikes, among others — and the reasons why the techniques are necessary– will all be addressed. Again, drills to learn, practice, and continue to improve these skills will be given.

3) Vision. Though all areas of riding are obviously very important, it can be argued that understanding and using proper visual techniques is the most important aspect of MTB riding for any level of rider. Proper visual techniques allow the rider to have adequate time to process and make decisions on the trail AND allow for adequate time to properly manipulate the bike in regards to those decisions. This allows the rider to find the “good lines” on the trail and to move in the most efficient, safest, and often fastest manner. Proper vision techniques will also allow for a much more relaxed and comfortable mental state in riding. This is crucial to confidence, which is crucial to riding the bike well. There is WAY more to this then the common riding advice of simply “looking ahead” on the trail.

Most riders tend to micro-manage the trail and fixate on the obstacles (this means that they don’t have enough time to do what they need to do with line selection, maneuvering the bike, etc.—they literally are going too fast for their poor visual techniques to do the critical job of deciphering the trail). When done properly, the rider will focus on Macro-Managing—dealing with LARGE sections of trail, often encompassing what was previously seen as multiple trail sections—and finding, managing, and focusing on SOLUTIONS to these large trail sections. Top athletes of all speed oriented sports: DH ski racing, motocross, car racing, proper MTB, etc., employ very similar techniques of properly seeing their respective terrain. Again, whether a rider is looking to find speed or simply wants to be more in control and safer on the bike, the techniques required are the same (or very similar) and ALWAYS extremely crucial for success.

Line choice, momentum paths, reference points, distances, etc., will all be covered.

4) Braking. Proper braking is one of the most critical, yet over looked aspect of MTB riding (Really, riding well in technically difficult terrain is all about managing momentum). Consistently, the fastest and most competent riders that I work with (some of the top professional Downhill racers in the country) come away from instruction and coaching with their largest gains coming from learning proper braking techniques. Riders need to think of braking as “Momentum Management” rather then just the simple act of trying to stop or slow down. Each wheel plays a distinctively different role in braking (usually, but not always!). Understanding how traction works is crucial to understanding proper braking technique. Also, maintaining proper body position when braking is extremely important because the rider will obviously have to transition from braking immediately into the next obstacle (corner, rock garden, root section, etc.), which will obviously also require proper control of the bike. The sayings “braking for speed” and “have to go slow to go fast” definitely have merit.

5) Wheelies. We will cover two types of wheelies. One, the “Pedal Wheelie” or “Power Wheelie.” This wheelie is initiated by accelerating the bike forward, along with a subtle weight shift, and often the rider will continue to pedal to keep to front wheel elevated and/or weightless over a distance. This wheelie is usually done while climbing, but also any time that the rider needs/wants to maintain and/or generate more momentum (by continuing to pedal), while at the same time, needing to get the weight off of the front wheel. The second wheelie, the “Manual” or “Coaster Wheelie”, will also be covered. This wheelie is usually done while descending, or whenever the rider has plenty of momentum but needs to manipulate the front wheel to keep the front of the bike out of trouble, minimize impacts, keep the front of the bike elevated off drop, etc. This wheelie is the beginning of high-level riding and must be done properly and under control in many situations, often at speed.

Neither of these wheelies are properly executed by yanking up on the bars with the arms or by compressing the front suspension and then using the rebound to aid in elevating the front wheel. While these often advised (and horribly misguided) techniques may work at the lower levels of riding, you’ll get yourself in big trouble if you rely on these improper techniques—for various reasons—once the terrain gets more difficult and proper control becomes mandatory.

Many riders can “wheelie” and get the front wheel off of the ground, but doing it under control, and in various situations, is what becomes important for real MTB riding.

6) Cornering.

“Jump for show, corner for dough!”

Obviously, proper cornering technique is crucial to high-level riding. Cornering will be covered extensively. Improper cornering will also be addressed because there is probably more terrible advice out there on cornering then any other aspect of riding. Also, what happens before and after the corner, on the trail, is obviously very important and almost never (actually: never, as far as I know…) addressed in any other MTB instruction in regards to actual cornering technique: the transition from proper braking to proper cornering (or following obstacle) is critical. We’ll also need to manage our momentum in many corners (not all) and that requires proper braking techniques (many riders believe that you can’t/shouldn’t brake in a corner…this is simply not possible—I don’t care what level of rider we’re dealing with. But it MUST be done correctly.). Banked corners can be sometimes be treated differently then flat corners; sometimes our pedals will need to go to the twelve and six position, sometimes they won’t…

This will all be covered extensively.

7) Manipulating the rear wheel. Just as we need to manipulate the front wheel—for all kinds of reasons in all kinds of situations—we’ll also need to manipulate the rear.

For the beginner rider, this means simply being able to lighten or lift the wheel to help it get up ledges, over logs, roots, etc. For the more advanced rider, this means changing angles and lines entering and exiting corners and switchbacks. This needs to be accomplished both with as  well as without braking. At the higher levels this involves “drifting” the bike, etc. This is also a critical skill when getting the entire bike into the air.

8) Drop-offs, Jumping, “bunny-hopping”… This is arguably the highest level of riding and also the most painful when you screw it up. Even if riders never intend to “jump” anything, even at the beginner level, most riders will find that their entire bike will leave the ground at some point. Thus, it is very important to have working knowledge of how to manage things when this happens and how to get these skills to a level of competence for purposes of safety. Obviously at the upper levels of riding, manipulating the entire bike into the air, and doing it under control, is a necessary tool.

For some riders (many beginners and novices), this segment of instruction will deal with a lot more discussion then actually trying to execute the skills, because of the danger involved. No matter your level of ability, there are simple drills that can be done to improve one’s skill set to the next level (whether the goal is simply safety or to generate speed).

8) Switchbacks. At this point in the instruction, riders have learned all that is necessary to deal with both uphill and downhill switchbacks. However, the very nature of a switchback makes them extremely difficult: a VERY steep section of trail with a cliff on one side; having to ride extremely slow (very little momentum) while dealing with tricky trail features such as water bars, rock ledges, roots, etc. (the kind of things you find in steep sections of trail); often fatigue while going uphill—switchbacks are always going to be on the steepest parts of the trail and often at the top of climbs.)

Just as when riding in a straight line—uphill or downhill—vision, body position, pedal cadence (uphill), proper braking (downhill…and, sometimes uphill, too!), line choice, etc., will come into play and will all be addressed.


DirtSmart MTB offers the MOST clear and comprehensive, yet advanced and premium, MTB instruction available…BAR NONE!

Consistently, DirtSmart students come away for the instruction stating that they now see riding as conceptionally simple (though this doesn’t mean that it’s easy!!) and are able to identify the proper techniques needed in any given situation on the trail. More importantly, they have the tools in the form of skills, drills, demonstrations, feedback, critiques, that are provided during instruction and a detailed written curriculum to draw from and reference in order to always continue to improve their riding, no matter their ability level.

DirtSmart MTB Instruction was developed from almost 20 years years of professional gravity racing, full-time professional MTB coaching offered nation-wide since 2007, formal sports-med education, personal training; a lifetime of high-level motocross and high-level athletics; years of MTB industry experience including Yeti Factory Race Team Mechanic, professional trail builder, and years of bike shop and other bike- industry experience. Obviously, knowledge of bike and equipment design, dealing with injuries, nutrition, training, etc., can and will also be addressed during instruction.

You WILL NOT find a better resource for improving your MTB skills then DirtSmart MTB. If you are a potential student, I highly encourage to research any MTB instruction organization that you may intend to work with, the organization’s reputation, exactly whom will be leading your particular instruction, etc., and I am quite sure that you will come to the same conclusion.

Feel free to contact DirtSmart MTB for any additional information: