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How to start mountain biking

Canadian mountain biker Gunnar Holmgren gives us a few tips

Gunnar Holmgren is one of Canada’s top young mountain bikers, not to mention a former national cyclocross champion and all-around demon on two-wheels. Currently Holmgren is in the Austrian Alps on a training block having just finished two rounds of the World Cup in Albstadt, Germany and Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. 

“I had a good first race in Germany and some tough luck in Czech,” Holmgren says. “It’s a great feeling to return to racing and finally put all of my work over the winter into action. I’m excited for the next racing block.”

Holmgren just spent the winter in Victoria, B.C. riding the trails in the area, which he says are “very challenging trails for more experienced riders and great views too.” In the east, Holmgren says it’s hard to beat Quebec. “Bromont, Mont Tremblant and Lac Beauport have a ton of naturally technical trails. There’s also something about my home trails that are great fun.”

For our Spring Training Day 10, which features mountain biking, we decided this Orillia, Ontario-based athlete would be perfect for a quick how-to. 

When did  you take up mountain biking and what inspired you?

I grew up in a cycling family. We rode together on the trails of Oro-Medonte and raced the Wednesday night series at Hardwood Ski & Bike. I always remember having fun when going out for a ride. I was hooked on the sensation of speed, flow and adventure.

What do you like about it when compared to other two-wheeled sports?

I enjoy how versatile a mountain bike is. You can ride down pretty much any path that you stumble upon to discover new places and more paths. There’s also a whole other dimension of skills to acquire when riding a mountain bike. There’s always room to improve and every ride you learn something new.

What would you say to other people to inspire them to take up mountain biking?

Probably to borrow a friend’s bike and go ride. Whether you enjoy being outdoors, getting exercise or going on adventure; there’s something that anyone can enjoy while riding. And the odds are that the trails are closer than you think.

What is the first step in learning to mountain bike?

Get on and go. Ride with a group of friends who are willing to teach you some basics like where to put your hands, how to brake, standing on the pedals etc.  However, riding lots and trying new things will progress your skill at the beginning more than anything else.

How important is body position?

Body position is the most important! You rely on where you place your body for stability going around corners, down hills and climbing. All the control comes from the rider manipulating the bike. I could write all day about body position but there are videos on youtube and coaches that will explain it much better than myself. Once you’re comfortable on your bike, get out and explore the techniques you just watched on YouTube.

How do I navigate around a turn infested with roots and rocks? What's the strategy?

If you’re feeling uncomfortable about a section it’s best to get off and inspect some lines. Often the smoothest, most direct line is the safest and as a bonus, the fastest as well. Watching another rider ride or even following them into the section can give you the confidence to ride it yourself. 

What about braking?

Braking is just as important for staying in control as it is for going fast. I like to make sure my brakes are in the right position on my bars and that they bite at the right point. It’s best when you don’t really have to think about it and your brakes feel like an extension of your hands. It’s also important to know the limit of your brakes. A good exercise is to go out and do a full emergency stop with the rear brake only, then the front. Just be careful with the front!

Is there a good way to fall? Does that happen often, and should beginners wear padding of some sort?

Some people are better at falling than others. Most trails are quite safe in Ontario but it wouldn’t hurt to throw on some shin pads for when it gets steep and rough.

What is the proper etiquette on the trail?

Ride within control. Yield to other riders. Be aware. Don’t litter. Have fun.

What about navigating over logs and bigger objects, how do we do that?

It’s too complicated to explain everything that goes into popping over a log. Put simply; you lift your front wheel off the ground and then the rear. Progress from smaller to larger logs. Try and combine lifting the front and rear in one sweeping motion (bunny hop)

What is essential to have on a mountain bike in terms of suspension and things like that?

It’s best to just know your setup. An older tire with the right pressure will ride better than a new tire with too much pressure. Invest your time into setting up your suspension, seat height, brakes etc. That will make the biggest difference.

 How do we find out where to mountain bike?

Trailforks is a great online platform for finding new trails to ride and trail conditions. Consult your local club, ask other riders at the trail head or go out and explore. It’s yours to discover.

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