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How To Master Different Surfaces On Your Mountain Bike

How To Master Different Surfaces On Your Mountain Bike

If the roads are slick, you drive your car differently than you do on a dry summer day. The same goes for mountain biking. Brake or corner too hard on a wet surface, and you’ll be eating bark and tooth chips for lunch. Let’s look at how to handle some common bike surfaces like a pro.

Roads – Dry Vs. Wet

When the road is dry, you can pretty much ride as you like without worrying about traction. Still, be careful of any gravel, road ash or paint strips as they can cause a wipe out – especially on turns. Make sure you scan the road ahead, and brake beforehand to scrub off speed. Then release the brake and roll over confidently.

For wet roads, every turn can be hazardous, so again, slow down beforehand. Try not to lean too much on the turn and glide through gently.

Dry Trails

This is the mountain biker’s dream, or is it? When trails are very dry, dust can accumulate and cause you to slow down or slide out suddenly. You can’t always notice a patch of dust, but staying relaxed in the saddle helps you to react and adjust in time. When the trails are just moist enough, but not muddy, don’t be afraid to lean a bit harder in the turns. Rail it even deeper when the trail has a berm/bank built up along the outer perimeter.

Wet & Muddy Trails

Riding in mud is part and parcel of the mountain biker diet. If you approach a puddle along the trail you can try to skirt around it if the footing looks firm. Another tactic is to roll right down the middle, especially if the puddle’s on a turn.

Mud riding is an art in itself. It often requires you to pedal without moving too fast as your rear wheel spins. Maintain a steady, firm cadence until your tread finds traction. Descending in mud can be very dangerous. When in doubt, dismount until your skills mature (and you lose a bit of sanity).

Snow & Ice

A firm snowy trail can sometimes be as much fun as prime spring singletrack – but hidden dangers await. For instance, you might encounter a snow covered frozen patch that sends you flying. There’s not much you can do about this unless you have x-ray vision. If you do see ice, relax and roll over the middle without pedaling, braking or leaning. If the ice covers a large area, you may want to walk it or risk a nice knock on the noggin.

In deeper snow, your mud technique comes in handy. That is, firm, steady strokes until you find traction. In some cases, you might find yourself sort of gliding through the snow like a skier.


Gravel is a chore, and you have limited options. If it’s a short bit, you might mash it out and pedal through. For larger sections, you’d better have thighs like a rhinoceros. Typically, you grind to a halt and walk out of it. Be careful of gravel at a trail end, especially at high speeds. You could suddenly lose control, so brake early and arrive softly.


Each trail surface teaches you something new about riding and balance. Don’t be afraid to venture out, but be smart about it. Remember, brake well before you roll over tricky bits, and steady as she goes in the mud.

So keep in touch and get out on the trails.

About The Author

Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia…discover the shortcuts to mountain biking for beginners and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.

Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.

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