Every day, we hear questions that start out something like this—”Hey, I’m an XC rider, and I’m interested in (All-Mountain, Enduro, Trail Riding, take your pick,), what kind of bike do I need?” The truth is that, while you can buy speed, you can’t buy skill, and getting a better bike won’t necessarily make you a better rider. Think of it this way—if you spend a day at an auto race track, there’ll be guys putting up blindingly fast laps in unassuming beater cars, and then there’re the guys driving gorgeous Italian supercars who couldn’t put up a clean lap if their lives depended on it. Which would you rather be?
This doesn’t mean that your bike doesn’t matter. All things being equal, a more capable bike will allow you to tackle hairier terrain without losing your cool, and this shouldn’t be sold short. However, unless you’re already a household name in mountain biking, your riding can stand to improve. It doesn’t matter how long that you’ve been riding, how many KOMs you’ve bagged, or how many of your friends you can best on your local loops. The upshot is that cornering, jumping, and pumping can be learned in surprisingly little time by logging some time on a decent pump track. To many of you, this is old news, but if you’ve never seen a pump track, now would be a good time to get familiar.
They range from modest backyard loops to high budget circular race tracks. There’s relatively little risk involved with riding them, and great ones are fun for men, women, and kids, newbies and pros. This probably explains why they’ve been popping up like weeds in empty lots and city-sponsored parks around the world. However, what all of them share is that to ride them well, you don’t pedal. As in, you may as well remove your chain. This may come as a shock to those who cut their teeth on the pedaling-heavy disciplines, but while a powerful motor is helpful, other skillsets are far more important if you want to push the pace once the trails get interesting. That is, assuming that you want to do it all while in control. If you’d prefer to take the hotshot approach, and ride way over your head, well, just don’t say that we didn’t warn you.
As previously mentioned, the bike shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’re looking to step your technical riding up a notch, the safety afforded by shorter stems, wider handlebars, high-volume tires, and relaxed head angles are undeniable, which is why they’ve all become commonplace on most modern mountain bikes. And by now, disc brakes are an obvious given. Today’s mountain bikes, with remote actuated dropper posts and gobs of travel, no longer suffer the weight penalty of their predecessors—minimizing the compromise associated with descending and technical prowess.
If you do decide to upgrade your equipment, make sure to spend the time to correctly set up your suspension. It’s amazing how many bikes make it out onto the trails without at least setting sag and adjusting rebound settings to a safe range. But, before you rush out to get that new long-travel hotness, we still recommend getting comfortable on a pump track to work on those skills. After all, we really want to be the guy in the Lambo putting up the fastest laps— the envy of everyone else on the track.