When you have a problem the first step is realizing that you have a problem. Then you can start working on fixing the problem.
This week I started to figure out how to ride my mountain bike. Yeah, I’ve been riding it for a couple of years, and yes most of the races I have been in have been mtb races. But really I am a roadie pretending to ride a mtb. I had a couple of things crystallize in my brain that have helped. They also helped me figure out why it is harder for a roadie to go mountain than a mtb’er to go road.
Here is what I figured out (and am still dealing with). For me its all a bike handling issue. When you ride a road bike you don’t really every want your tires to leave the ground or slide. Those things generally lead to road rash or worse. On a MTB, on a real mtb trail, your tires leave the ground, and more importantly they slide. And that, after years of road biking is disturbing.
On a mtb the knobby tires they may slip but if your weight is right that’s not bad. You want to lean the bike and weight the tires in the corners. That digs the knobs into the ground, gives you traction and gets you around the corner. Leaning the bike and weighting the tires is a skill.
Once you develop that skill what you have to develop on a mtb is trust. Trust in your bike. Trust in your position. Trust that when the tire slips in a corner that it is going to grab before you wash out. As a roadie its hard to not get worried when a tire starts to slide. I find I still tense up a little bit when the tires start to slip. Then I start looking down at my tires (instead of ahead of the bike, really anything you might be looking down at is too close to do anything about). And sometimes if I tense too much I grab some brake (a REALLY exciting thing to do in a corner). Then the whole riding a mtb thing becomes harder. (Relaxed, looking ahead = easy; tense, looking down = hard)
I feel like I am pretty good right now on dry or tacky ground. On wet and muddy ground I am still working on trust.
Right now its raining like mad. The XC course will likely be muddy Saturday for the race. (Thanks for the opportunity universe.)