How to Clear Obstacles While Mountain Biking

Mountain biking means leaving the pavement behind and charting the unpredictability of the natural world. So, what do you do when an obstacle is heading your way?

Stopping mid-trail will throw off your rhythm, especially when climbing, forcing you to dismount and start from rest. Clearing the obstacle sends you over it, so you can keep pedaling without losing speed, but some blockages are too tall or slick to clear. Use this guide to learn when to stop, when to steer around and when to clear obstacles while mountain biking.

How to Prepare for Obstacles While Mountain Biking

Preparing for obstacles starts with the right mountain biking gear. Ensure you have a helmet, goggles, gloves, boots and pads to reduce your risk of injury. Remember — a helmet alone can lower your risk of head injury by 50 percent. Familiarize yourself with the terrain you’ll be riding on, and always ride within your skill level. 

Riding in pairs gives you a second pair of eyes to watch for obstacles. Use Bluetooth bike helmets to connect to your companion wirelessly. The device connects automatically when in range to keep you focused on the trail. Just speak into the receiver mounted on your helmet to give each other a heads-up when objects appear. You can coordinate your plan of attack quickly to avoid getting separated. 

Clearing obstacles requires expert handling and braking experience. If you’re new to riding, perfect your mountain bike training to build the necessary skills. Practice getting around obstacles and jumping short distances by raising the front wheel of your bike. Start with beginner trails with fewer turns and incremental hills before moving on to intermediate and advanced courses. 

Check trail conditions by talking to the park owners or outgoing riders to see if it’s safe to ride. If obstacles are present, reduce your speed and prepare to stop in places you wouldn’t normally expect. Consider rescheduling if there’s too much debris on the ground or the trail is slick. Snow, mud and water increase your stopping distance and make it harder to land a jump.

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You should only ride on designated mountain bike trails. Unfamiliar areas often have man-made obstacles that are impossible to avoid. One poor cyclist recently found that out the hard way after running in a hidden barbed wire

Clearing Obstacles on a Mountain Bike

Lift the Front Wheel

The only way to clear an obstacle is to get over or on top of it by raising your wheels, starting with the front. Lean back with your spine straight to put your weight towards the rear. Do a pedal stroke by forcing your dominant foot down on the pedals. This gives the bike an energy boost and can lift the front wheel automatically. If that doesn’t work, you can pull the handlebars towards you mid-stroke to increase your ground clearance. 

If you feel unstable, engage the rear brake to lower the front wheel quickly. 

The front should land on or on the other side of the obstacle. Practice by drawing a line in the dirt to represent the obstacle. Try to get over it without letting your front tire touch the line. Move onto small objects like twigs to get this skill down pat. Use this time to estimate how far the front wheel gets off the ground to approximate the bike’s clearance. 

Lift the Rear Wheel

Once the front wheel is on or over the obstacle, do the same for the rear. Position your body over the front of the bike. Bend your knees to get your bottom off the saddle, and lean your chest and shoulders forward until they are over the handlebars. Taking your weight off the rear helps it move over the obstacle with minimal vibrations so you can keep pedaling. 

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If the obstacle is too large for the rear wheel to get over, use your legs to raise the rear wheel off the ground. Make a 90-degree angle with your foot, with your toes pointing up and your heel down. Clasp the bike using your legs like a claw and bend your knees to lift it several inches. 

Knowing When to Clear Obstacles

Not all obstacles are safe to clear. If the object is taller than your average clearance, resting on unstable ground or is likely to shift mid-jump, go around it instead. Otherwise, your wheel spokes could get caught on the branches, or the object could slip out from under you as soon as you jump on. The same is true if there are wet leaves, ice or snow on the surface of the obstacle. When caught in a rut that throws off your approach, you will have trouble jumping and turning simultaneously, so consider walking it instead. 

Some obstacles force you onto a ledge or steep incline, making it nearly impossible to get off and walk. Focus on getting your front wheel onto the platform and then shift to a climbing stance to build enough momentum to climb. 

It’s always better to err on the side of caution when clearing obstacles on a mountain bike. Wear the proper gear and avoid jumps that increase your risk of injury. Note these tips to get around or over any obstacle on the trail.

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