Mountain Bike Skills for Climbing and Descending Like a Pro

I remember getting my first mountain bike years ago, it had no shocks and it was heavy. Even though we were old enough to know better we asked ourselves, where should we take it? A mountain of course!

So we started climbing in the White Mountains with our bikes. We’d ride, push and carry them to get to the top of some hiking trail. Then we’d gear up and start descending down the mountain whooping,¬†hollering¬†and daring each other to go faster and blast through those technical sections. We crashed, endoed and skidded our way down but that’s how we learned to ride.

A lot of what we learned, we learned the hard way but it was fun, it was always an adventure and all these years later I still love riding through the woods on my bike. I prefer single track now but I still get a thrill out of tackling a tough climb and flying downhill on my bike. Here are some of the mistakes I made early on and the lessons I learned from them.


Generally, wherever you ride, you’ll encounter uphill sections. Many of these can be pretty challenging with loose rock, sand, mud, leaves, roots and more. Climbing is all about weight distribution and keeping yourself evenly centered between the front and rear wheels. If you’re too far forward you lose traction, too far back and you lose steering control when your front wheel comes up off the ground.

A great way to find your balance is on flat ground. Roll slowly and move your body forward, then move it back and finally into the center. I do this a few times on every ride to check in with my center.

One mistake I made when I started mountain biking was standing to soon on an ascent. Yes, standing generally provides you with additional power but it can also wear you out quickly.

Sit as long as possible before standing to conserve energy and climb as efficiently as possible. When seated and climbing focus on transferring power to your hamstrings. Working with your quad muscles, the hamstrings give you the extra boost you need to power through those tough uphill sections.

Another thing I found helpful was using toe clips or clip-less pedals. Having your feet locked in allows you to pull up on your rest stroke as well as powering on your down stroke. They take a little getting used to but well worth it in the long run. By the way, go with plastic toe clips so they “squish” if it takes a few rotations to get set.


I was riding with my son once at Sunday River and we both learned a valuable lesson about mountain bikes. We were amazed when he fell off his bike and it continued on its own down a very technical run for about 50 feet!

Mountain bikes are made to roll and absorb rocks, roots and rough terrain…it’s what they like to do! On descents let the bike do the work and try to stay off the brakes. “Feathering” your brakes during a decent helps you maintain control and speed.

Early on, in my Mountain Biking days, I let my fear get the best of me and I would grab the brakes on downhills, BIG MISTAKE! When you “lock” up your breaks you skid, loose steering control and prevent the bike from doing what it does best. It want’s to roll, let it go and enjoy the ride!

Another key to a successful descent is to look where you want to go, rather than looking at what you want to avoid. Look at the space between the rocks and that’s where you’ll go. Look at the rocks themselves and that’s where you’ll go.

While we’re talking about your eyes…get in the habit of looking 8 to 10 feet ahead. This gives you time to react to obstacles in the path. This becomes especially important as your speed increases.

Balance is critical when you’re going downhill too. The steeper the terrain the further back you’ll need to shift your weight. The key here is to keep the rear wheel on the ground as gravity will want to pull it over the front.

On The Level

Keep everything level, steady and loose on the decent:

  • Pedals flat and level with the ground when coasting. You don’t want to catch a pedal on a rock or a stick!
  • Chin level with the ground, eyes focused on where you want to go. Stay focused on the trail about 8 to 10 feet ahead.
  • Keep your elbows bent and loose so your arms can help absorb the terrain and keep your body still.


There’s almost nothing more fun than cruising through the woods, outdoors on a mountain bike. With a little practice you’ll be climbing and descending like a pro and taking your enjoyment of the sport to a whole new level!

What are your favorite tips for climbing and descending on a Mountain Bike? Share your tips and leave a comment below.

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