One reason you bought a mountain bike is to take it off-road.

But off-road riding is nothing but a series of obstacles: sand, rocks, gravel, tree roots.

Follow these tips and practice, practice, practice. Soon you’ll be tackling your usual trails with confidence.


A drop-off is a step down in a trail. The easiest drop-off is one that can be ridden at speed. Speed hop at the lip to prevent the front wheel from dropping.

If you’re new to mountain biking, practice this from a curb, trying to get both wheels to contact the ground simultaneously.

If a drop-off has to be taken slowly, push the handlebar in front of you as the wheel goes over the edge. The idea is to get the wheel to go over before you do. After the drop move forward on the bike as soon as the steepness of the trail allows. The aim is to keep your weight over the balance point of the bike. If you stay way back on the bike, there isn’t enough weight on the front tire to steer and you’re likely to crash on the next bump or stretch of sand.


If you have a half-mile or more of sand to traverse, consider deflating your tires to gain traction; you’ll “float” over the sand rather than cut through it.

In general, it’s best to stay seated when you hit a patch of sand. Shift your weight back a bit and try to pedal smoothly, maintaining even momentum. You want to keep your front wheel light, let it float a bit. Stay relaxed and try to steer with your body, not your handlebars.


Mud presents one of the most difficult terrains, especially when combined with hills, rocks, logs, or roots. When you run into mud, try to avoid sudden movements, use momentum as your friend. Steady pedal pressure and strength are required. Try to avoid braking, and approach obstacles as close to a 90-degree angle as possible.

If the mud is seriously deep or sticky, you probably shouldn’t be riding the trail, anyway. Don’t ride around a muddy portion of trail, if possible; you want to avoid widening the trail.

Melissa McMartin - Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Colorado Springs. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock - OutThere Colorado
Melissa McMartin flies down steps in Red Rock Canyon Open Space in Colorado Springs. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock
Melissa McMartin - Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Colorado Springs. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock - OutThere Colorado
Melissa McMartin – Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Colorado Springs. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock – OutThere Colorado

To maneuver a stretch of gravel, keep your weight back and stay in the saddle. Pay attention to what’s in front of you and work to maintain your balance. Avoid sudden movements, grip the handlebars firmly, go light on the front wheel, and steer gradually by shifting your weight and not turning the handlebars. When cornering, keep the outside pedal at the bottom of the stroke and put some weight on it. This shifts your center of gravity as low as possible and helps with traction.


Approach a root at a 90-degree angle, speeding up slightly. Pull your front wheel up and over the root, and then lunge your upper body forward for added momentum to bring the rear wheel up and over. Be prepared for the rear tire to slide a bit. Several roots in a row require concentration, good balance and timing.

Water bars

Water bars are intentionally placed on some trails for erosion control, and it is best not to go around them as you create a funnel for the water. Slow down and ride them as you would a drop-off. As your bike handling skills progress, you might work toward “jumping” off the water bars, but doing so requires not only clearing the water bar but maintaining control on the other side and perhaps preparing for the next water bar.

Source: Women’s Mountain Biking Association of Colorado Springs;

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