How To Ride Better: Choose The Right Mountain Bike

Cecelia Potts mountain biking

Choose the Right Mountain Bike – A mountain bike ride used to be your favorite way to relax after an exhausting work week. A ribbon of Saturday single track erased the week’s face palm moments. On the weekend, you were the trail boss, and cleaned rock gardens and bunny hopped anything in your path.

Then the magic fell out.

Now, meeting friends at the trailhead to go mountain biking is more frustrating than fun. Everyone around you is getting faster and advancing their skills (and posting their epic GoPro proof to YouTube). Meanwhile, you’re off the pace pushing your bike up climbs…what gives?

The answer can be found in what you’re riding and where you’re riding it.

Cecilia Potts mountain biking

No problem, here. Cecilia Potts rides the North Creek flow trail at Alafia River State Park, Florida. Photo credit: Mike Lawrence

Let me explain because recently I was the one pushing my bike through sections I should have cleaned. As a retired professional rider with a 25-year love affair with this sport, I had to figure out how to put the magic back. In order to choose the best mountain bike, you’ll want to look at a few items.

Step 1: Evaluate your current bike

First, look at what you’re riding. Massive improvements have been made in bicycle suspension and frame geometry in the past 20 years. The red Pro-Flex we all coveted in 1990s now rides like a $150-bike from a big-box store. If you’re a female rider, all the big brands—Specialized, Liv (a Giant spinoff), Trek, Jamis, Cannondale—and some of the niche brands—Juliana, Yeti, Scott, and Kona—offer women’s specific geometry. Riding a bike with angles considerate of female physiology (i.e., narrower shoulders) makes a big difference on the trail.

Step 2: What kind of Trails do you Ride Most?

The next step is considering where you ride most. Bicycle industry marketing gurus want us to see images of riders leaned into perfectly banked corners and pieces of dirt flying from tire-tread patterns tailored for specific conditions. They hook us with the Zen moment we wish for on every ride. It urges us to rush out and buy that bike… never mind it might not be the best choice for our local trails.

Cecilia Potts riding a Santa Cruz Blur

Cecilia Potts rips a downhill in Trabuco Canyon, Orange County, California. Photo credit: Darin “Crash” Maxwell

Is there a mismatch?

I adored the two Santa Cruz Blur LTs I’ve owned, then I moved to Florida. The Blur LT was designed for going up climbs and bombing rough descents. There’s a lot of flowing, tight single track in Florida, not so many climbs and downhills. For a while the Blur LT worked, but my riding skills weren’t progressing. I had the wrong tool for the job.

It may be time to upgrade

It’s hard to admit your bike has lost its luster, but finding the right mountain bike isn’t difficult. Many bicycle companies partner with the retailers to host demo ride events at local trails. I found three demo events at trails I regularly rode. For the bike models I wanted to try that weren’t scheduled for a demo, a local shop was able to rent the bike for an extended test ride.

Within weeks I was used to the swept back angles of my new Santa Cruz 5010c, and was adding whips when launching over drops and lips I previously would ride with caution. I didn’t realize how much my old bike was holding me back.

To choose the right mountain bike, match the bike to the conditions you regularly ride. Doing that brought the fun back. Now I just need a GoPro to post my improved skills and new tricks to YouTube like everyone else.

Cecilia Potts likes mountain biking and sailingAbout the author: Cecilia ‘Ceal’ Potts was the 1997 Junior Women’s Cross Country Mountain Bike World Champion, and raced professionally in 1998-99. She now enjoys trails without a bib number, and lives and works in Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @cealpotts and on Facebook at cecilia.potts.

My Trek Dirt Series Experience

Trek Dirt Series Review

I had heard many great things about the Trek Dirt Series but I was a bit nervous to sign-up. The main reason I was hesitant to register was that I was afraid of jumps and drops. The last time there was air under my tires, I ended up head over handlebars with 2 broken ribs. Since that time, I had healed and enjoyed mountain biking while always keeping the tires on the ground. I am so glad that I did not let my fear stop me from participating in the clinic.

It was amazing. I had fun and learned a ton of new skills. The coaches were friendly, patient, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. There were enough coaches (1:6 coach to participant ratio) to get individual feedback. Each participant was encouraged to step outside her comfort zone a bit, but each woman chose her level of challenge.

Day One

Registration was well organized. Participants that rented gear were fitted to their bikes. Coffee and bagels were provided. After registration we headed over to a park-like area with a large grassy field and hill behind an elementary school.

Getting Started

We started with 20-minutes of yoga to warm-up and stretch. After that, the coaches divided us into appropriate skill level groups using the questionnaires we had filled out ahead of time. Skill sessions addressed both “flow” and technical skills including drops, skinnies, switchbacks, front wheel lift, rear wheel lift, fast turns, and more.

Skills Sessions on the Grass

The skills sessions were extremely well planned to allow each participant to work at her own pace through the progressions. The progressions in the skills sessions allowed me to start on a “drop” the size of a curb, so I didn’t think twice about that. As we sessioned the curb sized “drop”, the coach gave tips and pointers on how to appropriately “preload” for a drop. This was a light-bulb moment for me – I had no idea there was supposed to be a preload before a drop… having the knowledge that there was something in my control about drops, made them much less scary for me.

After several rounds of applying the skills, and receiving tips to help get my timing right, I decided that I would be able to try the next level drop – only about 12 inches, but still intimidating. Although I was a bit scared, I tried it using the skills I used on the small drop and was successful. By the time the session was over, I even did the largest drop!

Hitting the Trail

Following lunch (delicious locally made sandwiches and salads), each level group headed out to ride. Our group rode well together. We had a great time and stopped to session drops and turns while the coach gave us tips and encouragement. It was a fun afternoon. Our group had started to feel like friends – encouraging each other, laughing together and celebrating when someone tried something challenging. We had one fall when we were out riding. One woman slid out and scraped her arm. The coach bandaged her up quickly and made sure she was ok to continue riding.

Day Two

The second day was set up the same way, skills in the morning and then we headed out to ride the trails.

More Practice = Closer to Perfect

My group worked on tight turns in the morning on the grass hill. “Keep your head up, look through the turn to the exit”. This skill was new but not too difficult on the grass, but when we went out on the trails, most of us were struggling on the tight turns on the trails. Our coach stopped us on one corner and we practiced several times. It was getting easier, but I still didn’t feel super comfortable looking past the rocky apex of the turn.

However, that trail practice session made a huge difference. For the rest of the ride, I focused on keeping my eyes up and looking 15-20 feet ahead on the trail at each turn. By the end of the day, I was turning better than I ever had before. It felt great!

I loved Trek Dirt Series!

I highly recommend the Trek Dirt series. It was well organized with a supportive group vibe and excellent coaches. I learned so much that I came home and set up some of the drills for my family in the park!