Former mountain bike pro, PMBIA certified instructor, and owner of MTB-focused business Women in the Mountains, Erica Tingey shares tips on how to seamlessly get back into fitness after a long winter.
Give yourself some space and expect that you’re going to be slow on your first ride out—and that’s OK, Tingey says. “Find a trail that’s not challenging for your first ride back,” she recommends. “I start in Round Valley because there are not any long, sustained climbs.” She also recommends riding the RTS Loop Trail near the Utah Olympic Park, so you can do a few laps. “Find a loop and ride it a few times to feel yourself improving, and to feel your blood vessels and muscles opening up.”
Re-train your vision.
Without even realizing it, when you’re in mountain bike shape, your eyes naturally look far ahead to anticipate the terrain and any obstacles. Over the winter, it’s easy to lose that skill, Tingey says. “When you’re getting back into riding, try to look ahead a little bit more than you naturally would. It takes self-control to do this, and to anticipate what’s coming up. The tendency is to look down—force your eyes up.”
“No matter what you’ve been doing over the winter, riding always feels different,” Tingey says. “Your hands might get that itchy feeling from bouncing. And when you’re nervous or tired, you tend to grip too tight, and it’s really hard on your upper body. See if you can loosen up on the climbs and the descents.”
Start with an athletic stance.
When you get tired—which can happen quickly during the early season—your posture is one of the first things to decline. Start the year with good habits and think about holding an athletic stance with your core tight, your spine strong, and your neck up. “It might be hard to hold a good posture for all three laps,” Tingey says, “but it’s a good clue to know that when you can’t hold a very good posture, you should call it a day. If you’re not riding in a strong position, you’re setting yourself up for more accidents.”
Turn your fear into excitement.
If you’re a bit more skittish on technical sections than you were last year, try to put your nerves to good use. “When I was racing, instead of saying ‘I’m not nervous,’ I’d say, ‘I’m excited to be on my bike,’” Tingey says. “Turn it into positive self-talk. As in ‘I’m OK to get off my bike and walk it.’” She also notes that there’s a difference between trying and doing. “Think Yoda: There is no try.”
Just get on a saddle.
If the trails are still too muddy, grab your road bike and to get used to being back in the saddle. “Using your road bike is a way to get some miles in and get used to being back in that position,” Tingey says.
Don’t forget a maintenance check.
Whether it’s you or your trusty mechanic, do a thorough check of your bike before hopping on. Check the bolts with torque wrench, clean and lube the drivetrain, and test the front suspension (Tingey says to put a hand on each brake, engage, and stand behind the bike and shock it down—does it feel like it’s going up and down at the same rate as last year?). And, of course, put air in your tires, but maybe a little less than you think. “This year, try three psi less than you ever have and just see if you can get away with it,” advises Tingey.
A reminder: Wait until the trails are dry. “Riding muddy trails ruins it for everyone else for the rest of the season,” Tingey says. “It leaves ruts that aren’t magically fixed from a summer of riding. They are stuck for the rest of the year. You’re really ruining it for yourself and it’s also really hard on your bike.”
Where to find trail updates: Check the Mountain Trails Foundation’s website and Facebook page for the latest trail conditions; Basin Recreation also frequently updates the status on its Instagram and Facebook pages.
Women in the Mountains runs clinics for beginner through advanced riders on weekdays and Saturdays. With no more than four students per coach, instructors focus on personalized coaching and giving individual feedback. Check out the clinics on the Women in the Mountains website.