The Key to Progression: Tackling bigger features

Mountain biking is a sport that can be as gnarly as you want or as mellow as you want; we all have different limits, different goals and different things we want to achieve out of riding. For many of us, it is just getting out there with your mates, having a ride in the forest and improving our riding. For many of us what drives us is progression, we like to see that we are improving, that our riding is taking us to new places and that we are moving forward with our challenges. Tackling bigger features can be daunting and doing it safely is the key to success….

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Set Goals

Like anything in life, progression benefits from setting goals. The goals need not be big but if we have something to aim for then it is often easier to achieve a greater rate of progression. That may be as simple as being able to hit the double on your local trail or tackle a decent rock garden, whatever your goal is, it is important to make sure you have some. One trick that tends to work well is to have a goal for each individual ride, that might be a feature that you have been eyeing off or it might be tackling one you already have hit with a bit more finesse. Whatever your goal is for your ride, make sure you have one and achieve it each and every ride, slowly building up to hitting bigger and better features.

Start Small

Everything is in perspective, what once was huge won’t always seem huge. Tackle small features at first and master them before moving onto bigger features. You’ll find that each time you conquer a feature it makes the next one look less daunting; soon that 6 foot drop is no longer like dropping off the edge of the Earth. One step at a time we progress, with each feature we become more confident and with confidence comes ability. After all, our sport is all about confidence and commitment.

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Fools Rush In

Whilst confidence can often be a good thing, over-confidence can lead to injury. The phrase ‘fake it until you make it” should not come into mountain biking. Jumping in too early to features you are not ready for can lead to serious injury. We must commit 100% to the features we hit and the bigger the feature the greater the need for commitment. The problem with hitting features we are not yet ready for is that we may not build the comfort, we may not commit properly and therefore we end up making a mistake that leads to injury. Nothing sets you back more in progression than injury, injury damages confidence and without confidence we fail to commit.

Jeff Coplick launching into the stratosphere


The trouble with commitment is that once we are fully committed to a feature we can’t pull out. Which means that once we pass a certain point we are committed to following through, no matter the outcome. This might mean that when you are working on a feature, you have a point of no return, a point where you can no longer pull out and that you must hit the feature. This can be helpful when sizing up a jump or a drop and testing the approach. Commitment can both be a friend and a foe, it’s important we know that it is both beneficial and can have a negative impact. If we aren’t ready for a feature or don’t have the skills yet to hit it successfully, it doesn’t matter how much commitment we have….failure is a certainty.

John Dollison tackling the steeps

The Final Word

There is nothing better in mountain biking than progression, the more we progress, the more we want to ride and so goes the circle of biking. One step forward leads to more steps forward and before you know it you are hitting 20 foot road gaps or that wall ride on your local trail. What once was a daunting task will get easy and easy the longer you look at it, as long as you are progressing. Follow the simple steps of setting goals, starting small, building up to the features and committing one hundred percent. You’ll find in no time that your riding is progressing faster than you had expected…..

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