Clearing Obstacles on a Mountain Bike

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A mountain biker clearing an obstacle on the trail.

Nobody likes getting tripped up by rocks and roots on their way up the mountain. Learning how to clear obstacles on your mountain bike will add a dose of fun to your ride. 

There are two important things to differentiate when learning to clear obstacles. First, you need to focus on lifting your front wheel. Once the front wheel has cleared the obstacle, you'll need to get your rear wheel off the ground.

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Video: Mountain Biking: Clearing Obstacles


Lifting the Front Wheel

There are four important points to consider when lifting your front wheel to clear an obstacle.

1.     Initiate power
First you need to initiate power by doing a power stroke with the pedals. This will help you lift the front wheel off the ground. To do a power stroke, you want to get your dominant foot in a 2 o'clock position as you’re pedaling along and then push down quickly. This quick pedal stroke is called throttling the bike. When you do this, you'll feel the bike pop up.

2.     Use your rear brake 
Having your front wheel off the ground can feel a bit uncomfortable at times and a little scary. If you ever feel out of control or get uneasy, just press that rear brake, and it'll help bring your front wheel right back down to the ground.

3.     Body position
For you to maintain balance on the bike, you want to extend your arms back but still leave a slight bend at the elbows. This will distribute your weight and move your hips back on the bike for better balance.

4.     Practice
Lifting your front wheel requires practice. Start by taking your bike to an open grassy field where you can practice in a controlled environment with soft ground. Once you get comfortable with the movements, take your bike to the trail and move on to bigger obstacles.


Lifting the Rear Wheel

You have two basic options for lifting the rear wheel.

1.     Unweight the rear wheel 

One way to lift the rear wheel is to simply unweight it. To do this, you need to be in a crouched position where your rear end is off the saddle and your knees are bent. Then you need to move your body forward and down so that your chest is low and over the bars in an attack position. By doing this, you’ll unweight the rear wheel so it can go over an obstacle unhindered. 

2.     Use your legs to lift the rear wheel

The second option is to do what’s called a “claw” and use your legs to lift the rear of the bike up and over an obstacle. The basic movement is to start by having your toes down and your heels pointed to the sky. As you pedal, think of clawing back behind you. This technique can work with clipless pedals or platform pedals.