There’s something to be said for gliding down a trail on two wheels. No matter your age, it brings a kind of freedom that can make you giddy … even after just a few pedal strokes.

But many people’s biking experience begins and ends with what they learned as a kid or during the outings they have while teaching their own kids how to ride after they have families of their own.

Like many of you, I first learned to ride bikes as a young child — in fact, I still remember the day that I rode my bike on pavement the first time without training wheels.

Crazy, huh?

Besides the normal biking around the house and trails as a kid, my first real mountain biking experience came when I was an undergrad at Western Washington University. There, I rode my first “real mountain bike,” aka the kind that you don’t buy from Costco or Walmart — and I was hooked.

The next four years were spent chasing my brother and his friends around Galbraith Mountain, learning as much as I possibly could from everyone around me. But my riding didn’t end there.

During graduate school and after, I lived in Whistler, British Columbia, and in Glacier, Washington, continuing to hone my skills as a rider. Eventually, I got my Level 1 IMBA coaching certification, and then two years later, got my Level 2. To tell you the truth, taking the courses for my coaching certifications were what helped me level up my riding the most — because although I was riding some of the hardest trails around the PNW, I still wasn’t riding them “well” or with the amount of confidence that I should have had.

The skills that I was taught to teach my clients were actually the skills that I needed to practice myself in order to be the rider I wanted to be. And so I practiced — a lot — and I continue to practice because no matter how old or how good we get, there’s always room for improvement.

Although I can’t make you a better rider through this article (sorry!), I can give you some basic tips to help you get yourself and your family out onto our local trails safely and with confidence.

Don’t look at the tree.

Why? Because you will hit the tree.

If you have taken one of my ski or mountain bike clinics or lessons, you have heard me say this more than once. You need to look where you want to go. Believe me, those trees or rocks on the side of the trail aren’t moving, but I promise that if you look at them, you will more than likely hit them, which never ends good.

Looking ahead instead of at your front tire or your skis (which yes, are attached to your feet so there isn’t a need to look at them) is a huge game changer because you are able to prepare for what is coming next instead of just winging it and acting upon reflex. Talk about a confidence booster!

When it comes to rocks or small obstacles, speed is your friend.

I know that rock gardens can be scary to ride through, but what makes them even scarier is when you go through them slowly. If you carry speed through rocky areas, or rough areas of the trail, your tires will glide over the obstacles much smoother than if you are trying to pick your way through. Also, the faster you go, the less you will have to worry about balance.

A show of hands for how many of you have gone too slow through a rough section of trail only to fall over or have to stop and push through? If you are a mountain biker, this has happened to you, so know that you are not alone. :)

Skip the training wheels.

If you are teaching your kids how to bike, the best route to take is to skip the training wheels and get them a balance bike.

These bikes do not have pedals, so they allow kids to stand over the seat, walk around on them and eventually glide down hills on them. This teaches kids how to balance instead of rely on training wheels so that when they are big enough for a pedal bike, they can make the transition straight from a balance bike to a pedal bike.

All helmets are not created equal — and yes, fit matters.

Helmets need to fit to work. I know that seems like a statement that doesn’t need to be said, but believe me, it does. I would say that at least 50% of the people who come to our clinics or lessons do not have a proper fitting helmet, which means that if they fall, their helmet probably isn’t going to do anything for them that it is supposed to.

To check whether your helmet is fitting properly, make sure that when you wiggle your head, it does not move around. Next, if it has a visor, you should be able to see the visor when you look up. Also, the ear adjustments should form a “V” around your ears, ending at your ear lobe. Lastly, your chin strap should fit snuggly beneath your chin. If it is too loose and you do fall and hit your head, it is unlikely that your helmet will stay in place.

Helmets are also only meant to protect your head for one impact — which means that if you fall skiing or biking and hit your head, that helmet needs to go in the trash. Yes, I know, they are expensive, but your head is worth more than the cost of a new helmet, right?

Most helmets are also only meant to protect your head from abrasions, etc., and are not actually helping with what happens inside your skull when you have a head injury. The helmets that help to protect against both your brain moving within your skull as well as abrasions, etc., are the ones labeled with MIPS technology (I love my Smith one) as well as 6D Helmets, which also makes motorcycle helmets.

And to end my helmet tangent (sorry), they actually do have a shelf life. Five years is the recommended time limit that your helmet should be used. After that, it’s time to get a replacement.

If you are interested in learning more about getting yourself or your family into mountain biking, my husband, Andy, and I are offering mountain bike lessons for all ages as well as clinics for beginner- to advanced-level riders now through the fall. I’ll even be coaching a Women’s Mountain Bike Progression Clinic every Wednesday for ladies who want to build their confidence, learn new skills and tackle trails together.

Head on over to our website to learn more: