Clive Forth's A - Z of Skills and Techniques - Bike Magic

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**How To

Clive Forth’s A – Z of Skills and Techniques

Clive Forth is a rider with a lengthy and all-encompassing history in bikes. He’s raced everything, ridden everywhere. He knows everything there is to know about riding bikes and puts his knowledge to good use in his coaching sessions. We’re lucky to have Clive onboard with us at Bike Magic and in the first of his lessons Clive focuses on anxiety…

A for Air. Photo from the Mountain Bike Skills Manual, location Les Arcs, France.

Take it away Clive:


Words: Clive Forth
All photos:

Welcome to the first instalment of the A to Z of mountain biking skills and techniques. I’m going to take you from A to Z looking at skills on and off the bike. We will also look at mountain bike vocabulary, common slang and biking language.

A is for….

Air:  also referred to as “air time”. To take air involves jumping the bike so as there is “air space” between bike and the trail. We will cover catching air in J for jumping later in the series.

Air Pressure:  shock absorbers and tyres are important components on our bikes; by fine-tuning the air pressure we can increase the performance of our machines. From absorbing hits from the trail to increasing grip in the corners, under braking and while accelerating, keep an eye on air pressure and experiment with different settings. There will be more details on both tyres and shock absorbers later in the series, I will also discuss some points in “B” for Bike Set Up.

Anxiety: Roots are a common problem for riders and can cause you to tense up and slide out, stay relaxed and look for the grip between them.

Today’s key word for discussion is Anxiety, an inhibiting factor that stops many riders achieving their true trail potential.

anxiety |a ng ˈzī-itē|

noun ( pl. -ties)

A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome: he felt a surge of anxiety anxieties about the moral decline of today’s youth.

• [ with infinitive ] desire to do something, typically accompanied by unease : the housekeeper’s eager anxiety to please.

• Psychiatry a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behaviour or panic attacks.

ORIGIN early 16th cent.: from French anxiété or Latin anxietas, from anxius (see anxious ).

My skills sessions usually follow a similar pattern, I meet my clients for a morning coffee where we sit and take care of the formalities, this gives me a chance to get to know them better, discuss past riding experiences and for those I’ve seen before check up on progress. The meet and greet banter is not just about downing some caffeine and having a chat, there is a deeper meaning to my schedule, the ice breaking tea and coffee gives them a chance to relax while I peer into their sub conscious riding mind set.

All of us have had a near miss or off at some point, this is a common theme in why people go to see skills instructors. The icebreaker meet and greet also helps to ease them into the day, they may have had a long drive or been in a rush to get ready, others are slightly apprehensive about what they are in for.

All of us have had a near miss or off at some point, this is a common theme in why people go to see skills instructors.

To ride efficiently and be in control you need to a have a calm mind, my good friend and fellow instructor Ian Warby calls it “still mind, dancing body”.

If you’re wired up in a similar way to myself then you will be looking for an improvement on the bike one way or another, whether it’s getting fitter, riding smoother or mastering a new skill, many of us strive for improvement, a large factor for the growth of Apps like Strava.

When it comes to skills anxiety, our mental state play a huge roll in our ability to progress.

Have you ever asked yourself any or all of the following?

Why do I freak out at a certain sections of trail?

Why can’t I ride that line?

Why am I afraid of getting air?

Why does that drop-off faze me?

What causes us to crash?

Typically the main reason for the above is your not calm, the mind is an amazing tool and can throw up some very interesting scenarios just when you least need it. If your mind goes haywire and neglects to focus on the task in hand then a successful outcome is less likely. Full concentration and commitment is required to ride technical terrain, if you are anxious for some reason and not relaxed you naturally tense up, this is a problem!

We are capable of riding the most technical features so long as we are supple and relaxed, quite often the bike will do its bit below you and you’ll sail out the other side, remember your limbs are suspension and need to respond to the trail input (that’s the hits and slips coming from below).

Full concentration and commitment is required to ride technical terrain, if you are anxious for some reason and not relaxed you naturally tense up, this is a problem!

A lot of people think that they are riding the trail and this is where the problem starts, in actual fact you are riding the bike and the bike is riding the trail. By doing Ian’s funky dance you manoeuvre the bike through the terrain, placing it just where you want it. The bike rides the trail below the tyre. Confidence is everything, if you lack this then you will be tense and every lump and bump the bike is taking you will feel.

By learning the core skills and techniques in a safe environment and in a progressive manner you build muscle memory so the body responds instinctively, this gives you confidence, the confidence will allow you to commit to technical trail features without hesitation. Remember even the professionals get it wrong from time to time; mentally reward yourself for recovery moves and don’t beat yourself up for bailing out and getting it wrong (the ground does a good enough job of that).

Remember, practice makes permanent no one is perfect.

Armchair training: Clive takes a break in his 50 Great British Trail ride project.

A is also for…

Arm pump:  when the muscles are used repeatedly through movement or vibration.

This typically occurs in long rough downhills where high frequency bumps exist.

The muscle burns up all the available oxygen, the ability to remove (flush) lactic acid from the muscle is inhibited and the muscle becomes pumped up and tense. The muscle is basically swollen and movement of the attached limbs becomes reduced while a burning sensation is felt. Solutions to this below in armchair training.

Armchair training:  we can make improvement to our riding without even getting off our butts, from arm workouts, ankle rotations, breathing exercises, playing computer games and stretching it is possible to improve your performance on the bike. You may have a desk job or just loath riding in bad weather! Think about your posture when sat and use various aids like powerballs and Chinese Baoding Iron Balls to help reduce arm pump.

Clive’s book, The Mountain Bike Skills Manual, is available on Amazon and all major book stores, an in depth look into mountain biking.

Clive’s website:


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