The most basic, yet overlooked, skill in mountain biking…

The track stand is one of the most basic, yet overlooked, skills in mountain biking. It was something that I thought every rider could do when I first started riding – I would spend hours in my driveway working on being able to balance without actually moving and I thought that this was how every rider got started.

However, this is not the case. I have to say that it amazes me how many riders can not do a track stand for more than a couple of seconds. The truth is that if you can not do a track stand then you can not really balance on your bike.

Once you start moving momentum starts to help you stay up. The problem is that mountain biking will put you in situations where your momentum is killed and you need to be able to navigate something while barely moving. If you can not do a track stand then you are less likely to be able to pull it off.

Here are some examples of trail situations where being able to do a track stand will help you immensely…

– Switchbacks: This is one skill that baffles a lot of riders and I guarantee that most riders who can not do switchbacks can not do a track stand either. Switchbacks get you because they almost make you stop while navigating them. If you can not keep your balance in the middle of the switchback where your momentum is practically stopped then you are just rolling the dice as to whether you make the turn or not. And no, putting you inside leg down, locking up the rear wheel and skidding around the switchback doesn’t count unless you’re racing…

– Technical Climbs: This is another area on the trail that can dramatically cut your momentum. Being able to slow down and even stop without falling over can really help out a lot when you are trying to pick your way through a technical climb where precision is more important than momentum.

– Rocky and Rooty Trails: Again, the more technical the trail is the more important precision is. Anyone can rail a piece of buffed out single track but being able to pick your way through a minefield of rocks and roots is another thing entirely. If you can not feel comfortable at slow speeds on your bike then you will have trouble with the more technical trails out there.

The reason I bring this up is that the track stand is also the easiest skill to work on. All you need is your bike and some space. You can pull you car out of the garage and work on it so it is the perfect skill to work on in the winter when you can not get out and work on other skills.

Being able to pull off a track stand for at least 10 seconds will make a huge impact on your riding. Suddenly you will be able to actually balance on your bike instead of relying on momentum to keep you upright. You will find all of the things I mentioned above becoming easier and that will make your overall trail experience better.

Even if you have a track stand down, can you do it switch foot? This is skill I have been working on recently and it is pretty tough to pull off but I know that it will help me gain better balance on my bike with my feet switched.

You can also work on being able to “hippity hop” your bike by doing little bouncing turns to work on turning your bike in place. This is something that has helped me countless times be able to get back on track in a technical spot without having to put a foot down (you get extra bonus points for that).

Simple skills are the basis for more advanced skills. If you have skipped this important step in your development as a rider then now is the time to go back and perfect it. If you have the basic track stand down take it to the next level by working on switch foot and the bouncing turns. The truth is that in order to get better at riding the trail you have to do stuff off the trail and this is one of the easiest things you can do to improve your riding.

Check out this video from Joe Lawwill and Bike Skills to learn how to work on this essential skill…

-James Wilson-

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  1. Simon says:

    James: Do you have any tips on how to practice the track stand? Is it simply balance, or is there technique to it?

    Reply • December 14 at 8:28 am
  2. Simon: For me the easiest way how to learn it was to start practicing it on a sligtly slope tereain with the front wheel on the top. When you start loosing ballance, you just very slightly turn your cranks and move a few centimeters forward, then you turn it in oposite direction and move backward. As your skill improves, your bike won’t lamost move at all. But the kye how to make a trackstand is in my opinion in regulating it with cranks.

    Reply • December 14 at 12:21 pm
  3. sorry – *almost *key

    Reply • December 14 at 12:24 pm
  4. bikejames says:

    Check out the video I just embedded in the post to see how to do it.

    Reply • December 14 at 1:50 pm
  5. Janet says:

    Thanks, James. That’s very useful.

    Reply • December 14 at 4:15 pm
  6. Jason says:

    What is switch foot? Just alternating which foot is forward?

    Reply • December 16 at 12:57 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Jason – Yeah, basically riding with your other foot forward.

      Reply • December 16 at 1:43 pm
  7. The Real Rob says:

    Another great article James…

    I want to send this article to all my XC friends—but I don’t want them to think I’m hating on their lack of skills!

    Mele Kalikmaka.

    Reply • December 23 at 3:52 pm
  8. Geoffrey says:

    I need to tell my favorite track stand story. I bought my first track bike in grad school, and went out for a short cruise down the sidewalk. At the time, I had old school clips and straps and the notch in the bottom of the shoe to strap in tightly.

    I came to a traffic light and had to stop, so I did a track stand. The bike had a short wheelbase, so I had toe overlap. I managed to roll forward and then get my foot caught between my wheel and my frame so I couldn’t straighten the wheel. Ack! Mad panic! I managed to lunge so hard trying to recover, I threw my body over the handlebars, caught myself with one arm, feet still strapped in. I was now balancing on my front wheel and one hand with the other still on the handlebars. A lady in a car on the street was staring at me, so I smiled, took my hand off my handlebars with a flourish, as if to say, “Ta da! Look what I did!” She laughed.

    Funny thing is, I can do a road stand, but I’m still not comfortable with a track stand. Working on it though!

    Reply • September 30 at 10:50 am
  9. Trevor says:

    I can trackstand but that doesn’t mean I can go almost 0mph up a steep climb. I’d say the skills aren’t that related. The other day while doing a crazy steep climb on my fixie I thought I was going to fall over because I was going so slow.

    Reply • November 10 at 5:00 pm
    • bikejames says:

      I think that you may have misunderstood. I don’t think that being able to trackstand will increase your pedaling power, I mean that you’ll be able to nail switchbacks (especially down) and pick your way through technical climbs easier. Power comes from strength training, trackstands just increase your balance.

      Reply • November 11 at 11:03 am
  10. Suné says:

    I’ve learned the value of the track stand since I started practicing it in my driveway after advise from my husband. Balance on my bike on single-track trails has improved hugely!

    Reply • December 14 at 3:04 am
  11. Jim Cogill says:

    James! Thanks for all the info.! I Just got back into riding and was doing different rides almost daily…a little too much too soon and my right knee started really bothering me. Took off clipless pedals from road and mtb and dropped seatpost…so far so fun! Can’t wait to train this way and excited about new outlook on riding free!!! Keep it coming my man!

    Reply • November 15 at 2:07 pm

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