Coach Kristi’s Corner: December 1, 2016


Coach Kristi Berg has been racing bicycles in various disciplines since 1994. Read about Coach Kristi Berg here.

Taking it outside: Early on-bike practices

Once you have gone through all of your students’ bikes and are confident they are ready to ride, you’ll want to organize your first outside/on-bike practice.

Some of you might live in places where it’s not possible to ride outside or on trails at this time of year. If that’s the case, get creative. Using a school gymnasium for some skills work, doing indoor workouts on trainers or building your team’s mechanic skills by doing lessons on how to fix a flat, adjust derailleurs, etc. are a few ideas.

It’s your job to create an environment that is safe and fun for all levels of riders

This can be a challenge when coaching middle school or high school mountain bike teams. You’ll probably have a wide range of riding abilities and confidence levels on your team, and some students may have hardly mountain biked at all.

To keep it fun and inclusive for everyone, start out on mild terrain (like a park) and with shorter practice times so the students can ease into training and build early successes. If you start out on more technical terrain and/or ride for long periods of time, some students might feel overwhelmed, embarrassed or frustrated with their lack of skills/ fitness and lose interest in the team. That’s the last thing you want to happen.

Start with practices that are 1-1.5 hours in duration, and gradually add time and skill level. You can use these early practices to get your students familiar with riding if they haven’t ridden before, and to hone skills of your more experienced riders.

Here’s an early practice sample:

Warm up: Make sure to get in a good 10-15 minute warm-up in by riding easy and allowing the kids to spin their legs. You can do this by playing follow the leader (with you setting the pace) around or through a park, for example.

Skills practice. In an open area, set up a skills course that includes skills from beginner to advanced. Having several different levels per drill/skill or obstacle will allow each rider to start at their comfort level and progress as they build confidence by working through each stage of the drill/skill or obstacle.

  • Riding over logs – Set up several logs on the ground: low, medium and higher heights. Start everyone at the small log and then have them progress to the higher logs as they are able to clear each log.
  • Riding skinnies – Set up different widths of boards, start wider and move to smaller. Start with everyone riding the wider boards first and moving to smaller boards as they can clear the wider boards.
  • Riding drops – Create a drop prop that can change heights. Start with a very low drop and increase drop height as riders can clear smaller drops.

On the Trails:

When you are ready to do some trail riding, start out on easier trails and work up to more advanced trails as your riders improve their confidence and ability. Do not take new riders to advanced trails until they are ready, as doing this can scare them and cause them to lose confidence in their ability to ride. It could set your riders back, not help them improve.  

Some tips:

  • Have more advanced students ride ahead with a ride leader at a harder pace, then turn them around to return to the group. Continue this throughout the ride. Voila, intervals!
  • Ride at a trail system that includes loops. Have the more advanced riders do more repeats of the loops, while beginners ride it only once. This is an opportunity to teach polite passing skills to your riders as well! Always keep a ride leader with all groups.
  • Encourage your more advanced riders to partner up with a newer ride and encourage/mentor them by riding with them and showing them the good lines on the trail. This advances skills and builds good team camaraderie along the way.

After a couple of practices you’ll have a good feel for the various levels of your students. Do your best to keep practices long enough to be challenging, but not too long in duration for new or beginner riders. Know that newer or beginner kids will need more rest than the more advanced students and try to build this rest into your practices when possible.

The number one goal of the Washington Student Cycling League is to introduce kids to the amazing sport of mountain biking and help to make them lifelong cyclists. Thank you for working to create an environment within your team that helps fulfill this goal!

Next month we’ll talk about race distance and categories for your riders, and when to start training.


Coach Kristi Berg has been racing bicycles in various disciplines since 1994: Road (Cat 2), Cyclocross (Elite), BMX (expert in 20″) and MTB (professional downhill, crosscountry, and dual slalom). She enjoys coaching and sharing all she has learned through riding and racing, and is committed to giving back to her cycling community. Kristi is a Level 2 USAC Cycling Coach and owner of Berg’s Coaching Services. Get in touch at