The desire to look cool while riding mountain bikes has been there at least since the 1990s with the baggy gear of professionals like Shaun Palmer. With the rise in popularity of mountain biking, and a growing industry around it, individual styles have also gathered interest.

Apparel brands are coming out with new collections every season. Bike manufacturers following in their footsteps, at least with new paint jobs for every model year. And on top of that, protective gear like helmets are of following that trend to.

But these are style points that can be obtained for money. Far more valuable and cool are the skills you bring to the trails. No one can gift them, they have to be earned.

These are some of the basics to looking cool when mountain biking:

Nothing beats bike skills.

It’s instantly visually obvious when someone got control over their bike. It looks effortless, fast and stylish all at once. Sometimes it shows by riding that is hard to recplicate due to the difficulty.

One of the more difficult, but crucial riding techniques is cornering. Especially when going downhill, there is so much to it from angled turns (berms), braking points, acceleration through the turn, corner exit, and setup for the next section.

Cornering is something you’ll be doing a lot. It’s also what’s integral to building and maintaining speed. So why not work on that. And who would be better to teach cornering than the downhill legends himself, Aaron Gwin?

How to corner by World Cup Downhill Champion Aaron Gwin.

A fluid riding style looks stylish.

And not only that, it also is necessary to be able to adapt to loose and muddy conditions. It’s terrain like this where traction is at a premium. Sometimes there is no way to get down a trail without slipping and sliding. In these times, just go with the flow and allow the tires to break traction every now and then.

Staying loose on the bike is not only stylish, but allows the bike to work under you more freely. Let it do it’s thing but keep the reigns before it gets out of hand.

One rider that got that fluid, loose riding style down is Aussie Jack Moir. Also going quite fast, being the 2021 EWS Champ, which brings me to the next point.

Ride with pace. Speed is always impressive.

Ever watched a pro mountain bike race? This is probably the reason why. These professional guys and girls know how to rip. Often they go so unimaginably fast, it boggles the mind.

But not only pros go fast, there’s also the amateur racers and local rippers. Against the clock or not, they all got one thing down: speed. And it’s a joy to watch them testing their limits and how they actually do it. From line choice, body position, braking points, cornering and sheer committment.

Those guys and girls are on the gas, some visibly testing their limits.

Bust out some tricks and jibs.

Jibbing, as it’s now called, is similar to “hooning” for cars: finding impressive ways to show of steeze and skill. In the MTB world that starts with a simple wheelie or manual, but can get up to some crazy little stunts.

Usually, jibbing can be done anywhere, even on flat ground with no features. It’s a great way to build bike skills without going for a long ride. More advanced jibbers even include obstacles and steeps for more difficult maneuvers.

But don’t look at me for advice on how to actually jib, as I’m not skilled enough honestly. Luckily, the boys at GMBN got me covered:

Improve your jumping technique

You know the saying: Corners for dough, jumps for show. It means that a good cornering technique is a key to going fast, while jumping technique doesn’t contribute much to speed. Unless you know how to scrub, which is an advanced technique to go low over jumps and be on the ground sooner.

Jumping is one of the most fun and thrilling things you can do on a bike. It also requires confidence and practice. The two go hand in hand. A loose style is one thing when both wheels are touching the ground. With no ground contact, the story is a little different.

This is where confidence from practice shines through. It starts to get easier to try different techniques for going up the lip of a jump like curving. This is the setup of anything done in the air up until the landing. If it’s whips, scrubs, or tricks – it starts with the basics and sound fundamentals.

downhill mountain biker going over a jump with mountains in the background
When going over jumps, “dead sailors” are rarely a good look. Even little movements make a big difference.

Wear appropriate gear and protection – especially a helmet.

Let’s be clear: Helmets, back protectors, knee pads and elbow pads are not fashion items. They need to be selected to be suitable for the type of riding you do first. For helmets, half-shell or full face is the first question to answer. There are even options out now, that can do both with a removable chin piece, while still being downhill certified – like my Giro Sqitchblade.

Overall protection (certifications) is the most important characteristic of a bike helmet. Second is individual fitment to be able to wear it all day reasonable comfortably. Airflow is one aspect of that. And then comes the style aspect.

I notice many riders got that sequence backwards and start with the color options or stylish shapes first in their decision for bike helmets. Helmets are piece of gear that’s there to break so your head doesn’t. So it’s a tool for a specific job, that happens to come in stylish colors.

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An untucked shirt flapping in the wind.

There’s currently a trend towards tight gear. Not entirely back to the lycra days of the early 90s, but pants have gotten long and tight, and jerseys increasingly tight as well. At least for the racers among is, as it does help reduce wind resistance.

For weekend warriors and training rides, loose gear has been a staple for decades now. A slightly looser fit is just more enjoyable to wear, and depending on your tastes, may look better. Especially when movement is involved.

Loose jerseys are also an indicator for speed, like wind socks are for wind speed. For some riders, that’s even their recognizable trade mark. But keep in mind: the cool flapping will only happen with enough speed (or high winds).

Funny, colorful jerseys or flannel shirts.

Funny or clever shirt designs are an instant eye catchers – on and off the bike. While witty slogans are hard to read while hunched over on an MTB, interesting designs are where you can show your laid back style on the trails and at the pub for an after-ride beverage.

One design choice, that’s been around for a while now are flannel button-up shorts. They’ve become a staple for gravity mountain bikers for their durability combined with breathability. While not always the most tight-fitting apparell, they bring streetwear style to the mountains. Similar to wearing jeans on a MTB.

Matching gear.

This is for a more serious, or even professional look. But there are also some funny-looking matching gear options for pants and jerseys. Loose Riders Global Alliance is always a brand up for those kinds of interesting-looking collections.

Make sure you got the basics of bike skills covered to match your sick riding gear.

downhill biker leaning over in a berm
Getting some lean angle in a berm. The match of gear and bike is on point.

A clean and well-maintained bike.

Nothing looks more shabby than a filthy bike. Bonus points for irritated looks if it also creaks from lack of grease and care.

Sure, going for a spin in sloppy conditions is going to do that to your bike. But showing up to a ride with a nasty bike isn’t the way to go. It shows the lack of care for your equipment, which can even get quite dangerous, looks aside.

We put our MTBs through a lot. And it’s amazing what abuse these modern bikes can handle with the maintenance they require. But they to require it and neglect will lead to failing equipment at inopportune moments (there’s never a good time for that, let’s be honest).

YT Tues 27 CF Pro Dirty
My YT Tues CF Pro downhill bike after a good day of riding and in dire need of a good cleaning.

BONUS: A quiet bike turns more heads than a loud one.

Have you ever noticed the difference in the sound profile of a professional biker’s ride? Especially when watching gravity events like the downhill world cup, you would expect a lot more agonizing sounds from the bikes that get absolutely abused there.

A lot of time attention is paid to keeping the noises coming from the bikes to an absolute minimum. It not only sounds unbelievably good but also doesn’t distract the rider. It’s a head game. A quiet bike gives you confidence in your equipment. You can hear what the bike underneath you is doing and how it’s tracking to the ground.

This includes muffled chain slap, crisp shifting, quiet bearings, and silent brakes among the most important. Nothing raises the impression of lacking maintenance and care than a creaking, squealing bike.

YT Tues chainstay rubber noice cancellation
Rubber on the chainstay of my YT Tues for noise reduction. Additional tension from the chain guard reduces chain slap.

Going big never gets out of style.

And last but not least, a timeless classic. It will never go out of style. It will never cease to amaze. It will never be easy to do. Sending it will always have its place in mountain biking.

It’s because of the risks involved and the mind games to conquer. Besides actual bike skill, it takes much more to hit big, scary features.

So the progression towards your next big send is importat. Gradually building up to bigger and bigger features is one of the more safe approaches to take. Taking what you’ve learned previously on similar features and taking it to the next level, one small step at a time.

Go big or go home – Cam Zink’s motto.

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