Back on the Mountain Bike, but Thinking About Casting

Back on the Mountain Bike, but Thinking About Casting

Carol Northcut | Tuesday, 21 July 2020

After 28 years of riding mountain bikes, some years more avidly than others, I did an “endo” that injured my neck. I was off the bike for two years, but at the encouragement of my hubby, I am riding again and very glad.

I started riding mountain bikes in 1991, before there was such a thing as lessons or if there were, who’d pay for them? The instructors didn’t know much more than anyone else. Learning was pretty much a matter of trial and error, sometimes painful error, but the learning curve was steep and it was easy to become competent quickly, relying on big muscles and balance.

Fly casting is not so easy. It requires finer movements within larger movements, a knowledgeable instructor is paramount, and the tool used is very different. But despite the differences, my mind looks for comparisons while riding, and I find some similarities.

Analogies to other sports frequently are used by fly casting instructors, but I’ve not seen any analogies to mountain biking.   Think about it:  Not everyone has played baseball, thrown a javelin, or golfed, but most people have ridden a bike, if not a mountain bike.  So perhaps some of the analogies I’ve found will have more meaning to one of your students than other sports.


Mountain Biking


Grip the handles lightly and only squeeze when you need to slow down/stop.  The handlebar is a lever.

Grip the cork lightly and only squeeze when you need to stop.  The rod is a lever.

If you have a death grip on the bars, (a) you won’t feel the nuances of the trail or your steed; (b) your steering will be jerky and (c) you likely will over-steer.

If have a death grip on the handle, (a) you won’t feel the nuances of the rod, and (b) your movements are likely to be jerky.

When you stop hard, you’ll catapult over the bars.  (Been there. Done that!)

When you stop hard, the line catapults over the rod tip.  

Let the big muscles do the bulk of the work.  There are big muscles for pushing the pedals and lesser muscles for pulling back and up.  Use both to smooth the pedal stroke.

Let the big muscles do most of the work.  The big muscles make smoother movements. Use the smaller muscles judiciously.

Adjust your pedal position and stance for balance. It is not static.

Adjust your stance for balance.  It is not static, especially with distance casting.

Focus on “the line” you want to take, not on the obstacles you want to avoid.  If you focus on what you want to avoid, you’re bound to steer right into it.

Focus on your casting target.  If you focus on where you don’t want the fly to land, you’re almost certain to cast your line there.

If an obstacle is ridable but too hard at present, practice a similar obstacle that you can ride.  Practice that until you are confident.  Then practice the approach to the harder obstacle, then integrate it with riding the obstacle.  

Practice a problem cast.  Dissect it and practice a problem movement until you get it right (or at least close).  Then add the movement that leads up to the problem movement; then add the movement that follows. (See Nick Moore’s June 11, 2020 Daily Cast article, Effective Practice and Tracking.)

Psychology has a lot to do with it. Fear and doubt will psych you out. Assess the problem to ensure that, with practice, an obstacle is ridable.

Assess if it’s a risk you’re willing to take. Some risks are just stupid and it’s wiser to “walk today, ride tomorrow,” walk the bike so you can still ride tomorrow.

Psychology has a lot to do with it. Doubt and frustration will psych you out. Assess the problem and see if you can break it down into tiny tasks. Work on one tiny task until you have it down. Then work on another. Doing that will start to break apart the frustration and the success will infuse confidence.


Assess the risk.  Well, there isn’t much risk in fly casting except that you’ll improve!!


Timing and speed are critical when riding some obstacles.  There is an obstacle I ride on an exposed single-track.  It’s scary because if you mess up and fall, you’re likely to tumble down a hill.  The obstacle is two parallel rocks that are just above pedal height, followed shortly by a similar obstacle.  I call it Scylla and Charybdis.  The pedals have to be moved “just so” at just the right time so that they don’t hit the rocks and cause you to fall.  And your speed has to be sufficient, but not too slow or fast.  I psyched myself out many times on S & C and then would watch my hubby ride right through it.  It wasn’t until I did it once (I did it!!  I did it!!) that I knew it was repeatable.  Now I can ride right through it … unless I psych myself out.

Carol Northcut

July 2020