Mel’s Rad Skills Series Part V - Terrain Awareness

by XTERRA on 08/19/2021

One of the biggest challenges for beginning mountain bikers is focusing too much on what is directly in front of them and not enough on what’s coming up next.

In this edition of Mel’s Rad Skills Series for beginners, three-time XTERRA World Champion Melanie McQuaid talks about terrain awareness and shares some tips for how to get better at it.

“That old expression to ‘always look where you want to go and not where you don’t want to go’ is actually a skill we use in mountain biking,” smiles McQuaid.
To master that skill, she says, we should cycle our gaze between what’s coming up right now immediately in front of us and what’s coming next further down the trail.

“The distance you’re looking when you’re cycling between these two perspectives depends on how fast you’re going,” she explains.  “The NOW is 1-3 seconds in front of you, just enough time to react, brace, brake, whatever you need to do to get through an obstacle.  The NEXT is six-to-eight feet down the trail and this is where you scope out your line.”

McQuaid added that the biggest issue she sees in beginners is over-focusing on the now.

“Don’t underestimate your instincts and reflexes,” she advises. “Instead of micro-managing yourself by only dealing with the now and the obstacle right in front of you, choose your line by looking further down the trail (NEXT) and then micro-adjust to obstacles as they are upon you.”

To practice, McQuaid asks riders to try over-using the now and next gazes to get a feel for what the right amount is for them.

“And remember, the faster you are riding the quicker you’ll need to cycle your gaze between the now and next,” she said.

Learn more about McQuaid, one of XTERRA’s all-time greats and a certified member of the Professional Mountain Bike Instructors Association, at and

Past Videos:

Mel’s Rad Skills Series Part I – Neutral and Ready Positions
Mel’s Rad Skills Series Part II – Standing Front Wheel Lift
Mel’s Rad Skills Series Part III – Standing Rear Wheel Lift
Mel’s Rad Skills Series Part IV - Pedaling Front Wheel Lift