I started mountain biking about a year ago after being forced to stop playing basketball because of a horrific knee injury. I'm only joking it wasn't horrific at all, just mildly inconvient. I learned to ride, as a lot of people do, when I was a kid. So I've been able to ride for years, this being the case I figured I'd be able to ride down (and up) a few hills no problem. How could I be so wrong? Turns out mountain biking requires a huge amount of skill, of which I had none. I spent the first few rides clinging on for dear life, falling off and generally being very scared. 

Several changes of underwear later someone lent me a mountain biking book. Within was some information I really wished someone had told me. If you had been in the room when I was reading said book you would have seen a light bulb appear above my head. Of course there's a lot of things you need to know, but for me there are three key points which you really should know before hitting the trails. 

  1. Always look down the trail. This is key in two ways. Firstly and most importantly you naturally go where you are looking. Most beginners, including myself, look at objects on the trail they want to avoid (rocks, tree roots, squirrels etc.) and end up hitting them. Secondly you don't focus on what you're riding over. I used to concentrate on every bump, rut and rock on the trail and there's no need. You need to be aware of this stuff but don't focus on it, your bike will ride over it.
  2. Keep your weight over the cranks. First time I rode on a trail I jammed on the front brake while going down a hill, my weight was too far forward and needless to say I fell off in a hilarious fashion. Turns out you should lean back when going down hill and lean forward slightly going uphill. One way to think about it is that you should always be able to draw a vertical line through your centre of gravity and the cranks (this better explained with a diagram to be fair).
  3. Keep off the brakes. I still use the brakes way too much. Excessive braking is bad for two reasons; firstly, it sounds pretty obvious, but it stops the wheels turning which makes your bike more difficult to control. Secondly when you brake your weight is thrown forward forcing you to compensate with your arms and legs which means your riding position isn't as relaxed and natural as it should be.
With these three points in mind mountain biking became considerably more fun.