Whatever goes up, must come down, so now that we have climbed that rocky section of trail on our mountain bikes, it is time to blast down the other side and descend this rocky section of singletrack with confidence and ease. When I started drafting up the article on how to climb rocky mountain bike trails, the original thought was to talk about going down and coming up in the same article. After I realized the subject was too large for one post, I split it into two…so here we are.
How To Descend Rocky Mountain Bike Trails
For many, getting up is the easy part of rocky singletrack. You can pick your way up, the speed is slower and the technical aspect of the riding keeps your attention as you head up the hill. When you start to head down, gravity and momentum want to keep pushing your bike forward, so descending rocky mountain bike trails can be nerve racking for some mountain bikers. The following tips are not only going to help you with your rocky descent fears, but help you keep control as you head down the hill. With time, this will get much easier and you will be blasting down the mountain before you know it.
Loose Body and Loose Grip Is Key – You are going to want your mountain bike to float underneath you. If you are stiff with a white knuckle grab on the bars, whenever an unexpected hit comes from a rock, you are going to get thrown from your line and – sometimes – thrown from the bike. By keeping your elbows bent, legs bent and grip loose on the bars (you won’t let go…I promise), the bike is more fluid under your body and is able to take unexpected trail events without throwing you off like you are in a rodeo.
Let The Bike Do The Work – This really goes hand in hand with the tip above. You want the bike to move left, right, front and back as you head down the rocky hill. As you keep your body upright, the bike should be taking the hits and moving independently of where your body is situated. The idea is to have the bike take the misdirection and you bring it back on line. If you are taking every single hit exactly like the bike is…it is going to be a long bumpy ride down the hill.
Keep Your Weight Centered – Again…if you and your bike are in a death grip, things are going to go badly. Keep your weight centered on the mountain bike and slightly rearward. The last thing you want to be is caught in a situation where the front tire hits a rock and your weight is caught too far forward. We have all been there once before…you end up flying up and over the bars. When you are laying down seeing nothing but nice blue sky…you wonder…what the hell just happened?! I can tell you what happened…you had your weight too far forward. Especially when things get really steep, continue to move your body backwards and centered. By doing that, you will keep the bike much more stable in the rough stuff.
Speed Is Your Friend – What most riders do not know is that having some speed through the rocks actually helps you tremendously. If you are trying to pick your way through the rocks slowly, your wheels are going to want to jump into every crack and crevice they can find to stop your momentum. If you keep some speed, you actually end up rolling up and over these gaps instead of straight into them. Let loose a little bit and try it out. You will be very surprised with the results.
When In Doubt…Hit It Straight - Just as you do with climbing rocky sections of mountain bike trail, you need to attack sections. When you are not sure of the line, get your weight back, centered and hit it will some speed straight on. Do not worry about the perfect line or what is going to happen, just hit it straight with confidence. You will be very surprised what your your bike will pull you through in the end. Far too often, we do way too much thinking about the “perfect line” when we could just hit something straight on with fantastic results.
Let Some Air Out Of Your Tires – The #1 mistake I see mountain bikers do when tackling rocky sections of mountain bike trail is pumping up their tires. Bad idea! I know what you are trying to do and I am telling you now that you are working against yourself. The fear of pinch flatting is going to make you bounce off of every single rock on that trail and it is going to ruin rocky, technical riding for you. Let some air out of those tires so that the ride is not only softer, but now you have a TON of grip to help you down the hill. As a reference, I run 26 psi on 26″ tires and 24psi on 29″ tires in the rocks at 185-190 lbs. I know some of you are thinking – right now – holy s@!t…I don’t even run that on groomed trails! Well…guess what…the old school way of thinking with narrow, thin walled tires is gone. Today’s mountain bike tires are wider and can handle a lot more abuse. That increased volume – unlike the 1.8’s we used to run in the old days – allows you to run a lot lower pressures than previously. Start using that to your advantage.
Wear Pads – I wear 661 Kyle Strait knee pads on almost every ride. If you are nervous about going down and hitting a knee or elbow, invest in some good, comfortable pads to help with your confidence. There is nothing wrong with throwing on some extra protection.
Ride Light…Not Heavy – This has been causally mentioned in some of the other tips, but make a conscious effort to “ride light” on your bike. Visualize yourself floating above and around your rig instead having all of your weight on the suspension at all times. The easiest and best way to do this is to weight and un-weight during sections of the trail. Really use the suspension to dig into areas you need traction and lift up on rougher areas to help the bike skip over the top. This constant push and pull you do with your mountain bike will help you down the hill much smoother and faster.
As you can see from these mountain biking riding tips, there is a lot you can do to make riding rocky, technical downhills a lot more fun than they used to be. You – basically – just have to go against what your mind wants you to do and do what the bike really wants you to do. For this rider, there is nothing better than a good, technical, rocky section of trail. You can go ride the groomed highway all you want…but if you want to be a better mountain biker, you are going to have to challenge what you consider normal from time to time. You never know…it could become your favorite style of riding like it has for me. At the very least, you will be able to ride these sections a lot better at your favorite trail.