This morning, I awoke to carry out my usual routine. My alarm went off (baby crying) about 7am and I promptly hit the snooze button with a bottle. Once he was taken care of, the dogs and I took him downstairs so they could get in their morning sniff of the yard and I hit the brew button on the Keurig coffee maker.
After I got the little man settled in his chair on my desk, got in a couple of sips of hot coffee and clicked the mouse, I started my usual Monday morning catchup getting ready for the day. As part of my social routine, I clicked on the Bike198 Facebook page and found this. A post by Kevin Rightmeyer.
Maybe it was a release of endorphins today when I went riding, or maybe it was “nirvana” which is described as “freedom”
The dictionary describes nirvana as “In general terms nirvana is a state of transcendence involving the subjective experience of release from a prior state of bondage. This is the result of a natural re-ordering of the mind and body,”
I felt a euphoria that is both exciting and inspiring, all I did was let go of everything, and tried to “flow” with the trail and not hold back, giving everything as the trail demanded. I think I will try and ride tomorrow, even if my schedule does not agree.
What Keven is describing in this post on the wall is Flow in its purist sense. It isn’t about the bike, the trail or even the rider as each of these elements independently can not create this essence of flow. Flow comes when all reservations are let go in the pursuit of the perfect ride. All the elements and variables seem to effortlessly work together.
The mind is known to run into a state of peace as everything just seems to fall together. The trail is smoother, the tires have more grip, the rider seems to be unable to make a mistake and the legs do not want to stop churning out the power that propels the bike forward. In the world of mountain biking, this flow is where everything goes right.
It is the hole in one of golf. The perfect game in baseball. The half court shot made at the buzzer in basketball.
This flow is our pursuit. It is the feeling that creates and nurtures the addiction. Once it all comes together, even for a split second, you get the feeling of truly being free on the bike. All inhibitions, fears and negativity is gone. You and your bike can take on anything.
For us mountain bikers…true flow equals euphoria…and it is more addictive than crack. And that is what makes us want to sign up for more abuse even if our schedule doesn’t agree…
We are in that time of year. July and August for mountain bikers equals heat, humidity and a sun that just doesn’t want to let you get nice cold air into your lungs that generates power. It is one of the hardest times of the year for mountain bikers as we struggle to hit the trail during times of increased daylight.
In the southeast US, you can multiply this effect with a humidity that makes you feel like you need to take a shower just by stepping out your front door.
So what do we do? Just stay off the bike while mother nature attempts to completely cook us? That really isn’t an option…
8 MTB Tips To Conquer The Summer Heat
In an attempt to make the best out of the situation, we have to make some adjustments to our riding style and mountain biking habits to conquer the heat and keep the wheels rolling through July and August.
Start Riding Earlier In The Morning – Weekends are for sleeping in right? Well if you want to beat the heat in the summer, you are going to have to get up a little bit earlier to start your rides. While I wish later in the afternoon was an option, it is often not any cooler at those times of the day other than the sun is not beating down on the top of your head. By starting earlier in the morning, you can beat some of the suns warming effect and get a good ride in before it becomes unbearable.
Drink More Water Than Usual - In high humidity, you get a glaring reminder that you need to drink more from the amount of sweat you see rolling off your body while on the trail. In drier climates, it takes more of a conscious effort to remember to rehydrate more than usual. As the heat index rises, so does your body’s need for more hydration. When riding in climbing temperatures, be sure to bring extra food and water over what you would usually pack. Your body will need it. Also, drink early and often. If you get dehydrated…you are already way behind the eight ball.
Ride The Road Bike – For those of you that are pure MTB junkies, it may be time to get the skinny tire bike out for some miles. While I will always pick dirt over road when given the option, in the hotter summer months it is easier to deal with the heat when you have the constant breeze from speed. When you are tucked in behind trees or out in the wide open with not enough forward movement to cause airflow, the heat can seem much worse than it really is. By getting on the road bike and averaging a higher speed, you can use the breeze from riding the bike to help cool you down. Road riding is better than not riding at all.
Increase Warm Up and Cool Down Times - If you are going to be riding longer rides during the summer, make sure you increase your warm up and cool down times. Your body will be able to assimilate to the change in temperature easier and you won’t blow up as fast. If you hit the trail clipped in and hammering, expect your body to give up even quicker when subjected to higher temperatures.
Decrease Heart Rate and Speed - This is pretty self explanatory…decrease the intensity and you decrease the load on your body. Do you remember that feeling of the first, crisp spring day? Well…the middle of summer is the opposite. Your body is not getting as much usable oxygen, so with less air to the carburetor…you need to keep the RPM’s down.
Think About Trail Selection - There are certain trails in our area that are hot even when there is snow on the ground. As you can imagine, those are not our top pick when the heat index is 108 degrees in our area. Proper trail selection can mean everything in really hot weather riding. You need to pick mountain biking trails that you know are not as brutal as others.
Take Advantage of Weather Fronts - After a nice summer thunderstorm moves through, the pressure drops and so does the humidity and heat. The two days following these storms are probably your best riding days with the better conditions and tacky soil. You have to be sure to take advantage of these when you can.
Plan Your MTB Clothing - Just as you plan your clothing before you head out for an afternoon that isn’t riding, you have to plan your clothing accordingly on the bike. By including items like sleeveless jerseys, lighter shorts and more vented, lighter helmets, you can do a lot to shed heat from your body on the ride.
Even when it is so muggy outside that you don’t even want to take the trash out, it is still possible to get out and ride. You just have to keep several things in mind as you hit the trail so the ride doesn’t turn into a diaster.
Are there any other tips you use to beat the dead heat of summer?
Awhile back, I wrote about not coming back too soon from injury or sickness. Making sure you are fulling recovered is essential to not making things a lot worse on your mind and body as it relates to your personal life and life on the trail.
But what about when you are all healed up and ready to get back out there?
That first ride back is tough. The amount of fitness you are used to your body producing is now gone. What you are left with is a shell of what you used to be as you struggle to claw and scratch your way back to your former glory. For every rider, this bar that has to be reached is different…but the process is the same struggle as you try to recoup the time lost spinning the cranks.
Getting Over The Fitness Hump
I wish I had some great insider secret that I could give that drastically reduced the pain and effort required to get back to that fitness level you are trying to achieve, but the reality is that there is no magic pill.
Coming off of my last sickness, I have been dealing with 2 months of being sick and not feeling good on the bike. This past holiday weekend, I decided to bite the bullet and get myself back to where I once was. I knew it was going to hurt…I knew I wasn’t going to like it…but I also knew if I didn’t do it I would keep on getting frustrated on the bike.
So what do you have to do?
You have to force yourself to be in pain a little bit.
This past weekend was planned with two rides. A long death march in the mountains on dirt Saturday (the group planned 30 miles) and then a 4th of July road ride we do every year the following Monday (a fast 52 mile route with some serious motors). Saturday was my day…the day I was going to finally get past the fitness hump that I have been battling ever since the sickness left my lungs.
The trick is simple. You have to take yourself to the point that your body wants to quit…and keep on riding.
The section of trail we hit is split into 3 sections (Pinhoti’s in north Georgia). After section 2, I could already tell the at my fitness level was starting to deteriorate. Section 3 is known for zapping the fitness straight out of fit riders, so it was going to be a struggle at best. Half way through, my body hit that limit. No cramps…no pain…just no power.
Instead of turning back and calling it a day, I pushed on. By focusing on pedal strokes and trying to keep things slow and smooth, I was able to keep the bike rolling forward through the mountains without too much un-comfort. This was slower than usual…but it was still moving and not giving up. While trying to keep my mental health in check (you know…that voice that says, “what the hell are you doing?!”), I tackled each 50 foot section of trail at a time and made sure I was managing water and nutrition correctly.
By the end of the 20 mile ride in the mountains, I was completely cooked, out of water and back at the car. It took much longer than it has in the past, but I was roughly 5 miles longer than my body really wanted to go without too much trouble. The soft spinning, power management and food intake worked even if I felt like I was moving at a rate that even trailside turtles could pass me.
So what happened on Monday after my slow but steady push on Saturday?
Power and endurance.
Monday felt incredible for the first time in months. The power was back in my legs, my lungs were using the oxygen provided and finally I felt like my old self (prior to getting sick) on the bike. The ride on Saturday combined with a day off in between brought my body back to where I am used to riding.
I don’t know why it works…It just does…
We all go through this at some point in time in our riding. It could be sickness, injury or just life getting in the way, but that period of time on the bike takes a little bit out of our fitness. Sometimes it is a lot…and other times it is a quick, small amount. I don’t have the specific reasons why pushing yourself slightly past the breaking point works, but…in my experience over the years…it just does.
If you are struggling to get back to a fitness level that you are used to and you are starting to get extremely frustrated, pick one ride and get it done. You will be surprised at the results. Just remember…don’t get on too early. Make sure you are physically ready before turning on mind over matter.
The summer heat is settling in for a couple of months of pure hell as we attempt to keep the stoke alive and continue to put rubber against dirt. Throughout different parts of the world, the blistering heat keeps its ugly face around for days or months. Sometimes this comes coupled with extreme humidity like we get in the southeast, or dry desert like our friends on the west coast. Where ever you may live, there are some adjustments you have to make as you hit the trail during the warmer sections of the year. As much as we wish we could hit the trail like the first day of spring with extended daylight hours, the new found heat presents a different scenario that we have to prepare for in advance.
How To Mountain Bike In The Summer Heat
Here are some tips and tricks to get through the summer months and still get in the ride time that keeps your sanity.
Change Your Ride Times – Look…we all like to sleep in every now and then, but when you hit the trail between 10-12, you are setting yourself up to ride during the hottest part of the day. By getting up earlier and hitting the trail early in the morning, you can take advantage of the coolest part of the day and get your ride in. The flip side to this is riding during the later hours of the day, but you will not have as much time and it will not be as cool as the morning.
Be Prepared To Be Slow – When you hit the trail during the high heat, be prepared to be off your regular pace by at least 15%. When the air is cool, your body gets in more oxygen through denser, cleaner air. It is also not working as hard to keep cool, so that energy goes to your legs. During the summer months, your body has to work harder to keep the correct temperature and do that with less fuel (oxygen). So…as you hit the trail…realize you are not going to be at your spring prime and take more time to warm up. You will also not be blasting through singletrack like a sunny and 65 degree day.
Bring Extra Nutrition and Water – You are going to consume much more water and nutrition on hotter days. Be sure to bring extra of each of these as you hit the trail. Also, plan out your route and if there is a water stop…try to have it close to the 1/2 way point of the ride for a refuel.
Bring the Lighter Bike - For those of us that have different horses for different courses, it might be a good idea to bring the lighter rig for hotter days on trails where it doesn’t really matter. While weight isn’t everything, bring your less slack, more xc oriented bike will allow you to use more energy for the ride and less energy pedaling up the hill.
Wear Breathable Riding Clothes and Equipment – Your body is going to be much cooler if it can expel the heat. By wearing light jerseys with front zippers and lighter, more vented helmets, we can get rid of the power robbing heat by letting it get out and away from our bodies quicker. Naturally, the body wants to expel heat from the top of your head, so anything you can do on the top half of your body is going to achieve the best results (ex. sleeveless jersey, removing the visor from your helmet, etc.). It is also a good idea to make sure these items are a neutral, light color so they are not attracting heat.
The summer months are not a time to hang up the mountain bike and wait for fall. By taking some precautions and adjusting your riding slightly, you can get in as many miles during the heat as you do during the prime riding season.
A group of us were sitting around eating tacos after a humid ride the other day and we got to talking about riding tips. The conversation really started to center around tips and tricks that apply to 99.9% of the riders out there as we had several different riding styles at the table.
Then it hit me…there is one tip for riding your mountain bike that every rider needs to do and it is one of the most abused mistakes in riding. If every mountain biker on the trail would take this one tip to heart, their riding would improve drastically.
Loosen Your Grip and Prevent White Knuckling
The natural tendency within every mountain biker is to tighten up their grip when things start to get rough on the trail or they start to climb. I am pretty sure it all stems back to the brain wanting to protect the body by making sure your hands don’t come loose from the bars. However, when you do this, you create problems for yourself on the trail that not only keep you from riding at your best, but also create dangerous situations on the trail.
What Goes Wrong When You White Knuckle
So what exactly does keeping too tight of a grip do to your riding on the trail?
1 – You Are Exerting More Energy
When you grip the bars too hard, you are exerting much needed energy on the top half of your body that could be used later down the trail. Think about it…when you grip your fist, your arms tension, your shoulders get tighter and everything else in your upper body starts to use energy just because you don’t want to loosen that grip. If you start adding this up over the course of your entire ride, that is a lot of wasted energy that could have been used somewhere else.
2 – Your Body Tenses and Locks Up
Just as you observed the energy being wasted in your upper body when you made a fist, your upper body also tenses up and prevents fluid movement when you put the white knuckle, death grip on your bars. This creates a dangerous situation on the trail as your biggest suspension component (your arms) and your ability to move the bike up and around obstacles is basically gone. As you navigate rocks, roots and other trail features, you are not going to be able to make the necessary adjustments as your upper body has minimal movement available.
Fight The Urge…Loosen Your Grip
The trick…you have to consciously remind yourself while you are riding to loosen your grip during climbs and downhills. After awhile, you will start to do it naturally and it will become less of a forced action and more second nature. So what happens when you loosen the grip on your bars while you are riding?
1 – You Save That Energy
All of that energy you were wasting previously on removing all of the blood from your hands by gripping the bars too hard is now preserved for other riding activities…like getting over that stupid steep climb. I like to think of my body much like the gas tank in my truck. I start each ride with a set amount of fitness in the tank, and once it is gone…bonk. So anything I can do to use that fitness efficiently…the better I perform on the trail.
2 – You Open Up Your Entire Upper Body
When you loosen your grip, you open up your largest amount of suspension travel and the ability to move the bike fluidly under your body. Your arms are the #1 most important riding tool outside of your legs. It is not about the equipment…it is all about how you move that equipment on the trail and your ability to adapt the bike to changing trail conditions. The bike is not meant to stay perfectly in line with your body while you ride. It needs to move left, right, forward and backwards in relation to your body in order to function correctly and safely. Loosening up your grip enables you and the bike to accomplish this.
There are times that I keep an extremely loose grip on the bars where it feels like they are floating around the grips to keep the bike completely fluid underneath my body. There are also times…on climbs…where I physically take my hands off the grips and rest them on the sides of the bars to make sure I do not tighten up from being tired. You have to find what works for you, but…in the end…if you loosen up your grip on the bars…you will ride a hell of a lot better on the trail and have more energy to finish out the ride strong.
We aren’t pros, so thinking that we are going to pick up World Cup speed by watching the pros is an unrealistic goal. But…by watching the best of the best closely, we can pick up on small changes to make in our riding that will drastically change how we ride the trails we love. The reason that most pros are so fast (outside of natural ability and fitness) is because their skill level and pin point accuracy is spot on. So…the trick is watching their crazy runs and adapting those skills to our riding.
How To Get Fast By Watching Steve Peat
I think there is a common misconception out there that suspension is on your bike to soak up all of the hits and that makes you faster. In reality, that is not true as you pedal through the rough stuff on your local trail. If you watch Steve Peat, Sam Hill or any other pro (this includes the XC racers), the fastest line and technique is up and over the rough sections of trail instead of plowing through it. This is independent of how much travel your mountain bike has.
The trick is to use your suspension to gain necessary grip and pop to create flow on the trail. If you watch the video below from Seasons, you can see that Steve Peat is looking for the fastest line up and over obstacles instead of plowing his 10″ travel V10 through them.
By pumping your bike and unweighting through sections, you can increase speed and exert less abuse on your body. I see a lot of riders take the technique of plowing when compressing the suspension before the rough section, unweighting the bike and gliding over the rough sections would be faster, safer and conserve more energy for the rest of the trail.
Some Personal Experience To Illustrate The Point
Over this past weekend, a group of us hit up an old trail in north Georgia that is one of my favorites. Bull Mountain is mountain biking how I remember it 12 years ago…not groomed and machine cut…but hand cut, rutted out, technical mess that begs you to hit it harder with each pedal stroke. I grabbed the Specialized Enduro review bike anticipating a great, technical downhill run.
As we hit the run, my complete focus was on my line and weighting and unweighting the bike to skip over roots, rocks and other trail features that want to bounce me off my line and slow the bike down. I just kept repeating…”keep that rear tire up” in my head and the result was the fastest I have ever run that section in all of my years in mountain biking. Everything flowed perfectly. Well…almost. Mis timed a gap and hit the ground pretty hard half way through but I was running on the edge so it was almost expected at some point.
The point…the lighter I kept my bike on the trail, the faster and more controlled the ride was. It was not until I made a mental mistake that there was any loss of control or speed.
As you ride that favorite section of DH that you dream about at night, focus on keeping the bike lighter on the trail and press it into smoother sections for grip and speed. The more you focus on that element of your riding, the more controlled and faster you will end up being. You won’t be Steve Peat, but you might light up your buddy when he wasn’t expecting it.
There are going to be times in your riding where knowing how to jump your mountain bike will increase your technical skills and speed. Even if you are not looking to become the next Cam McCaul, having the basics of jumping in your riding resume will help you out on your favorite trails as you rip through singletrack.
By being able to jump your mountain bike correctly, you can do things like…
Skip over rocks and roots
Get more traction
Become a faster rider in technical sections
Have more control of your bike at faster speeds
How To Jump Your Mountain Bike
Jumping your mountain bike all starts with a proper take-off. Pick a line and stick with it. Trying to change things mid stream will disrupt your flow and cause problems for you throughout the rest of the process.
Compress the bike into the face of the jump by pushing down on the suspension. This is known as ‘loading the bike’ and it give you more traction and control as you leave the lip. When you do not load your suspension, your body stiffens up and the rear wheel of the bike bucks upward causing an unbalanced take-off.
Once in the air, keep your body loose and keep your arms and legs bent while feeling where the bike is headed. If you stiffen up, you will go into an controlled ‘dead sailor’ where the bike tends to go where ever it wants to while your stiff body is along for the ride. This usually ends up in a crash that is nose heavy in nature.
Spot the landing and push the bike into it creating more traction. Use your arms and legs as your primary suspension, soaking up the impact with body movement. If you rely completely on your suspension, you run the tendency of a hard landing where the bike can lose traction and slide out from underneath you.
Those are the jumping basics that will get you started. The trick is to start small and build your way up as you get more comfortable with your bike being airborne. As you get better at launching your bike, you are going to notice that you start to use this skill in your trail riding to make your ride smoother and faster over roots, rocks and small drops.
Here is a video from Bike Skills to give you a visualization on how this works on smaller jumps.
While I was enjoying a weekend away in New York City, my fellow riding friends back in Atlanta were getting a taste of prime riding weather…sunny and 70. With this winter being one of the worst ones in recent memory, mountain bikers have had to get really creative to get in any spin time, so the tacky trails on perfect riding weather is a welcome change from the cold, wet mess that has plagued most areas over the past couple of months. With a small taste of what is on the horizon, we need to get our legs and equipment ready for the greatness that is spring mountain biking.
Preparing For The Prime Mountain Bike Riding Season
So what can we do as mountain bikers to explode out of the gate without exploding our legs or our mountain bikes?
Preventative Maintenance and Preparation
One of the best things you can start doing is getting that cobweb filled mountain bike ready for trail duty. It has been sitting there all winter long, or…if you were lucky…you got the rig out for a couple of rides in the mess. Either way…it needs some love if you want your mountain bike to perform properly once the sky opens up. Here are a couple of items that are a must do as you look forward to endless sun filled spring rides. (preferably not the morning before your ride)
Drivetrain Check – Check out your drivetrain to make sure everything is lubed and in working order. Clean all parts and re-lube before riding and take a test ride to make sure your bike is shifting properly under load. Nothing is worse than getting out on the trail and having shifting issues or a chain snap because you didn’t take the time before the ride. Replace and chains, cassettes or chain rings as needed. It is typically recommend that you change these parts as a group as they tend to wear into each other making these components a matched set over time. Also check your shifting cables and all exposed areas to make sure everything is ok and functioning properly.
Seal Check – The seals on your frame and suspension tend to self lubricate with use. If your mountain bike has been sitting for an extended period of time, it is always a good idea to check all seals, bearings, bushings and any other moving parts to make sure they are not cracked or dried out. Replace any of these seals as necessary before you get out and ride.
Torque/Bolt Check – Make sure to check all bolts and related torque specs before hitting the trail. Do you really want to be that rider that goes OTB because their handlebars spun around? No sense in getting injured on the first ride out.
Getting Your Body Ready
If you have been off the bike for awhile, that first ride out is going to be a shock to the system. That trail that you used to blast around with energy to spare at the end of last season is going to be a brutal reminder that you are not in that same shape. Here are some tips to get over that hurdle and get your riding up to par in time for the peak season.
Off-Season Training – Whether you are on a trainer or doing a specific program like I am with The Ultimate MTB Workout Program, any off-season training you do will pay off in a huge way during the beginning of the season. Now is the time to ramp up your workouts or start them if you haven’t already. Specific programs like The Ultimate MTB Workout program can work wonders in getting your riding to that next level as well…
Watch Your Ass – Sounds funny…but it is true. That first ride out with any kind of mileage is going to remind you quickly that you haven’t been on a saddle in awhile and the next day is going to leave you wondering why your ass hurts. It might be a good idea to invest in something like Anti Monkey Butt powder or some extra padded riding shorts to get you over the hump at the beginning of the riding season. Believe or not…you condition your ass to put up with more abuse with more miles (that sentence sounded bad in more ways than one…).
Stretch It Out – At the end of the ride…stretch out your muscles and ligaments to prevent damage and injuries. You are going to be tighter at the beginning of the season than you are towards the end as your body gets used to the routine again. It is also a good idea to start regular stretching now to prevent injuries when you start riding.
Watch Your Diet – I don’t know about you guys…but when it is cold and rainy…bad food just seems to find me automatically. My winter diet is much different than my summer one as I start packing on the pounds for warmth. Several weeks before you get into your riding season, it would be a good idea to start watching your diet to eat a little bit more healthy. All of these little changes in getting your body ready for the riding season pay off huge down the road.
Final Preparation For That First Ride Out
That first ride out can get the heart racing for mountain bikers of all skill levels. The ground like velcro, the air is clean and you are ready to rip the trail to pieces with all of that pent up biking frustration. Just remember…hit the trail slow, get in a proper warm-up and ease back into full swing so that you don’t blow up on mile 2 wondering what the hell happened. By incorporating the tips above and keeping that in mind…you are going to be leaving your riding buddies in the dust stoked as hell that you are out on the bike.
Downhill mountain biking is one of those techniques that is becoming even more prevalent as bikes start getting more capable. More riders than ever are looking for ways to get faster while riding downhill in technical trail conditions, but they are conditioned to riding shorter travel bikes and hardtails. So how do we get faster going downhill and really use the bike’s capabilities? It all starts with keeping some core techniques in mind as you hit the trail and always remember…your bike has far more ability than you do…you are really just catching up. Trust your abilities, grow your skill set and trust your equipment.
Tips For Mountain Biking Downhill
The #1 mistake most riders make when experimenting with more technical downhill trails is looking directly in front of their tire. It is essential that you look down the trail, and the faster you are riding…the farther down the trail you should be looking.
Positioning your weight is your key to stability. By moving your weight lower and more rearward, you can traction on the rear end of the bike and increase your on trail stability. By keeping your legs and arms bent, you can soak up unexpected trail features by using the most travel you have on your bike…your body.
Try to stay off the brakes as much as possible. Knee jerk reactions with your brakes can blow you offline or even worse. Controlled smooth braking while keeping your speed at a level you are comfortable with will prevent most of your wrecks.
Pad up if you need to. A lot of downhilling is confidence. If it helps you out to protect your body in case the worst happens, then do it. You can never have too much on and you can always have too little. Wear whatever makes you comfortable on the trail as you try new ways to increase your speed and control on technical downhills.
In this video from Bike Skills, Greg Minnaar takes you through the downhilling basics.
Switchbacks are a great technical aspect of the trail. These hairpin turns test your balance and general trail use knowledge as you navigate attempt not to dab throughout the course of the turn. Switchbacks add a unique feature to steep terrain as they test your technical riding ability during times of increased speed…or decreased endurance.
Every trail in the country has at least one tight turn you have to ride through, so how do we conquer these turns on our mountain bike both uphill and downhill?
What Is A Switchback Turn?
Before we get into the how of riding switchbacks, what are they and how can you find them on your trail?
A hairpin turn (or switchback), named for its resemblance to a hairpin/bobby pin, is a bend in a road with a very acute inner angle, making it necessary for an oncoming vehicle to turn almost 180° to continue on the road. Such turns in ramps and trails may be called switchbacks in American English, by analogy with switchback railways.
Hairpin turns are often built when a route climbs up or down a steep slope, so that it can travel mostly across the slope with only moderate steepness, and are often arrayed in a zigzag pattern. Highways with repeating hairpin turns allow easier, safer ascents and descents of mountainous terrain than a direct, steep climb and descent, at the price of greater distances of travel. Highways of this style are also generally less costly to build and maintain than highways with tunnels.
Switchback turns on your mountain bike trail are pretty easy to find. Any turn that is extremely tight and guides you to riding in the opposite direction you were heading can be called a switchback. On new trails, switchbacks can take you by surprise as you were unaware of the sharp turn ahead.
Riding Switchbacks On Your Mountain Bike
When you come up against that switchback on your trail, there are certain things you need to remember and practice to conquer these tight, hairpin turns.
Your Line Is Everything – The line you pick to go through the turn will determine your outcome. The video below will show you how to chose that line, but also look for any rocks or roots that are looking to kick you off of that line. There is a preferred method of attacking switchbacks, but if that line is covered up with harder terrain…you might have to improvise.
Keep Your Balance – This is one of those situations where practicing your trackstanding really pays off. Typically (especially when riding uphill), switchbacks are taken at a very low speed. You need to be able to keep the bike upright and moving forward throughout the entire turn. In really extreme switchback situations, it may even be necessary to stop the bike completely without getting off (trackstanding) to readjust.
Move Your Weight – When riding a switchback both up and down the trail, you need to be completely aware of where you have your weight on the bike. For steep, downhill switchbacks, your weight needs to be back as you navigate the turn. For uphill, steep hairpin turns…you need to have your weight centered and ready to put forward to get through. Moving your body weight independently of the bike will be a key factor in a dab free switchback turn.
Look Where You Are Going…Not Where You Are – I see a lot of riders dab and get stuck in switchbacks because they are too focused on where they are…instead of where they are going. Riding switchbacks (like most riding) requires you to plan ahead and keep your head up. If you are looking two inches in front of your tire, you are already stuck. Plan your turn and look several feet out. As you are navigating the turn…look where you need to go. As you get tired on climbs, this can get harder as it is a natural progression to hold you head down. It’s not right…but it is what your body wants to do.
Now that you have the right mindset, check out this video on riding switchbacks from the crew over at Bike Skills (bikeskills.com).
I thought it was about time that I just came out and said it. Road riding has improved my mountain biking.
This past weekend, I got to see how much my recent road riding has really improved my mountain biking. Over the past couple of road rides, I have really concentrated on smooth circular pedal strokes under load. During these constant spins…I make sure that I am using as much upward pulling strokes as I am downward hammers. The result is a much more efficient spin that produces forward propulsion like I have never felt. The overall goal was to create more power by exerting less energy.
While I am on the mountain bike, it is harder to concentrate on pedal strokes as I am negotiating the trail. The road bike provides the perfect outlet to practice these skills and transfer them to my mountain biking. I started to notice that my road rides were less tiring than before, and I was able to pull/lead much easier than in the past.
So what were the trail results?
This weekend a group of eager riders headed up to Rich Mountain for the third time in 6 weeks. Rich Mountain…Stanley Gap, Flat Creek and Green Mountain…is known for technical climbing and descending. Even the best riders come to Rich knowing they are going to walk some climbing sections. This brutal epic in north Georgia really taxes every ounce of your body as you attempt to conquer the beast.
For this weekends ride, I brought up the Niner Jet 9 for a good thrashing in the mountains. My goal was to have my best ride to date at Rich and really test my training on the road bike. From the start of the ride, I concentrated on pedals strokes and form as we started the several mile, out of the gate ascent. By the top of the first long climb, all seemed well and my heart rate was more controlled than previous attempts. We continued down the first blazing downhill and I was able to really let the Jet 9 loose. To my surprise, this 80mm travel frame really rails on long, technical downhills. It rides like a longer travel bike.
The cross country setup of the Jet 9 allowed me to really get into a technical spin groove. The rest of the day went pretty much the same…great technical downhills followed by long climbs. Even with the group’s season high amount of flats, the day was going along flawlessly.
The last climb back over Rich Mountain is the worst. This technical climb is where you find most of the walking around Rich Mountain. From the start of this final climb, I made a mental goal for myself. I was not going to dab or walk at all through the first summit. This is something that I have only accomplished once in the past, and it came at the expense of my fitness for the last downhill. This time around, I wanted to have a dab free ride, but still be fresh for the final descent to the cars.
Incredibly…everything went very well…and by the end…I accomplished my goal. There was still a little bit of walking during the final section of climbing (there always is for everyone that rides this place) but I made it through all of the first hike-a-bike sections with ease. For the first time at Rich Mountain, I still had plenty of juice left for the final descent.
What did road biking do?
Road biking increased my cross country efficiency and endurance. By concentrating on form and miles on the road bike, I was able to have the best trip to Rich Mountain to date. I could actually feel the mountain bike pulling forward faster with each pedal stroke. This increased efficiency allowed me to keep more in the reserve tank for the rest of the ride without having to slow the pace down to a crawl. Road biking has also increased my awareness of pacing the ride to make sure I do not blow up before the end.
This trip to Rich Mountain solidified that road biking can increase your mountain biking skills if done correctly. However, your mountain biking skills do not…at this point…transfer to the road bike. About the only thing you can really transfer back over is some endurance and overall comfortable feeling on the bike.
I am going to continue to use these road miles to up my endurance and awareness on the mountain bike. Hopefully, over time…these same skills will continue to grow and my mountain biking will excel in this areas. Stay tuned to find out…
The winter months are always difficult for riders. The days are shorter, the weather is colder, the weather is more unpredictable…and when you add all of these factors together…that equals less riding. A rider that is not able to ride…is not happy. I see the attitudes change every year in the online forum sites. As mountain bikers get less mountain biking in, the fuses get shorter and tempers flare!
The off-season does not have to be a dreary time for the mountain biking community. There are certain things you can do to get through the tough times! There is hope yet for all of us mountain bikers to strive to be on sweet single track every weekend! (I am typing this as there is cold rain falling from the sky…).
So What Do Mountain Bikers Do In The Off Season?
Ride – That is right…you can still ride! You will need some different gear to get out comfortably but at least you will be out on the trail doing what you enjoy the most. Get a good riding jacket, some leg and arm warmers, winter gloves and some toe warmers and you are set for some good, old fashion cold weather riding. The truth is…cold weather riding has its own different kind of fun that goes along with it. You might be surprised…get out there and try it!
Training – The winter off season is a great time to get stronger while other riders are enjoying fattening holiday food. During this time, go to the gym, spin classes, work out at home videos, riding on a trainer…anything that will make you stronger for next season. The harder you work in the off-season, the stronger you will be when those perfect spring days roll around. All of your over-weight and under-trained riding buddies are going to hate you as they try to get their rhythm back.
Learn New Wrenching Skills – Use this off time to learn how to work on your mountain bike. A lot of riders have the desire to learn, but lack the free time to make a serious run at it. Short days and cold weather provide a perfect excuse for some great garage or basement time. Go by your local bike shops during the off-season to ask for tips and tricks while they are slow. It will pass the time for the employees and give you some much needed knowledge. A good local bike shop will be more than happy to help during this slow period.
Time To Upgrade! - The winter off-season is a great time to upgrade the mountain bike. With the holidays as a perfect excuse, get that new SRAM X.0 rear derailleur you have always wanted. You know those new Avid Elixir CR brakes have been calling your name! The winter off-season is full of sales and holidays that will make your credit card scream for mercy. Use this time to upgrade those components that you didn’t have time to while you were riding constantly.
Off-Season Antics for Mountain Bikers
As you can see, just because the weather and lack of daylight is taking away your prime mountain biking pleasure, it does not mean you have to sit idle and wait for the coveted spring single track madness. Get out and enjoy the sport in new ways. It will keep you mind off of things and increase your abilities at the same time.