Conquering Technical Trail Obstacles and Features

by Robb Sutton

You are riding along on your favorite trail. You come past that same technical trail feature or obstacle that you pass every time with the same thought…”I’ll try that next time”. Only…next time never comes. You are always passing that same obstacle and you are always waiting for next time. It is a proven fact that stretching your comfort zone on your mountain bike improves your bike handling and riding skills, but more importantly, it improves your confidence on the bike and raises the bar of what you think is difficult to ride.

I think we can all agree that we want to become better mountain bikers over time. Each of our goals and riding styles can be completely different, but to get better you have to stretch your limits of what you consider comfortable riding. So…when you come across that technical trail feature, how can you overcome your mind and conquer the beast within? Check out these tips that will help you get over the hump…

198’s Tips to Conquer that Trail Obstacle or Feature

  1. Just do it – The old Nike cliche really does work. The fact is that our brains are 99% of the problem. Our bike has far more capabilities than we do and we have more ability that we care to admit. The #1 thing that gets in the way is ourselves. The easiest way to get over the constant beating of your mind keeping you from mountain biking super stardom is to visualize the entire sequence. Stare at the obstacle or trail section and literally visualize a perfect run. Once you have this image cemented into your head…hit it! You will be pleasantly surprised with the results.
  2. Follow a fellow mountain biker – Have a friend with riding abilities close to yours that seems to have zero issue with this fantastic section of mountain biking trail bliss? Next time you guys are riding together, follow his rear tire through the section. This will show you first hand the exact speed and line you need to take to make it through safely. Sometimes the easiest way is to follow the leader.
  3. Do not stare at it! – This goes hand in hand with #1. The more you stare at something, the more you give your mind a chance to talk you out of it. If you need to take a quick look to find the line or see what you are dropping into…that is fine. If you sit there and stare at it for 10 minutes, you might as well just ride on because you are just finding a way to talk yourself out of it.
  4. Pad up! – There are companies like 661 that make comfortable padding or armor that you can wear on lighter bikes without it hindering your day. They can be easily packed up in you favorite hydration pack or worn all day. Wearing some sort of padding may give your the comfort level necessary to hit that technical trail feature with ease.
  5. Session – If at first you don’t succeed…try, try again. The art of sessioning will make you a considerably better rider over time. Do not be happy with failure, but instead…use it as motivation to do better! Practice harder sections of trail to make them easier…then, when you come across sections of trail that are harder that the last, it won’t be as big of a deal. Sessioning is also an incredible way to enjoy mountain biking with friends as you all try to conquer that last “un-rideable” technical trail feature.

Technical trail features and obstacles can really bring your riding enjoyment and stoke to a whole new level. The feeling of accomplishment and the desire to try it again brings a happiness and satisfaction to trail riding that can only be found by pushing the limits of what we consider “normal riding” as a mountain biker. Do you have a section of trail that you consider a must-do next time and next time never really comes? It is time to give it a try…



michaels August 9, 2009 - 2:19 pm

So true your mind says caution but you know you can do it its all in looking ahead and where you want to go not where you don’t want to go which is my bigest challenge lay off the brakes

198 August 11, 2009 - 11:30 am

Its always a mind game…your body and your bike have far more abilities than your head!

Tenbroeck May 14, 2009 - 1:25 pm

That was a good. I like the follow the leader idea, I’ve ridden new stuff that way by accident, but now I can make that a part of the arsenal.

Sometimes I will look at a TTF for a while, to figure out the line I’m gonna take. After that, I try to focus on positive thoughts, if I can’t do that, I don’t ride it. Basically, if all I’m doing is worrying about crashing, I won’t ride a TTF.

Robert House April 28, 2009 - 11:21 pm

Totally agree, with you. I’d also recommend core training.

I spent some time working on climbing inclines with rock ledges — losing a few pounds from my midsection and some time spent in the gym strengthening up my core really made a difference. Getting over tall rock ledges is no problem anymore.

Abs and other core muscles are so important to balance and control on the bike.

198 April 29, 2009 - 6:19 am

@ Robert House

Absolutely! Strengthening up your core will do wonders for you riding.

paul April 28, 2009 - 8:22 pm

South Loop at Blankets is a great example, you can work those bike-handling skills all day. There’s always a new challenge and it’s not too long. Set a goal to no-dab that baby, it’s tough…

Tweety April 28, 2009 - 2:57 pm

Can’t wait to nail that damn rock garden….

198 April 27, 2009 - 3:42 pm

@ Lonestar

The conversation got the ball rolling in my head…but it’s something I have been meaning to post for awhile.

@ Paulo

Thanks man! 95% of riding is our heads! Condition them to expand what you consider normal riding, and over time…amazing things happen.

@ Erik

Armor up when you go back. That will get rid of the “back on the horse” jitters. Once you clear it…it will be like it was nothing!

Erik April 27, 2009 - 3:21 pm

Oh man, do I know this one. There’s a trail I ride in Santa Cruz with a crazy rocky waterfall section. When I have tried to ride it, I ended up with a stick puncturing my arm and sliding down a hill 20 or 30 feet. I know I can ride it but haven’t tried it in a while. Maybe if I can armor up again.

But this is good advice!

Paulo April 27, 2009 - 12:53 pm

Oh yeah, I remember spots that used to freeze me up but once done they stoke me up every time I ride up to them. So much of the challenge to riding is your own thinking. That’s why I like your articles, you incorporate mind tuning along with rig tuning! Success on the trail opens you up to success in other areas where your mind has been fighting you.

LoneStar April 27, 2009 - 8:49 am

Somehow I feel like I had a little help in the inspiration for this entry! I should have just turned around and tried that section again yesterday!


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