Rock gardens provide an incredible rush and a challenge during a ride. There is something about blasting over a section of trail that you never thought you would be able to ride. The feel of the suspension soaking up every bump as you wonder if that next rock is going to throw you OTB or off your line is exhilarating. How do we tame these beasts on the trail?
What Is A Rock Garden?
A rock garden is a technical trail feature that is more rock than it is trail. These can be man made or natural to the landscape. Known by some to only be on downhill trails, rock gardens are becoming increasingly popular among xc trial builders as our definition of the xc bike changes. With the introduction of the light trail bike, riders are able to successfully ride more features due to the aid of technology. Rock gardens not only increase your technical riding ability, but they add excitement to the ride.
How Do You Ride A Rock Garden?
Now that you know what a rock garden is…how do you ride one? Conditions will vary depending on the trail, but there are certain rules that you can carry with you on just about every set.
- Speed Is Your Friend – When you ride through a rock garden, momentum is who you cuddle up to late at night. Carry as much speed as you are comfortable with straight into the rocks. Most rock gardens require you to be on your toes, so pedaling to gain back speed and momentum may not be an option. Your beginning speed will have to carry you through the entire run.
- Pick A Line And Stick With It – When approaching a rock garden…especially for the first time…pick a line and stick with it. It might not be the perfect line, but if you keep the front wheel straight and let the bike do it’s job, you will probably make it through.
- Double Clutch – If you do have to pedal to make it through to the end, double clutch the pedals where possible. What is double clutching? It is producing forward motion by short, explosive pedal strokes instead of full revolutions. In many cases, you are only moving the pedals up and down several degrees. In really long gardens, you will have to use full pedal revolutions to get all the way through. Plan this carefully so you do not strike a rock during your spin.
- Trust The Bike – You have to trust that the bike’s suspension will do it’s job. Today’s rides are built to handle much more abuse than the average rider will deliver. Hit the garden at speed, keep the bike straight and let it soak up the hits.
- Keep Your Weight Back – No one wants to go over the bars into a bunch of rocks. To prevent this and have better success accomplishing your goal, keep your weight back and centered over the rear suspension. This allows the front fork to soak up the hits, but it also keeps the bike straight while keeping you from flying through the air.
- Keep Your Arms And Legs Bent – Your best suspension is your body. While riding any feature, you should keep your body limber and use your arms and legs as your secondary suspension. If you stiffen up, the bike will bounce off its line and you’ll go down.
- Hit The Garden Straight On! – There are some exceptions to this rule, but in most cases you are going to want to hit a rock garden straight on. If you try to pick the “cleanest” line through, you are probably not going to make it.
- Turning – If the garden is long or around a turn, use slow gradual movements to turn the bike. Do not make sudden quick adjustments where possible.
9 times out of 10…rock gardens never ride as rough as they look. If you are one of those riders with a 5.5″ travel bike and really want to see what it is capable of, hit that rock garden you have always passed with these tips. The results are going to surprise you.
For some riders (me included), you might want some extra, lightweight protection while trying new features. I use the Kyle Straight knee pads from 661 with their Chicken Wing elbow pads. I needed something that would add protection for my knees but be comfortable enough for all day epics. The KS’s from 661 fit the bill perfectly, and they are now part of my “for every ride” gear. As an added bonus, they keep your knees warmer during the winter months but aren’t so warm that they are too hot in the summer.
Kyle Strait 661 Pads