How To Progress Into More Aggressive Riding

by Robb Sutton

How To Mountain Bike Aggressive Terrain

I received a great email from a reader yesterday wondering how to get into more aggressive FR/DH riding from an XC background. The question seems like a simple one, but nerves can start to get the best of you as you look at obstacles and covers of Bike Magazine.

So how does a rider that wants to get into more drops, jumps, rock gardens and other freeride and downhill riding but still conquer the nerves and fear at the same time. There is a secret to the madness and I’ll share that now.

Riding More Aggressively Is A Progression

Before you go find the first 10 foot to flat drop you see and try to huck off of it, just know that you are probably going to chicken out or break something. You have to condition your skills and your mind to accept a more aggressive riding style over time.

Those guys that you see doing massive drops and jumps did not start out with the biggest thing to land them on magazine covers. They started with smaller drops and technical features to grow the skill set and confidence that eventually led to the build up and larger stunts.

If you are looking to start getting in to more aggressive riding. Find smaller drop and TTF’s that you can start off with. If your mountain bike tires have never left the ground, this might be a 6″ lip off the ground. It literally does not matter how big or small your first attempt it…it just matters that you did it, so pick something you are comfortable with.

As you start to get more confident, move up the scale. Go from 6″ to a foot…a foot to 2 feet…

Eventually, you will hit a limit that you are comfortable achieving and you can start to make that height harder with more difficult lead ins and landings (rocks, roots, etc.).

What Gear Do You Need?

Luckily for you, today’s 5.5″ trail bike can handle a pretty good amount of abuse. As long as you are not dropping off the roof of a house, you should be able to ride just about anything you put your mind to. Granted, you are not going to take full DH runs at the speed you could on a real DH bike, but there are guys that rock that stuff on a hard tail, so anything is possible.

661 Kyle Strait Knee PadsTo help with the confidence level, I would pick up a set of pads like the 661 Kyle Straits knee pad and some elbow pads. This keeps your joints protected and gives you a little bit more confidence as you hit the hill. I would also recommend picking up a full face helmet to keep your brain in tact in case the worst should happen. A full face helmet can take some getting used to…so make sure you are comfortable with it before you hit anything big.

As you progress in your new aggressive FR/DH riding style, you are going to want to get more dedicated equipment for the cause as there are things like a specific DH rig that will make your riding faster and more controlled with bigger suspension, but…in the meantime…feel out your tolerance level and start to stretch what you consider normal.

It always starts with smaller to bigger in your quest to hit the bigger stuff. By conditioning your mind and body to take on more aggressive riding, you will prevent injury or equipment failure from trying to hit something you weren’t ready for.

Original Image of Ethan Taken by RegularJoe



Ben Briggs March 9, 2010 - 1:40 pm

Nothing will help you more than seeing it done in person. If you can find someone to ride with who is a level up from you (or more) and follow that person through progressively harder runs, you will learn very quickly. Watch the technique of how they enter and exit obstacles and listen to them when they say “don’t ever do this…”

Also, coming from a guy who learned to play hockey as an adult, don’t feel embarrassed or weak to pad up. Wearing all the gear will mentally allow you to try something you normally wouldn’t. The equipment will take some of the fear away, thus allowing you to be successful in your progression.

198 March 9, 2010 - 1:45 pm

Following a rear tire can shorten the learning curve significantly.

+1 on the padding up. I have never made fun of someone for not wearing too much but I have had a lot of “I told you so’s” with people that weren’t wearing enough.

John March 10, 2010 - 10:46 pm

I am currently an example of this. I was riding Big Creek last weekend and doing the Gully Run for the second time ever. I had my 661 Pressure Suit…in the trunk of my car. Well, I made a mistake on the last two berms of the run and cracked a rib. Now I’m not laughing at jokes and even worse, riding.

I agree for watching others too, or just walking the run before you hit it hard and then visualizing it in your head. You could see Lindsey Vonn doing this right before her runs at the Olympics. She looked a bit odd doing it, but it worked out for her.

Tim F February 25, 2010 - 9:53 am

You can also switch out clipless pedals for flats when trying more aggressive terrain. It’s not usually getting my feet clipped out that’s a problem, but I’ve found I’m more comfortable with the later platform offered by flats. I think the Crank Bros Mallet pedals would be a good compromise. But I would need to get a pair of rubber soled clipless compatible shoes, since I just have my regular mtb shoes.


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