Riding Tip: Mountain Biking On Rock Gardens And Rough Terrain

by Robb Sutton

Mace Mountain Biking Apparel - Trek Session 88 FREven the tamest of trails have sections that are filled with rocks, roots and other high speed rough areas. Navigating this rough sections of trail at speed can be a nerve racking task for new riders or experienced riders looking to get more technical with their riding.

For me, there is nothing quite like blasting through a rock garden and then looking back at what your bike just ate up on the trail. Technical riding has huge payoffs and the same skills you use for riding rock gardens are the same skills you use for other fast, technical, rough sections of mountain bike trail. The sound of the suspension soaking up the hits, the tires gripping hard rock, the rhythmic chorus of your bike navigating trail that others won’t even walk…it all plays into everything that is great about mountain biking.

How To Rip Through Rock Gardens and Technical Trail

9 times out of 10, rock gardens and technical sections of mountain bike trail look much harder than they really are. I can’t tell you how many times I have blown through something and thought, “that was it?”. The biggest and hardest step is committing and trusting your bike. After that, with a little planning, the rest is a walk in the park.

  • Momentum Is Your Friend – Without momentum, your bike is going to get hung on rocks and roots. As you go through a rock garden or technical section of trail, make sure you start off with enough speed that you can carry through that section of trail without losing so much momentum that you eventually stop mid process. You don’t have to be doing mach 5, but if you plan to get through with a snails pace, you are going to have a rougher ride and probably get stuck. Speed and momentum will be your best friend as you navigate these sections of trail.
  • Keep Your Head Up – As with most riding, keeping your head up and looking out instead of looking in front of your tire is the key to riding these sections of trail successfully. When you look right in front of your tire, you end up trying to make small changes in your line that are unnecessary and will hurt you in the long run. By looking forward, you can plan the section much easier and keep your weight where it is supposed to be.
  • Weight Slightly Back From Center – Keep your arms and legs bent (no matter how much suspension travel you have…they are still your best suspension) and your weight slightly back from center. You still want front end grip, but you do not want unexpected bumps or sharp hits to throw you over the bars. By having your weight slightly back, you can adjust for any unexpected hits and add traction with the rear suspension.
  • Pick A Line And Commit – One of the biggest mistakes I see when riders are trying to conquer technical sections is trying to change their line mid stream. Once you pick a line, stick with it. Your bike has a lot more skills than you could ever imagine and it will pull you through. By changing your line in the middle of the section, you are robbing yourself of much needed momentum and speed. Most times, you are better off just ripping through it as straight as you can.

As you head out on your next ride, try out a section of trail that you might have ridden around before. By stepping it up with your technical riding ability, you will become faster in all aspects of your riding.

Here are some rock garden mountain biking tips from Bike Skills.



Rusty February 24, 2010 - 12:12 pm

Just how far do you need to get back? “Slightly back” sounds a strong position – do you really need to hang way back over the rear wheel. Does it depend on the steepness?
Is it best to rollover smallish drops in the rockgarden – or to try and pull off a fancy manual or pedal kick thing?
Life is full of more questions!

198 February 25, 2010 - 7:55 am

Depends on decline and obstacles. As you get more used to that riding style, you can judge it as you ride.

Roll smaller and wheelie drop bigger ones. If you have enough speed, you might just be able to drop it.

Nate April 24, 2010 - 6:53 pm

basically keep your hips directly above your bottom bracket. as the downhill angle steepens, you must move further back in order to keep your hips above the BB.

Aaron Mielke February 11, 2010 - 10:40 am

I love how easy he makes that look!

The first time he went through, before introducing himself, I was like “that’s a piece of cake.” Of course, when he walks it and rides it slowly you can see that rock garden presents some difficulty.

Rock gardens used to give me a ton of trouble when I was a newer rider. Now, when I see them, my adrenaline starts pumping and I start salivating because I want to prove that those rocks are no match for me and my bike!

I would also add one other small point to your tips (which are spot on): running lower pressure in your tires will give you greater traction when navigating rock gardens. If you have your pressure set too high, you may end up bouncing yourself right off of your bike.

dman February 11, 2010 - 9:28 am

Don’t know who said it, but it’s right on:

“the trick to mountain biking is going fast enough to not fall over.”


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