Hey all. I rode West Branch in Ravenna, Ohio this past weekend and I knew the reputation was rooty north of the access rode and rocky south. I assumed this was compared to other trails around NE Ohio, meaning a handful of roots and rocks. I was happily surprised with the abundant roots and rocks but found out I don’t have the necessary skills to clear extended rock gardens.
Fitness is certainly an issue that I am working on. I was sitting far to much but I was really out of gas.
Any advice for clearing long rock gardens? I tried to find a decent picture but couldn’t. Basically the trail was just made of rocks, not stepping stones and mostly rounded.
I assume the trails are pretty pedally; that is, you won’t be able to clear the whole section using gravity or momentum alone. This is actually one of the most difficult technical challenges you’ll face. A few of ideas:
– Work on your ability to track stand and balance. You’ll need to be able to recover when you hit a rock or root the wrong way, bringing you to a complete stop. If you want to avoid a dab, and keep going, you’ll need to be able to balance at low (or no) speeds.
– Pedal position is crucial. This ties back into the ability to start and stop, because at times you’ll need to put down a ton of power to get up and over obstacles. Leg and upper body strength help as well.
– Stay with it, and keep looking down the trail, not directly at what is in front of your wheel. This takes some practice to find the optimal sight distance, and depends on your speed.
Jeff Lenosky actually just posted a video showing his technique for approaching rocky, rooty trails that could be helpful.
Thanks Jeff. Your assumption is correct. The most challenging sections were close to flat or uphill.
The downhill were doable but intimidating. I wish the trail was close to where I live because I would give it a go every other day but that isn’t going to happen. I will work on the skills that you noted closer to home and try it again at the end of the season.
I think the thing that helps me the most is looking ahead for a line. It’s hard at first because it’s natural to focus on what’s right in front of you. Speaking of line choice, lines are sometimes different for different bikes. On my XC bike, I tend to follow lines that take be between and around rocks and high points. On my trail bike, I tend to go over everything. In my case, they just handle better that way. But the biggest challenge taking on rock gardens is the fear of landing on them. Intimidation is your enemy. Sounds like you’re past that part!
Fitness is a big issue to ride extended rock garden cause you have to maintain momentum. Sometimes that takes heavy effort to clear an obstacle in terrain where you need to time pedaling to prevent pedal strikes.
The previous mention of equipment type is important. Rocks you might shoot a straight line though on an All Mountain trail bike might best be avoided on a hardtail XC bike.
When negotiating a sharp edge, give the bars a tug to unload the front wheel. This will help maintain momentum.
Initial suspension action should be set up on the supple side, IMHO. My preference is to run “full active”, meaning light compression damping (certainly not locked out) for rocky terrain. When lifting the front wheel to clear obstacles, it helps to have enough rebound damping on the rear shock to keep it from kicking your butt off the saddle as the rear wheel clears. I set up the rear rebound by riding a wheelie over a 4-6″ log and adjusting the kick back out.
If you like to do long rock gardens, I would just like to highlight Jeff’s statement “This is actually one of the most difficult technical challenges you’ll face.” All the advice is sound and you should have as a skill. I have found the better shape I am in the longer I can manage the rocks. I don’t even try rock gardens in the spring. I wait until fall after a good summer of riding. Plus it is cooler in my area.
Well, it has been a loooong while since my last ride on a hardtail, but try sitting and smoothly spinning where you can to save energy. Pick the smoothest lines possible and stand where you have to. Stand for any descent. Keep the front end light to get it over obstacles. Have fun and keep at it.