July 23, 2011 at 2:12 pm #100611
Downhill Skills & Techniques Tutorial…
For most developing riders, few mountain biking experiences are scarier
than downhill’s. Think about it…..The earth’s already unreliable
stick-and-stone surface plunges away from you at a momentum building
angle that your brakes can’t overcome. Even if you could stop halfway
down, would you be able to safely put a foot down and keep from
tumbling? Maybe. Maybe not. So you walk. You’ve dodged your fear,
and a chance for unrivaled fun. Here are the steps you need to learn
how to dance with the downhill demon.
To gain confidence and experience, it’s important that you control your
descending speed. You cannot do this if you’re already exceeding your
comfort zone as you drop in. On steep descents, the most your brakes
can do is minimize acceleration, not slow you. Walking speed is a pace
that often works. But don’t approach so slowly that your front wheel
stalls at the edge of the drop.
First, make sure that you’re in a big enough gear to keep your chain
from slapping against your bike or shaking loose. This is usually a
middle chainring/larger freewheel cog or large chainring/middle
freewheel cog combination. Next, set your crankarms horizontally so
that a pedal does not become an impromptu anchor on a rock or log. Keep
your elbows and knees relaxed and bent, letting your body’s natural
shock absorbers soak up jolts. Look past the rim and down the trail to a
point you want to ride to. If you stare at a drop, a rut, or some
other obstacle, you will steer into it. That’s how our eye-brain
interface is wired.
ADJUST YOUR WEIGHT SHIFT
If you’re like most newcomers, you’ll move back farther than necessary
the first few times you try this. If you go too far back, your front
wheel becomes light and loose and hard to control. Don’t panic. Simply
adjust your weight distribution by scooting forward. As you gain
experience, you will be able to fine tune your control by subtle weight
shifts by merely raising or lowering your chest, for instance.
BE ARTFUL IN BRAKING
Sudden movements are doom on descents. Strive for smoothness in all
actions, including braking. It’s best to begin with controlled speed,
but if you find yourself going to fast, don’t panic and slam on the
brakes…..or you will slam into the ground. You most likely will over
use the rear brake at first, locking the rear wheel and causing it to
skid. This not only tears up the trail and wears the tire; it doesn’t
slow you and lessons your control. If the rear wheel skids, ease off
and increase pressure on the front brake. Most of your braking power
comes from the front. As long as you have enough weight rearward,
applying the front brake will not pitch you over the bar. If the front
wheel starts to skid, ease off the lever until begins to rolling again,
then tenderly re-squeeze. If the skid continues, steer into it with
subtle movements, just like you would in a car. Do not brake hard up
front as you hit obstacles or roll over drops. The front wheel has more
stability when it rolls freely.
BOUNCE BACK BIG
When you fall, and you will, walk to a more level spot where you can get
back on. Point your bike across the trail, squeeze the brakes as you
climb aboard, and turn downhill. Do not make more than three to four
steep runs each session. You’ll start making mistakes just because
ROLL OUT & REGROUP
As you reach the bottom of the downhill, begin returning to a neutral
position over the saddle (if you don’t, you’ll have too much weight
rearward) and let go of your brakes. If you’re smooth and fearless, you
can milk much momentum from the run out of even a moderate descent.
Here are the things you want to avoid when descending.
1) Do not try to steer by turning the handlebar. If you do, the bike
gets all unstable and uppity. Try controlling your direction by
shifting your weight sideways. Expert riders steer their bikes simply
by moving their hips. Give it a shot. You initially might have to
overcompensate with big weight shifts to get a feel for it.
2) Do not brake at the wrong time. Squeezing the brakes right before
or after a big drop off or before a big rock or log is a panic move, and
is pure instinct. You’ll probably get away with it if you’re in the
funky, learning, way –low position. But notice how it punches your bike
to a stop and makes you jerky. Condition yourself to ignore instinct.
3) Do not worry too much about your line. Gravity is going to pull
your bike down the hill no matter how you stinky your route. There’s a
tendency to bail as soon as you loose the best line, the cleanest,
smoothest, most apparent path. When you get all jacked around, hang in
there and see what happens. Let the bike roll. If you see an opening
to slip back into the good line, take it, but pay more attention to the
line you’re already in.
4) Do not get stiff. This is another instinct you have to train out of
yourself. When your tight, the bike transmits its shocks into your
body, which transmits them back, and things are a mess. Instead of
absorbing a bump, you let it steer to the bike for you. Bad idea. You
need to be the pilot. It’s hard to diagnose tightness by thinking about
your elbows and knees. If the bike suddenly seems out of control,
hammering you with hard vertical blows and your vision gets jumpy, try
loosening your joints. If that does not work, you’re probably going to
fast for your skill level. Slow down a little.
5) Do not bail when you get sideways. Your bike is going to throw all
kinds of new tricks at you on descents. One of the coolest and most
exhilarating is the first time it starts taking you down the trails
sideways. Don’t bail. Loosen the brakes, shift your weight to the high
side and slightly toward the center of the trail, and you can make it.
February 2, 2012 at 5:01 pm #100612
As to # 1 on the five no-no’s, you mention steering the bike with your weight. We call that sphincter stearing 😆
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