"Stay Light on Your Bike" … What Does That Mean?

Forums Mountain Bike Forum "Stay Light on Your Bike" … What Does That Mean?

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    • #268709

      I hear the phrases “stay light on your bike” and “heavy feet, light hands” a lot, but frequently some explanations of how and when to use these techniques seemingly contradict each other.

      For example, in a recent video I watched about riding wet tech, the phrase “stay light on your bike” was used. Does that mean light in the hands and upper body? Or light on the feet?

      Light hands on wet tech seems dangerous to me. Without enough weight on the front you risk washout.

      I’m assuming there is a balance, but it seems “stay light on your bike” could mean “light hands (or upper body) and heavy feet” in some scenarios and “light feet, heavy hands (or upper body)” in other scenarios.

      I know its a “feel” thing, but I’d love some clarity on those terms.

      Would some of you more experienced riders speak into this and possibly offer some examples where these phrases are applicable?


    • #268716

      I chalked it up to needing to lose a few pounds… because otherwise it makes no sense

    • #268720

      I’ve always interpreted “riding light” as staying loose on the bike, absorbing shocks with your body instead of the suspension, and always trying to unweight the bike as much as possible on obstacles. Basically how you’d ride if your tires were a bit too soft and you were trying to avoid pinch flatting back in the pre-tubeless days…

    • #268727

      Interesting you bring this up as I am currently reading Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, co-authored by Lee McCormack.  He goes into the concept of “light hands / heavy feet”  in detail.   “Leaning forward onto the bars makes the front wheel too heavy. Leaning back away from the bars makes the front wheel too light. Unless you’re intentionally pulling an expert move, your hands should be neutral on the bars. This lets your weight drive through the bottom bracket and into both wheels, which is perfect.”  He goes into more detail but the takeaway is that your center of gravity is lowered and that you are in balance with your weight over the bottom bracket.  This is how we should ride most of the time.  Obviously there are exceptions, like bunnyhops, drops, etc.  As for the video re: riding wet rocks, I viewed that as well.  The advice here of staying light on your bike is intended to have you think about the fluid shifting of your weight front & back, even side to side.  Going through a rock garden (even dry) requires that your continuously shift your weight (weighting & unweighting the front and even the rear tire at times).  Wet rocks only accentuates the need as  your bike will move even more, esp. laterally.

    • #268761

      Let’s compare  riding “Light” vs “Heavy”.

      Heavy.   White knuckle death grip on bars.  Bloodflow restricted to fingers.  Cramping hands.

      Light.    Firm but relaxed grip on bars.  Good bloodflow to fingers.  No cramping

      Heavy.  Clenchted teeth and jaw. Grimace.

      Light.   Relaxed face.  Smile.

      Heavy.  Rigid stiff body especially at elbows and knees.  Suspension does all the work.

      Light.  Loose relaxed body with flexing of elbows and knees.   Arms and legs assist suspension.

      Heavy.  Catching big air.  Landing hard.  Bottoming out suspension and tires.

      Light.  Catching reasonable air.  Landing softly.  Using all of the suspension but not bottoming out.

      Heavy.  Staring at front wheel.  Taking the roughest hardest lines.  Steering around minor obstacles.  Momentum lost.

      Light.  Looking down the trail.  Taking the easiest smoothest lines.  Allowing the suspension to soak up minor obstacles.  Momentum maintained.

      Heavy.  Frequently skidding.  Mostly using rear brake.  Dirt flying and trails trashed.  Rear tire quickly worn out.  Skidding through technical sections and turns.

      Light.  Seldom or no skidding.  Using both brakes.  No dirt flying or trails trashed.  Front and rear tire wear out at about the same time.  Braking before technical sections and corners and then coasting or pedaling through technical sections and corners.

      Heavy.  Riding out of control.   Exceeding the limits of your fitness, skill level, and bike capabilities.  Crashing.

      Light.  Riding in control.   Expanding but not exceeding the limits of your fitness, skill level, and bike capabilities.  No injuries.

      Heavy.  Riding in too high or too low gear.  Gasping for breath.  Heart rate off the charts.

      Light.  Riding in the right gear.  Taking deep steady breathes.  Heart rate elevated but not excessive.

      Heavy.  Arriving home totally sore and worn out.  Needing to wait a few days before riding again.  Heart rate stays elevated over night and causes insomnia.

      Light.  Arriving home having had a good workout.  Riding again tomorrow.   Heart rate drops quickly and workout helps you sleep well.

      Heavy.  Riding makes you feel stressed out.  Stess hormones released.

      Light.  Riding puts you in the zone and gives you the riders high.  Endorphins released.

      Heavy.   Using a lot of energy to get from point-A to point-B while beating up your body and your bike.  Pounding down the trail.

      Light.   Using energy efficiently to get from point-A to point-B while minimizing wear and tear to your body and bike.  Dancing down the trail.

      I suspect that the most highly skilled and fastest riders are the true masters of riding “Light”.


      • #269000

        Some good thoughts here.  As mentioned on a similar thread at another site, one thing that a new rider usually doesn’t intuit (unless coming from BMX or trials or something), is that pushing up out of the saddle usually winds up placing weight forward unless a conscious effort is made to shift weight to the rear, which often means getting your butt behind the saddle, and behind to a larger degree than seems intuitive, especially when pointed downhill.

        A person who comes from casual road riding does most things in such a way that weight is shifted forward, onto the handlebars, and onto the front wheel.  Unless a coach or fellow rider points some of them out physically, it can really take a while to “get it.”

        Similarly, most people seem to “get” turning by leaning the bike. But they also lean themselves with it, when you not only want to keep yourself upright and only lean the bike, you want to jam your weight onto the pedals in a centered fashion to keep the tires engaged and “dug in.”  That’s a little bit easier to get from watching skills videos as the movements are so exaggerated.

    • #268860

      I think of ‘staying light’ as staying loose with your grip and your body, ready to change and shift your body position to the contours, bumps, dips, and turns of the trail; always being ready to shift your weight to assist on climbing, descending or turning, or to get over obstacles; loose arms and legs to help absorb bumps and vibrations; and lifting your butt off the saddle every once in a while for a burst of speed or acceleration rather than permanently planting your ass in the saddle and constantly relying on shifting to assist acceleration. In general, staying light in my mind is being ready to adapt and change to constantly changing trail conditions.

    • #269124

      I think a key to staying light is consciously weighting and unweighting to float rough sections. Select the right place in the trail to literally let your weight push into flow and gain traction. Alternatively Float up, not necessarily pop off the ground but push off and rise upward just before rough sections. The smoothest way through the roughest patches is unweighted float, of course you cant endlessly float, so it becomes a game of heavy in the smoother spots setting up your direction and pop to lightly float the tops or even completely above those real nasty bits coming int smoother spots to drive through the pedals allowing more traction for direction changes or setting up the next upward light float. I have seen this work very well for talented experienced riders regardless of suspension geometry, tire choice, etc. Hardtail guys that rip really rough trails will demonstrate this if you watch them closely.

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