Get A Grip: 5 Tips For Mountain Biking Slick Trails

It's challenging to mountain bike certain trails in dry conditions, but add slippery moisture to the equation and things get really difficult. Use these tips to stay in control.

A blanket of damp leaves covering the trail can make riding more challenging. photo: Paul Foster

It’s challenging to ride certain trails in dry conditions, but add moisture to the equation and things get really difficult. During the winter months here in North Florida, my favorite trail is covered in leaves and pine straw. The rain and humidity that each cold front brings blanket the ground with a fine layer of condensation. As a result, I have to alter my approach to riding in order to successfully navigate the trails. Here are five tips I use to help me ride slick trails.

Dial back the intensity

A smooth, steady pace will help ensure you keep the rubber side down on the trail. Photo: Bryon Dalton.

I love to ride strong and fast, pushing my limits. However, I’ve learned the hard way that doing so when the trails are slick can lead to disaster. More than once a wet patch of leaves or a slick spot of dirt has sent my front wheel in a direction I didn’t want it to go. So, instead of pressing my luck, I dial back my speed and focus on my technique.

I also make sure to keep my weight centered on the bike so that I’m less likely to go down if it gets kicked off course. I might not set any personal records by being cautious, but I tend to finish all my rides with the rubber side down.

Adjust your bike set-up to the trail conditions

Bike set-up is a key ingredient for a successful ride when the trails are slick. I lower the air pressure in my tires by a couple of PSI and slow down the rebound in my suspension by a click or two in order to get more grip, especially over roots and rocks. Grip is way more important than low rolling resistance when the trails are slippery, and adjusting your bike to the trail conditions might not sacrifice as much speed as you’d think. After all, a steady pace that keeps you on course beats short bursts of speed followed by off-course excursions when you lose control.

For truly wet and muddy trails, adding air pressure to your tires can be helpful.

Try to hit obstacles squarely with your front tire

Sometimes the best way to hit roots and rocks is by jumping over them. Rider: Bryon Dalton.

Obstacles, like roots, rocks, and wooden features, can become very slick when wet. If you don’t hit them squarely with your front tire, they can easily kick your bike to one side or the other, pointing you in a direction you might not want to go. I had this happen recently when I hit a wooden bridge at the wrong angle and it kicked my front tire out from under me. I wound up laying on the bridge with my bike on top of me. Even if you have to slow down a little or take a different line, it’s a better alternative to being knocked into a tree, or sent over a cliff.

Stay loose and up off your saddle when riding over roots and rocks

You shouldn’t stay seated when going over rough sections of trail like this rock garden.

You should do this anyway, but it is especially important to do so when the roots and rocks are slick. Your bike needs to be able to move around underneath you while you gently guide it through these rough, technical sections of trail. If you have a dropper post, lower it so you are forced to get off the saddle. It will also give you greater side-to-side movement, and make it easier to dismount if things go awry. The worst thing you can do when riding over slick roots and rocks is to stay seated and tense up. Restricting your bike’s movement will almost always guarantee a crash. So relax and let your bike flow through these sections at a steady and safe pace.

Keep your weight over your front wheel when cornering

Pressing your front wheel into the turn will help keep it from washing out. Photo: Bryon Dalton.

Again, this is good advice under all conditions, but it becomes very important when the trails get slick. I’ve learned that the slightest shift of weight away from the front tire in the middle of a slippery corner can be disastrous. The front tire can go out from underneath you in an instant, sending you straight to the ground. You need to keep yourself centered on the bike while pressing down on the handlebars, driving the front wheel through the turn. Applying consistent pressure will get you through the corners successfully and safely.

Slick trails are challenging, but rewarding, to ride

I wasn’t always a fan of riding trails when moisture and humidity made them slick. However, once I learned how to adjust to the conditions, I grew to love the additional challenge such conditions brought. Now, I have fun regardless of whether the trails are wet or dry.

What tips or tricks do you use to ride slick trails? Please share them in the comments section below.