Why do we like all mountain riding? Because there’s something simple and pleasing about trying to ride everything the mountain throws at us. Flow doesn’t come naturally in big mountain riding; the skilled all mountain rider has to make it himself. Here are 5 tips for turning common adverse trail conditions into a challenge and the opportunity for creating big mountain riding flow.
1. Count Coup on fallen trees or low hanging branches. Often the all mountain rider comes across partially-downed trees hanging over the trail. Remember that you have a wide range of motion aboard your bike, so practice this move to clear low overhangs. I call it Counting Coup, because my inspiration was the horseback warriors of old who would lean down beside their saddles at full gallop to count coup on their enemies. Start slowly – miscalculating this move will hurt more if you are moving fast. Move forward, in front of the saddle. Then swing your body down beside the bike, moving your center of gravity back beside the saddle as you do. Now, as you approach the overhang, make a call on your clearance. If the overhang is too low for the bike to pass through while vertical, lean the bike over away from your body, using your center of gravity as a counterbalance. On the other side of the overhang, swing back into pedaling position, and hit the gas to the next challenge.
2. Keep the front end light in sketchy conditions. Here’s how to have more success dropping steep sketchy sections and riding in shifty surfaces. Say you are dropping an eroded steep laced with roots and maybe even stair steps. Lighten up your front wheel by shifting your weight back to the back of the saddle or even further back. The last thing you want in these conditions is for the front wheel to plant against a root or a rut and stop. Let the front end float loosely and keep the rear end tracking. The steeper the section, or the bigger the obstacles, the further back you should place your weight.
3. Hit logs / roots head-on. If you’re riding deep in the woods and the trail is crossed by roots or a downed log, use the space you have to line up and come at the log at a 90-degree angle. Especially when wet, this makes for a much higher rate of successful crossings than just approaching the obstacle at whatever angle it crosses the trail. Additionally, try lifting the front wheel and lightening the back wheel as much as you can as it crosses the obstacle. “It’s almost like a bunny hop, but you’re not really taking off. You’re just going light,” says pro Steve Peat in BriLo’s Mastering Mountain Bike Skills.
4. Look where you want to go. I love the simplicity of this tip. However, it makes a big difference in rider confidence and success. Not only will you know where to focus when you’re flying down a singletrack descent, but as you gain confidence, you can eliminate much of the other “noise” from your field of vision. Basically, it’s a simple principle that you will tend to go where you are looking. Think of learning to drive a car, or when you started riding. So, look at the line you want to flow, largely ignoring all else. The more you practice this, the less you will let anything distract you from the eternal line. This really pays off on technical features, like log rides and bridges, and on extremely narrow, hillside singletrack.
5. Use gravity to flow over big obstacles. Overgrown and unmaintained trails can throw sudden surprises at the rider like downed trees, big rocks/drops, or bridges and log crossings with missing approach ramps. If you encounter these obstacles while descending, remember your old friend gravity. The little bit of extra momentum supplied by the earth’s pull can get you over that unexpected bigger-than-you-thought-it-was surprise.
As always, these tricks and tips require practice and some good karma to work every time. But oh the satisfaction when you ride something none of your riding buddies can!