A Quick Mountain Bike Tip to Improve Technical Climbing

A Quick Mountain Bike Tip to Improve Technical Climbing  article by Gene Hamilton

Climbing is an often over looked skill in mountain biking, we often assume more power will do the job, which is not always true.   This article is about picking a line that works! For physical climbing skills Andy Winohradsky wrote a great article on climbing skill here:  http://betterride.net/?p=1426

One instinct, especially when not looking far enough ahead is to avoid obstacles. This often leads to “micro-managing the trail” and taking twisty paths that are much longer and often harder to ride than going over the obstacle.  When turning, your rear wheel tracks inside of your front wheel so you can hang the rear wheel or derailleur up on a rock, you can lose traction as you try to cut across the fall line and then turn back up it, your pedal clips a rock as you apply power or your line itself has less traction causing you to stall. In the photo below it is actually easier, faster and more efficient to go straight up the rock (in this case the rock acts as a paved ramp, great traction!) than weave around it in the lose sand.


Ride over the rock, it is easier.


Have you ever made it part way through a rock garden by avoiding obstacle one and two and then get trapped behind obstacle three, or stall while trying to wiggle between obstacle two and three? This often happens because we are not looking far enough ahead and will instinctively avoid obstacles if there is a clear path to the right and/or left of the obstacle. Unfortunately this sets us up for failure, often if we tackle the first obstacle the rest of the rock garden will be easy! Check out my amazing drawing skills in this Paint document I created!


Mountain Bike Rock Garden


I see this all the time on Rustlers Loop in Fruita. Instead of going up the “gut” of a rock move riders avoid the rock (avoiding the rock  is faster and easier for 7-10 feet) then they have to wheelie while turning over a bigger edge of the same rock (something that is nearly impossible to do). Going straight up the rock (which often looks tricky or rough) is faster and easier in the long run run. Both examples above require simple, core skills, nothing “special”, an effortless wheelie, correct weight placement and good vision skills.

Lastly, weaving takes our momentum across the fall line (the fall line is the path a ball would roll) instead of up it. Once our momentum is going sideways it is often really hard to getting it going straight up again, you can lose your balance, spin out or simply stall as you try to head up the hill again.

When climbing technical sections the fastest and easiest path is often the straightest! Avoid the temptation to weave as it usually ends poorly. Focus on the line with the fewest direction changes and the best traction.

Note: I use the word “often” in this how to mtb article because there are way too many variables in mountain biking to say, “always do …”, in this case, sometimes a weaving path is better, it all depends on the trail.

4 replies
  1. JJ Young
    JJ Young says:

    Now would I apply this on a hard tail? I have been riding a hard tail for the last 2 seasons before a duelly. I ride alot of rockie terrain and noticed its hard at times to hold that straight line vs being on a full suspension.

    Nothing But Great Days!

    JJ DynOmite!!!!!!

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      Hi JJ,

      Apply this on your hard tail just as it says, there was nothing mentioned that was full-suspension specific. I learned most of that on one of my many old hard tails.

      Create a great day.


  2. Tom
    Tom says:

    Hi Gene,

    It’s probably because I’m not looking ahead far enough but I will often ride a technical section several times before I find the right line through it. BTW, nice photo of the rock in Prime Cut. I’ve tried that rock a dozen times before someone made the sneak path to the left – I never made it! Thanks for the article – always helpful.


  3. Randy
    Randy says:

    Glad you mentioned this skill; and you don’t need a $2,000 bike to do it. I am 55, been riding 8 years, “weekend warrior”, hardtail, platform pedals. I routinely ride over 20″ rocks going uphill, and 30″ on the level. Love the technical, rocky trails of southeast PA. Best training tip: find a long, grass hill near your house (more resistance and safer than roads), 45 minutes Tuesday & Thursday will ENORMOUSLY improve strength & cardio for a good 3 hour weekend ride on the trails.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *