A Simple Way to Go Faster On Your MTB While Using Less Energy!

A simple mountain biking technique to go faster while saving energy!

Often there is not enough detail in mtb advice or it is flat out wrong. This is an example of not quite enough detail. When I first started riding I was taught to rest on the descents (by coasting) to save energy for the climbs. This is partially true but it leaves out a Huge speed adding and energy saving technique. Won’t you like to complete your ride in less time while using less energy?!

The technique is simple, pedal some downhills and rest on the uphills! How is this possible? On sections of trail that are rolling (short downhill into short uphill, possibly repeated multiple times)as you crest the hill continue pedaling over the top and down the downhill then coast the uphill and repeat! It takes way less energy to accelerate from four miles an hour to 15-20 mph than it does to maintain ten mph uphill.

One reason I quit racing cross country years ago was it was frustrating being held by riders who were fitter than me but seemed to lack this seemingly common sense skill as well as riding skills. On one rolling section of trail at the Iron Horse Classic in 1994 I was able to maintain what felt like 20 miles an hour over a section of 12-15 rollers without pedaling (after the first downhill) in practice. In the race a physically stronger but less skilled rider was in front of me in this section and we managed about 10 miles an hour while working our tails off!  Frustrating to say the least! The ride in front of me was only looking about 10 feet in front of him (aka looking down) so he braked on the descents and then pedaled the uphills and repeated! In practice I simply pedaled down the first downhill and pumped the rollers to maintain 20 and have a lot of fun! Unskilled riders in race kill fun (and waste a lot of energy).

If you aren’t clear on how this work I will break it down for you. Let’s say you and fellow rider both crest the first hill (in the series of rollers) a little out of breath at four miles an hour. You decide to rest the dowhhill by coasting as soon as possible while your riding buddy sneaks in a few pedals. The hill makes you accelerate from four mph to eight, you have doubled your speed! Meanwhile, your buddy accelerated from four to 16 or 20, pretty easy to do with a few pedal strokes on a downhill. Now, yes, at the bottom of the hill he is still a little out of breath and you have recovered but, he is going more than twice your speed! (and he is already quite a ways in front of you). Now for the uphill, you attack it (because you have recovered) and manage to maintain eight miles an hour. Your riding buddy (being still out of breath) coasts up the hill and slows from 16 to 11, reaching the top of the second hill recovered, ahead of you and going much faster into the next descent (where he will just pedal once or twice down to double your speed again.

In short,when possible Pedal the Downhills and Coast the Uphills! (on certain uphills, obviously this doesn’t work on 1,000 foot climbs, although it still will be faster for the length of the descent and the first part of the climb).

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9 replies
  1. Harv Whitman says:

    Great insight Gene! I never thought of it this way, but it makes so much sense. Keep the speed up and save energy at the same time. Sounds kinda magical. I’ll practice this one for sure.
    Thanks for all you give, Harv

    Reply
  2. Fabien says:

    Thanks for the advice Gene, I have to learn how to pump with my bike now… That’s something I forgot to ask to Andy during my class last month.

    When I go in a long downhill section followed by a long uphill, I found that it was much more efficient for me to start pedaling with a high gear (because I am going fast) on the last section of the downhill and keep this gear over the first section of the uphill. Then I drop to the small chainring when my cadence falls, and I probably drop a couple of cogs too if it is steep, so I keep a 60-70rpm cadence. I found that to be much more efficient than the way I used to do before which was to shift down and then coasting on the first section of the uphill section until I slowed down enough to pedal with my low gear. I would climb much faster and spend less energy because the momentum would carry me through a good section part of the hill, whereas when I just coast I loose all my momentum and thereafter, that’s only leg power to climb up…

    Reply
  3. JJ Young says:

    I have noticed this uphill skill in the last few years on the big 29er wheels. I save so much more energy coasting uphill in the start of the big climbs or just in the rollers. Going down I gain a ton of speed just so I can coast up the next uphill.
    This really works! Shhhhh don’t tell anyone though! ;)

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Well JJ, I just told over 16,000 riders through our newsletter, other those people I won’t tell anyone!

      Reply
  4. ED JACK says:

    been noticing I can go slow and be forced to climb every minor hill or I can go faster up front and connect them all together. also noticed that if camp did not teach me to corner that I would never connect together enough trail to experience flow. good read mentor..!!

    Reply
  5. Gene says:

    Right on JJ Young! I let that out of the article and it is so true! It inspired me to write a follow up article!

    Thanks,

    Gene

    Reply
  6. Max says:

    A little late to the party here but if you ride a single speed for any real amount of time you will learn about maintaining momentum/conserving energy pretty quickly. That or you will walk a lot! Haha

    Reply

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