Mountain Bike Descending Switchbacks Line Choice

Mountain Bike Descending Switchbacks Line Choice by BetterRide Certified Coach Andy Winohradsky

Hi everybody! Coach Andy, here. I’ve put a few riding-tip videos together, hope you like them…

This video deals with proper line choice while descending switchbacks. What you’ll see in the video is that it is very important to use the whole trail in order to put the bike in the correct spot (take the correct line) if you want to successfully descend tight switchbacks. This applies to all levels of riders. Very often I’ll see “good” riders run into problems on switchbacks simply because their initial line selection was off. Sometimes this is a result of being in a hurry: trying to go fast without being patient enough to slow down and do things right; sometimes riders get lazy (this often happens when fatigue sets in); but more often than not, most riders simply don’t understand the degree to which they need to get away from the main line, use the whole trail, and properly set up for an extremely sharp corner on a very steep (usually) section of trail.

Unfortunately, most riders are guilty of following the main line down the trail or the “people’s line” as I jokingly refer to it in camps. The main line is usually the path of least resistance, however, most of the time it is the path of least resistance ONLY for what is immediately in front of us on the trail. It isn’t formed by taking large chunks of trail, or what is further down the trail, into consideration. And, again unfortunately, this is how most riders see and ride the trail: looking for solutions for ten or twenty-foot sections of trail at a time instead of looking for solutions to sixty or even a hundred foot sections at a time. What’s important is the point where you want to end up on the trail and finding a solution to get there, hence, setting up with the proper line at the beginning of the switchback (in this case) in order to get to where you need to be at the end of the switchback. Also, proper line choice, as it is addressed in the video, obviously only works if it is possibly to get the bike to that particular part of the trail. If there is an obstacle in the way that is unridable then you have to look for a different solution/different line (usually deviating as little as possible from the optimum line). However, the way most trails are built and maintained these days (for better or worse), this line choice is almost always possible in switchbacks.

As I state in the video, proper line choice is just one part of descending switchbacks that has to be done correctly in order to have success out there on the trail. Switchbacks are tough and require a rider to do everything almost perfectly in order to get down them in one piece. We spend about an hour on this topic in our full instruction camps and cover body position, weight placement, vision, line choice, braking, etc… all the aspects of riding, how they relate to descending switchbacks, and how they need to be applied to ensure success on these difficult trail features. Obviously, we can’t give you that type/volume of information in a couple of minutes via the internet in a short video…

But, hope you do enjoy the video. Hope it helps you out… I’ll have plenty more so check back soon!

Skeeter and his cockpit set up for his bad back.

Mountain Bike Cockpit For Riders With Back Issues and/or Tight Hips

Mountain Bike Cockpit For Riders With Back Issues and/or Tight Hips

Most mountain bikers are tenacious but riders who refuse to quit or even start riding with major back issues like fused vertebrates, degenerative disk disease, bulging disks, etc. really inspire me! I was fortunate enough to coach just such a rider this weekend, Skeeter is a 57 year old mountain biker who has been riding dirt bikes for years and has degenerative disk disease. His cockpit set up is really tall which will compromise the bikes handling a bit but it is way better than not riding or riding a bike set up for performance that makes your back hurt.  A 58 year old woman with four fused vertebrae that I coached in a camp with us in 2003  had her bike set up similarly and I explained she might have to walk a few steep climbs (because it is nearly impossible on a steep hill to keep your weight centered with your bars 3-4 inches higher than your saddle) but those climbs are only a small fraction of her riding miles. At least she is out riding! The fact that she was starting to ride at 58 blew me away, she never had a bike as a kid even!

Here is Skeeter’s cockpit setup for his back issues:

Skeeter's Mountain Bike Cockpit For His Bad Back

Skeeter’s Mountain Bike Cockpit For His Bad Back

 

This will compromise the bikes handling a bit (because it is nearly impossible when climbing a steep hill to keep your weight centered with your bars 3-4 inches higher than your saddle and your bars will be too high descending putting you in a tall and upright position) but it is way better than not riding or riding a bike set up for performance that makes your back hurt worse. See these articles on body position for more on that: http://betterride.net/blog/2011/mtb-skills-tip-w-pic-technical-climbing-wandy-winohradsky/ and http://betterride.net/blog/2010/mountain-bike-desending-body-position-101-video-demonstration/

Great to see riders of all shapes, sizes and with various performance reducing injuries/conditions still out riding and having fun on the trail!

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Mountain Bike Cockpit Setup For Better Handling, Bike Industry Slowly Catching On! (Lucky You!)

If you are in the market for a new mountain bike you are luckier than ever! Over the years it as been amazing how slow the mountain bike industry has been to leave tradition and embrace new ideas on how to make a mountain bike handle better. We have been pushing for change, especially in the mountain bike cockpit set up department (longer frames, shorter stems, wider bars, slacker head angles and dropper posts) since those products were developed and finally all those things are mainstream! This is great news for you as rider, you now have bikes that are much more fun to ride and safer right from the factory!

Few things are as important on a mountain bike as the length of your stem and width of your bars. Your “Mountain Bike Cockpit” is your control center and we have been stressing wide bars and short stems since the beginning of BetterRide in 1999. The resistance from bike manufacturers and riders stuck in “traditional” bike design was amazing and it has taken years for riders and the industry to catch on.  Just a few years ago bikes with 110mm stems were standard and riders said we were nuts running 50 and 60 mm stems. Now we run 35-50 mm stems and they give us so much control that a 60 mm stem feels a little long! Wide bars were once 28 inches wide, now we ride 29-32″ wide bars for even more control. See this article from 2010 on why wide bars and a short stem give you more control, the stem lengths and bar heights now seem a little dated:  http://betterride.net/blog/2010/2-things-you-can-buy-and-instantly-improve-your-bike-handling/

The crew at All Mountain Cyclery putting a 50 mm stem and 780 mm bars on a XC Race bike!

The crew at All Mountain Cyclery putting a 50 mm stem and 780 mm bars on a XC Race bike!

Taller bikes (29″ and 27.5″ tires and longer travel suspensions) have also changed our bar height guidelines to having the bars 1″ higher than the seat (at full climbing height) to 3″ lower than the seat (height is a big factor here, taller people tend to have a bigger drop from their seat to the bars while shorter riders often can only get the bars down to 1″ higher than the seat.

Saddle height is important too as it needs to be at the optimum height for power when climbing yet the heck out of the way when descending (so you can stand in a centered, balanced and neutral position). This is a common formula for road racers: Saddle height (cm) = inseam (cm) x 0.883 This is measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the low point of the top of your saddle. For mountain biking lower your saddle a little from this number, 10-16mm lower makes you feel much less “tippy”.

Then buy a “dropper post” so you get the seat out of the way almost instantly when descending! Gravity Dropper was the first company to make “dropper posts” and boy, the resistance we got from our students, “it weighs too much”, “I don’t want/need another gadget”, “I’ll never use it”, etc. Now, Gravity Dropper is just one of 10 companies that make dropper posts because they work! Even Thompson is making one and stud cross country racers like Erica Tingey are using them!

XC Star Erica Tingey with a Dropper Post on her race bike!

XC Star Erica Tingey with a Dropper Post on her race bike!

The fore-aft placement of your saddle and saddle tilt can also have a big impact on your riding. Mountain biking is quite different from road cycling as bike handling is much more important off-road (we face conditions road cyclists don’t; wet roots, loose gravel, deep sand, steep rock faces, etc.), we tend to climb and descend steeper pitches and we are not in a static position for the entire ride. Most of the rides I do I am either seated and climbing or standing and descending so I have my seat set up for climbing. This means I have the seat a little forward on the rails and tilted nose down a bit. This can be a little cramped and put some pressure on my hands on flat ground but feels great when climbing !

When we are climbing we should be “hinged” forward at the hips. I have tilted my seat slightly forward and it really helps me hinge! By sliding my seat a little forward on the rails it is easier to stay centered enough to keep the front wheel on the ground while having enough weight on the rear tire for traction.

Everyone is built a little differently and mountain biking is a very dynamic sport so there is definitely some personal preference with your cockpit setup, experiment and find out what works best for you! This might take some testing, often what feels good in the parking lot doesn’t work best on trail! Make adjustments, make sure you understand good body position (AND are IN good body position) and then test how the bike climbs and descends after making adjustments. A stop watch can be handy here as what feels faster often isn’t.

Get your bike dialed and create a great ride!

 

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Mountain Bike Braking, it is Still Riding! How not to Die on Your MTB!

Wow, the dangerous concepts well meaning people and unqualified coaches share with other riders! Mountain bike braking happens while riding you bike! That means the same body position that puts you in control and in balance while riding should be used while braking too! We stress being in a balanced, centered and neutral position while descending and we need to maintain that while braking. As a matter of fact, because of braking forces (remember the brakes on our light weight bike, not our much heavier body) it is even more important to stay balanced, centered and neutral while braking.

Mountain Bike Braking

This poster is terrifying! Mountain Bike Braking and riding should not look like this!

Since applying our brakes slows the bike but not necessarily our body we have to stay centered to keep from being pitched forward! If we get our weight back or as some coaches say, “use your butt as the third brake” we end up in an off balance, non-neutral position setting us up for a host of bad things to happen to us. Think about why you brake while riding, usually one or a combination of three things; you are approaching a corner and need to slow down, you are approaching a more difficult section of trail (such as a steeper or rockier section) and want to slow down to feel more in control or you need to stop, sometimes in a hurry! Do you want to be in the position in the photo as you enter a corner or a tougher section of trail? Not if you want to live to ride again tomorrow! Remember the video tutorial/blog post on descending body position?  If not or for a refresher click this link:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT

Here is just the video but please go the blog post and read more about the why’s and how’s of doing this.

Well that getting “yanked down” effect from your straight arms will be multiplied by your weight wanting to keep going forward as your bike slows and you will get pitched over the bars, with authority! A high school mtb coach I know took the “butt is your third brake advice” and broke is collarbone as he was braking and his front wheel went down a 20 inch ledge on semi-steep descent. Had he stayed centered and neutral he would have been fine!

Almost as bad as flipping over is having your front wheel slide out! There is little to no weight on your front tire if your butt is back over the rear tire so it has little to no traction! Not only is there no weight on the front tire you are probably a little out of balance which could cause your front wheel to slide to one side and your chest to violently hit the ground on the other side. This why many people are afraid of their front brake, sliding front tires are scary!

Lastly, with all your weight over the rear tire you are minimizing the weight on the front tire, thereby reducing the effectiveness of your POWERFUL front brake! You plain can’t stop in as short a distance with your weight back as you can when you are centered.

How to stay centered and neutral while braking:

1. First master riding in the centered and neutral position (in the video tutorial linked above and taught much more deeply in our skills progressions).

2. Ride in the centered and neutral position and when braking stay there! Do this by fighting your body’s forward motion. Do this by “sinking into your bike” drop your rear end and chest to lower your centered of gravity, dropping your heels so you can push against the pedal spindles and using the “heel” of your hands to push against the bars to resist the forward motion of your body. Having a dropper post really helps you do this by getting that darn seat out of your way.

3. Review the braking part of our free mini-course and remember that your front brake is 70-100% of your stopping power. Use that front brake, become friends with it! Do the braking drill from the mini-course and learn how much pressure you can apply to each brake and learn to modulate those brakes.

4. Look at the “Bad Clinic” photo above and then watch World Cup Downhill racing on Redbull dot com and watch to see if you can find Aaron Gwin, Greg Minnaar or Steve Peat in that position before any steep rocky section or corner. You won’t find them in that position as you can’t even qualify much less win a World Cup if you are riding out of balance like that.

Mountain bike braking is all about staying balanced, centered and neutral. We do need to fight the forward motion of our body but we do that by resisting, not by getting our weight back! Go out and enjoy a more in balance and in control ride!