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.
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!
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.