Biking for Roadies
By Rob Coppolillo -
Mountain SportsIf you're a roadie, chances are you need
some help with your mountain-biking technique just to keep a little skin on
your carcass when you sneak off-road.
Those of you already hammering in the dirt,
listen up and maybe youll learn something new, or at least get a
As for me, if only Id consulted the
pros before I shredded all those shorts and jerseys with catastrophic
When the gradient increases, you either dial
it up and thrash on those around you, or (like me) hunker down and just pray
you can see somebodys arse over the top of the hill. Climbing on a
mountain bike can be a godsend or a death sentence, but whatever the case, a
few pointers will help.
Depending on the surface of the trail,
keeping your butt down may be more or less important on a tough hill. Spinning
the rear wheel on a loose patch of gravel or a nice slab of slickrock will lose
you precious energy and momentum fast.
Longtime mountain bike pro Charlie Hayes has
raced coast to coast, in 24-hour events and even in the snow. Listen to the man
You dont want too much weight on
the front end, and you should keep a high cadence, he says. Higher
cadence, or pedaling RPMs, will allow you to adjust to rocks on the trail, tree
roots and steeper pitches.
Losing speed on a climb can mean the
difference between staying on the bike and hike-a-biking. On the steepest
climbs, once youre off, its tough to get back on and get going
again, so keep yourself moving with solid rear tire traction and a high
Letting that front wheel find its natural
line will also ease your uphill toil. Too much weight there will not only let
your rear wheel sleep, but also crash your front wheel into obstacles. Let it
ride, keep the rear down, and upwards youll go.
This is not to say you should always stay
seated. Non-technical situations like pavement or a fire road will allow you to
stand, stretch your legs and back, and use bar ends. Stay away from bar ends on
any technical stuff, though, because youll need more control out of the
bars and may need to brake periodically. Cornering
There was a time, in the early 90s,
when many former road pros tried their legs in the dirt game. Big promises,
huge predictions and much carnage. I remember one guy whod ridden the
Tour and Roubaix, exclaiming, They take the corners so fast!
If theres one area where a girl can
make up some free time, its in the corners. Take a guy like me, losing
just a half a second each curve, multiply that over a 25-mile cross country
race, and I wont even be back in time for dinner.
Proper weight distribution is crucial to
safe and speedy cornering. Youll want to keep your outside foot
down, Hayes says. By dropping that outside leg to the bottom of the pedal
stroke youll help keep the rear of the bike from going haywire and
putting you down hard.
Dont expect, however, your mountain
bike to carve like your road bike. A little side-to-side slip n
slide is natural.
Now that youve got your back half
anchored, consider where youre going. Counter-steering sounds
counter-intuitive, but bear with me. Instead of turning your handlebars in the
direction youre turning, think more of leaning your body in that
direction and pushing slightly with your inside hand away from the corner. So,
if youre turning left, you lean into the turn (towards the left), point
your knee in that direction and push slightly with your left hand down and a
Hayes explains: You push with the
inside hand to avoid tucking the front wheel. If you tuck
your front wheel, youll hit the ground before you realize it. Tucking
refers to the front wheel whipping sideways in a corner and throwing you to the
On your next time out riding, experiment
with counter-steering (itll work on your road bike, too). Roll down the
road in a straight line, push forward with your left hand and lean slightly in
that direction. The bike will make a little motion to the right, but then dive
aggressively to the left. Start out slowly, then begin using this technique on
your faster rides. The best riders, road or off-road, counter-steer through
corners, much to the frustration of the struggling followers behind.
So youve kept the bike moving on the
uphill, practiced your cornering and now its time to drop off the edge of
the world on a hair-raising descent.
Similarly to climbing a steep hill,
youll want to keep your weight more toward the rear of the bike, with
arms relaxed and a firm grip on the bars. The steeper the hill, the more
youll need to slide your weight rearward to let the front wheel float
over obstacles and avoid launching you over the bars.
Keep a solid grip, but dont
white-knuckle it. The bars will need to move around to allow the front wheel to
bounce and twitch. The golden rule, on the road or in the dirt: no locked
elbows, ever! Relaxed, bent elbows will keep control of the front end and
Perhaps one of the most difficult techniques
to learn in mountain biking is looking ahead on the trail. Notice the
inexperienced rider and youll notice the gaze locked just a few feet in
front of the front wheel. Bad, bad, bad.
Leah Garcia, a former pro mountain biker who
raced internationally for KHS bicycles, offers this advice: It helps so
much descending, cornering, too, to look ahead, look where youre going
rather than straight down at your wheel.
Remember in Days of Thunder, when
they tell Tom Cruise to steer toward a crash? Sounds dicey, just like you think
you might want to watch what you dont want to hit but forget it. Your bike
follows your line of sight, and focusing on land mines or fallen comrades will
only get you into trouble.
And a couple last words. Using the brakes,
especially in this age of powerful equipment with small tolerances, can be
rewarding or dreadful.
Most of your braking power comes from
the front brake, but on the descent, especially with V-brakes, you need to
watch it, Hayes says.
The front brake has less cable running to
it, and therefore less of the force involved is lost to stretch that cable. In
other words, more power goes toward slowing down the front wheel.
Twenty-first-century brakes function well,
but they can also send you blasting over the bars. Use the front when you can
in straightaways on smooth terrain; otherwise it can affect your bike handling.
Feather the back brake to control your speed, then hit the front brake if you
really need to throw on the anchors.
I expect you to reduce this article on your
bosss copier, then clear-coat it to your top-tube for the next month.
Youll be whoopin up on me in no time.