Road biking is a lovely sport. The slow, undulating, smooth pavement gives a perfect focus for the rider. As the road turns, so do you. As the road climbs, so do you. This isn’t always the case when you’re on a mountain biking holiday that takes you to narrow single track that zig-zags up a steep bank.
Most people don’t ever leave the comfort of a double-track forest path or dirt road because steep switchbacks (180 degree turns on steep terrain) are very challenging. But with a bit of balance, the novice mountain biker can easily reach the advanced level, increasing the fun they have off-road.
Here are a few tips:
Vision: Look well ahead of the curve. Mountain Biking is planning - even last minute. Your eyes will not only give you the direction you need (and thus the bike will follow), but they will also tell you what is coming up. A branch, a rock or a ditch are all obstacles that you should be thinking about as you climb or descend. Look where you want to go, not where you don’t. If we focus on a rock as we come flying down a track, chances are we’ll hit it. Look around obstacles and go where you see space.
Direction: Climbing tight turns is not the same as screaming down them at top speed. Ascending and descending require two completely different bike positions: Confusing them could mean either exhausting yourself or flying over the handlebars.
Weight (Ascending): If you sit in the saddle you’ll notice the tendency of the front wheel to come off the ground. Keep that up and you may flip backwards, having to start on a steep climb. Keep your torso forward and your body centred on the bike. Yet move your backside forwards riding on the tip of the saddle in steep sections.
Weight (Descending): Weight over the handlebars on a downhill usually translates into flipping over them. Get your backside behind the saddle and over your back wheel before coming into the turn and favour your rear brake. You still need weight on the front of the bike, but by moving most of your weight backwards, you have better control at faster speeds.
Feet (Ascending): Maintaining a constant pedal stroke will help you keep your balance. Yet mastering the “trackstand” (sitting on the bike in a stopped position) for when the turns are at 180 degrees, is a useful technique. Make sure to ride over patches clear of debris so as to not strike your pedals against them.
Feet (Descending): Once your speed is under control, start the beginning of the turn wide and close towards the apex. Make sure your inside foot (the one closest to the apex) is up and your outside foot is down. In extremely tight corners, push the bike towards the apex (literally down towards the ground) and place your body weight on the outside pedal. This will help you stick the tightest turns while maintaining your balance and continue rolling downhill.