Follow Nate's lead
Watch this impressive video from Nate Hills and then read on to learn how to keep your speed up through those steep, snakey trails and switchbacks.
Steep switchbacks form the basis of the following advice but the principle is the same for any steep section. Switchbacks an increasingly common occurrence on our trails. From the steep, twisty singletrack in the Alps to the snaking black routes of Wales or Scotland, they seem to crop up everywhere. Dictated by the steep terrain they’re built on, switchbacks often seem pretty intimidating obstacles, with narrow exits and precipitous drops on one side. Although it’s not usually too difficult to negotiate them slowly, carrying speed and staying in balance is often a real challenge. A lack of rider confidence is often the biggest mistake. So, these five steps will show you a few simple tips to use next time you’re tackling one head-on.
This is the part you really want to get right. Keep your head up and have a look at the trail ahead. In our sequence, you can see the right hand turn looks quite far away. But, by spotting it from a few metres back, you should be able to get yourself over to the outside of the trail, ready for the corner. This is the opposite side to what you might think! Most of your braking should be done now.
Now that you are on the outside, you can start your switchback. To get up the bank easily, think of it as an off-camber section. It’s always easier to go up rather than along an off-camber, and by starting on the outside of the trail, you’re in the perfect place to look left and head straight up. If the bank is steep, drop your outside (downhill) foot to get more pressure on the edge of the tyres.
Lead from the front
Your front wheel will lead the way. A great tip at this point is to allow your front wheel to go higher or wider than the back. On steep switchbacks, your back wheel may not even leave the main line, but as long as the front is wide you’ll be able to get around even the tightest of bends. Speed can also dictate this part. If you’re coming in really slow, there won’t be enough speed to get your whole bike onto the high line. So just let the front go for it and relax.
Once your front wheel is sufficiently wide, look down into the corner, let go of the brakes and start transferring your weight onto the other leg. In this case, the weight goes from the right leg to the left. As the bike starts to accelerate off the bank, put more weight onto your outside pedal (don’t brake!) to keep the grip coming. You’ll probably find that the steeper and tighter the corner is, the further down your outside foot is.
Look to the finish
With the boost in speed you’ll have, keep looking to the exit. The exit is the point where things often go wrong. Don’t worry about the drop off the edge of the trail. Instead, focus your attention on where you want to end up. Just by looking where you want to go, and not over the edge, you’ll probably find that your confidence to stay off the brakes and keep all that speed you just made will grow.
Practice switchbacks with firmer suspension up front to build your confidence.
– Words by Chris Ball of Dirt School