They appear everywhere. If you ride open, natural trails, the likelihood of you coming across a rock-strewn chute is pretty high. Even at some trail centres, slabs of loose rock cover the trail making it difficult to negotiate. Downhillers get used to dealing with these tricky and often pretty difficult lines, as their sticky tyres and slack head angles make the whole process far more confidence inspiring. For the trail rider though, steep rocks aren’t always as difficult as they look. As long as you can follow a few simple principles you’ll be at the bottom and thinking about the next section in no time.
It’s often the case that the hundreds of bikes that have preceded you have scored a clean line in the surface. If the surface is made up of a deep covering of small, loose rocks, this may appear as a rut. On other trails, the line may not be so deep. Chances are that the traffic on this line has compacted the rock, making a more stable surface. In most circumstances, try your best to stick to the clean area.
If you’re not good at controlling a slide, practice skids on gravel or stopping on wet grass first
It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll be able to slow down on the rocks much. In fact, if the surface is loose, you’ll probably find that you speed up a little. With this unsettling thought in mind, scrub as much speed as you can before you get onto the rocks. If it’s super-steep, it’s worth almost rolling to a standstill before dropping in. Just make sure you stay balanced, so don’t pause at the edge for too long.
As the slope steepens, move your hips over the back wheel. Try to correlate the amount you’re moving with the severity of the gradient so that you keep balanced. Unlike a normal roll in, try not to take all the weight off the front. Too much bias towards the back will unweight the front, causing your steering to go light and upsetting the effectiveness of the front brake and front wheel grip.
Although the front brake is the most effective in normal situations, refrain from using it too much on steep rocks. Slowing down on the rocks isn’t always an option, so make sure your entrance speed is sufficiently slow. Use your back brake to control the bike; the odd skid can help to keep everything straight. With little weight on the bars and no grip, a handful of front brake will only cause you to under-steer off the trail and onto your head. Modulation’s what you need.
You need to leave your control freak persona at the top. To make these sections you have to ride with them, not against them. Try to stay relaxed and be prepared for the odd slide and skid. Losing a bit of traction isn’t always bad, so don’t fight to regain control too much, as it’ll only result in you sliding more. Keep your head up and spot your exit point — that’ll keep your mind off the rocks below.
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