Berm, baby, berm!
You need to learn how to ride berms. Berms are no longer the preserve of the BMX track, they’re increasingly cropping up on trails everywhere.
How to ride berms in four steps
1. Always keep your weight low through a berm. Bend your elbows and knees and stay loose. Hover just above the saddle with your weight low and outside pedal down — putting pressure on the tyres. Look around the corner towards the exit. Lean with the bike rather than staying upright (as you might on a flat or off-camber corner). The angle of the banking reduces the bike’s dependence on the tyre’s friction with the dirt to negotiate the corner.
2. If the angle of the berm is fairly shallow, help force the bike around the corner by dropping and weighting the outside pedal. Where you encounter a berm with steeper banking, you can keep your feet up and run both cranks level to ground. This keeps your bodyweight more neutral and stops you looking goofy. Check out a good downhill racer railing a high-speed berm — they always run their feet up and cranks horizontal.
3. Berms are often built without enough banking on the exit, forcing you to brake mid-corner or run wide as you join the straight. Continue looking towards the exit of the corner, you’ll keep turning and be alerted early should the banking begin to run out.
4. As you near the exit of the corner, begin to move your weight back in preparation for a few hard pedal strokes down the straight.
5. By rising out of the saddle, you’ll force your foot down on your lead pedal. At the same time, move your weight back to maximise traction at the rear wheel and stop the tyre breaking away.
Built well, and tackled with the right technique, they make it possible to negotiate corners with little or no braking — allowing you to maintain speed and flow throughout a section of trail. Above all, though, they are great fun, which brings us neatly to our first piece of advice; don’t forget to smile!
It may look easy, but to maintain speed on the relatively flat terrain, you’ll have to negotiate the corner perfectly.
Use your approach to assess your speed and the severity of the corner. You’ve only got a short time to make this calculation and modulate your speed before initiating the turn. Braking through the corner is a no-no, because the bike will want to right itself, meaning you’ll run wide. Once you’ve got all your braking done, keep a finger covering each brake lever just in case.
Keep your eyes fixed on the line you want to take through the berm. In most cases the best option is to enter slightly above the centre line of the banking. Too low and you’ll hit all the loose gravel that’s been swept off the surface, and you won’t get any traction benefit from the camber. Stray too close to the top though, and you’re left with little option to adjust your line if you’re going too fast. There’s also a risk that the dirt could crumble as this is always the weakest part of the berm.
Tight berms can be ridden with the inside foot off the pedal, motocross style. This allows you to really force your weight through the outside pedal via the tyres into the dirt. You can also stomp a foot on the ground to regain balance should your tyres begin to slide.
A sharp hairpin berm following a high-speed straight can be tackled with a similar technique, but rather than doing all of your braking before the corner, use the berm to help slow down. Enter the corner with plenty of speed and brake hard, slamming or sliding the bike into the banking and pulling back off the camber in the direction of the next straight. This technique is often referred to as ‘squaring off’ a corner.