Speed it up.
Everyone wants to know how to ride faster. Employ this simple traffic light system to increase your pace and get maximum thrills from every trail.
How to ride faster
How do so many of the good riders seem to make it look so easy? In this guide we look at a few key areas in how to build speed, set some clear goals for you to follow, and give you an insight into the mind of the experienced racer.
Fitter is faster
There’s no avoiding it. If you want to go faster then you have to get fitter. The reality of the situation is that the fitter you are the more stress your body can handle. Whether it’s cardiovascular fitness letting you ride bigger days, or upper body strength allowing you to hang on for longer; if you’re in better shape then you can push yourself further without pushing your limits.
Have a plan and stick to it
If your time is limited and you’re serious about making the most of your summer, then you need to have a plan. Mountain bike apps like Strava and Training Peaks are brilliant at letting you set out and record what you’re doing, but downloading a specific training schedule is an excellent way to make progress.
Even two or three hours a week can make a huge difference to your fitness. Whether it’s committing to riding in to work a couple of days a week, or downloading a training plan from Dirt School’s Training Peaks page, you have to stick to it. It’s not really the volume that makes the difference. It’s the consistency.
If you’ve been reading these articles for a while then you’ll know that we encourage our clients to break their tracks down it to pacing zones. These are different parts of the same track that are identified by gradient. If the track is wide and flat, and you don’t really have to be on any line, then you can go hard. If the track is crazy steep with roots and corners everywhere, then you have to back off and think about being smooth. What you’re trying to do here is work on your perceived exertion.
The Traffic Lights System
RED: This is a steep section of trail where traction is limited and line choice is crucial. Back off! The goal here is to be as smooth as possible and to give yourself consistent traction and control. If something takes you by surprise you should have ample time to react. It shouldn’t feel fast. Try and be as neat and tidy as you can be. If you get through a red zone without taking a foot off or locking a wheel then you’re riding it well.
AMBER: This is a part of trail that is mildly technical. You can’t quite let go of the brakes but it’s faster than a red zone. Get a pedal stroke in here or there but don’t get carried away. You’re trying to carry your speed by letting your brakes and allowing your bike to roll unrestricted. Give yourself room to move and follow the trail looking where you want to go.
GREEN: This is an open trail with very little gradient and no real lines as such. Think a fire-road between two technical parts of trail, or a wider section of track with good line of sight. This is where you can go crazy on the pedals. The harder you try here the faster you’ll go. Remember to back off when you get to your next red or amber zone though or you’ll be carrying all the momentum in to something where you need to back off.
Separating a trail or race track up like this means that you can have clear goals for each section – almost like gradient mapping. If it’s flat then you can burn a few matches by pedalling hard. If it’s technical and steep then you back off, ride smooth, and save your legs for the next open section of trail.
Slow in fast out
This old chestnut. We’ve all heard it a million times, but what does it mean? Try splitting a corner up it to three parts. You have the entrance, the mid-corner, and the exit.
Now let’s work backwards. The goal of any section when you’re trying to go fast is to carry speed out of the exit. You can only do this if you ride the mid-corner with control. If you’re braking in the middle, or going so fast that you end up sideways or sliding through your traction, although this might feel fast, it isn’t. It will affect your exit speed dramatically. You have to use the entrance to any turn slow down, come off the brakes, and lean in to the mid-corner with balance and in control. That way you’ll build your speed as you go round, rather than loosing it all by going sideways.
You should have confidence in the mid-corner to be able to accelerate out on to the exit. Not have to drag the brakes because you’ve come in too hot.
Being conscious of where you’re looking through corners or technical sections is the key to having control. Very often when riders brake where they don’t want to, or fell stiff or tense on the trail, it’s because they’re looking at all the wrong things.
Remember and look for the grip points as you go through a technical part, and round and out of the corners when you’re in turns. If you’re staring at a gnarly tree stump in the middle of the trail then that’s what ’s going to be going through your head. Look for smooth parts of a trail and you’ll feel a lot more confident.
Brake it down
The mistake a lot of riders make when they start to go fast is that they smash through all the easy sections of trail, then brake in all the wrong places when it starts getting twisty. Remember that you’ll have much better traction and control if you’re off the brakes. You can only do this if you’ve done all your slowing down on the way in to a section.
Come in with too much momentum and you’ll be slamming the brakes on right where you need the grip the most. Brake where the trail is smoother and you’ll be able to accelerate with confidence and control right through the sections that used to give you bother.
Strong neutral riding position
The basics of standing with your legs straight, your heels down, and your elbows bent, are an excellent posture to always come back to. No matter how technical a trail gets, you should be conscious that this strong looking position is at the centre of everything that will give you control.
Try and keep your head in the middle of your bars and allow your hips to be loose for balance above your saddle and frame. That way as your bike starts moving around underneath you you’ll have a strong neutral riding position with your head, arms and torso attached to your front end, and your hips, legs and rear wheel free to get a little looser behind you.
Choose your battles
Going fast is as much about being patient as it is about pedalling harder. Most people try too hard in all the wrong places. Pedal out of every corner and you’ll be just as tired as everyone else you’re racing against when it comes to an actual fast section.
An experienced rider doesn’t waste energy. They use good technique to give them confidence and control through all the technical sections, and only go as fast as they can where they need to. This means that they save their energies for places where they’re going to do maximum damage.
There’s an app for that!
Dirt School’s free coaching app lets you see the right and wrong techniques in slo-mo.
Words: Andy Barlow
Photos: Andy McCandlish