Let’s look at a game plan that will allow you to carry speed and set quicker times without increasing the chances of crashing.
Why is it that every time you try to go faster you end up making more mistakes and it all starts coming undone? And why are your cleanest runs – the ones where you feel like it’s all coming together with no effort – your fastest?
Confident body position
Your body position is by far the easiest way of changing how a trail feels. As you start to feel uncomfortable through going faster, it will most likely be the first part of your technique that will become compromised. Stay conscious of this because the trap of trying too hard is that the faster you try to go, the further back you’ll go and the more upright you’ll become.
Stay is shape
Instead try and stay in your neutral riding position – elbows out, head above stem, legs fairly straight, heels down. You can obviously move closer to your bike when you need to, but your footprint on the trail should remain consistent no matter what you’re riding or how fast you’re going. Stay strong and you’ll be able to go quicker without feeling like you’re losing control.
As you start going faster, things will become hectic very quickly. There is a lot more coming at you, with no real time to reflect between one decision and the next. This is why it’s so important to filter out all of the negative aspects of the trail and really try and focus on the positive ones. We call these positive features grip points, and it’s a great way of giving yourself less to think about while negotiating complicated trails. If you’re looking for the grip provided by the positive features, then you’ll start to completely forget about the negative parts like roots, rocks, exposure or gaps. All you’ll be looking for is the next grippy bit of trail and going from one positive feature to the next.
Once you’ve started to notice your grip points on a trail, think about getting low and closer to your bike. This will allow you to drive your body weight into the grip point by pushing against it with your legs to generate more purchase. As a consequence of this you’ll then go light over the rougher sections that would normally feel choppy. Time it right and you’ll be coming back down to the ground and going heavy on the next smooth section – ready to repeat the whole ‘heavy/light’ process over again.
Why look for grip?
The reason this is so important is because the less you have to think about, the easier it is to link a trail together.
By distilling thousands of irrelevant decisions down into a handful of positive ones, you can go faster without having to process more info. If anything you’ll actually feel calmer riding this way. It might even change how you describe sections to your mates because you’ll be thinking about technical sections in a completely different way. “The horrible section of off-camber roots” will now become “the grip point that keeps you high on the trail”. This in itself is an absolute game-changer.
- Andy has selected a wide line on this berm so that his traction will be consistent throughout
- He’s keeping his body lined up with his bars as he turns so that he is always facing the direction he’s going
- Notice how his knees are still bent. He’s actually pushing gradually back into the turn here but not quickly in one spot
- Almost on the exit and his legs are now a lot straighter. He spread that push over the whole corner and felt consistent grip as a result
- That gradual build of energy is now released down the trail and accelerates him out and onto the next feature
Berms – position
With a berm you can really trust the grip because as long as you’re riding up on the camber, the support will be consistent all the way round. Think of it as a jump lying on its side. You should be wide on your entry line, your body position should be crouched down close to your bike, and you should have your pedals level. This will allow you to extend your legs and really drive heavy against the trail all the way round, aiding grip and creating exit speed.
Berms – exit speed
Carrying speed out of a well supported corner like a berm is exactly like getting height out of a jump. It should be considered as the same powerful drive into the trail with your legs, which results in a gradual ramp-up towards the end. Just as you’d normally plan to get air, in this case that drive will become exit speed, allowing you to carry momentum down the trail without having to really invest any energy. Check out last month’s issue to jog your memory on centripetal force for more tips on how to feel stable on jumps. Remember that the longer the berm, the slower the push with your legs will feel.
Line choice: outside vs inside
Flat corners – position
On flat corners you are more likely to experience a loss of traction because of the lack of support. With this in mind it is important to make a shape that will allow for that movement if it happens. This is why you see riders crouch down, keep their upper bodies connected to the front of their bikes, and keep their hips and knees lined up with the direction of the exit on the trail. It’s OK to drop your outside foot, but you’re best to try and keep your pedals level with the trail. More lean of the bike and you can drop your outside foot further. If your outside leg is straight, however, you’re locked into a position that will slide away from you with your bike, so remember to keep a bend in both knees to allow for movement. Those bent knees will mean that as soon as the traction slips you’ll be able to extend into that space with your legs and stay on top of the grip.
Flat corners – exit speed
By staying low to allow for movement, and focusing on lining your body up with the exit of the corner, you’ll be able to gauge your grip through the turn. The trick here is to come in slower and gradually push with your legs as the traction allows. Come in too fast and you’ll have to back off from that push in order to control the grip. This will mean you feel like you’ve stalled and won’t carry as much speed as you could have. Come in a little slower and gradually build that push with your legs, and by the end of the turn you’ll have generated a good deal of speed and effectively ‘pumped’ your way out of the corner.
Going fast should be a result of feeling confident because you have time to react. If the trail feels like it’s getting away from you then your reaction will be to go on the defensive. Stay strong with your body, look for the grip, and focus on driving your weight against shapes that you can trust, and your whole experience of a trail will change. It will feel like you are deliberately generating grip, linking one positive feature to another, and that you have more time to think and react. This is what we call scalable riding, and will mean that you can go faster without exposing yourself to any additional risk.
If you’re interested in going faster – let’s face it, who isn’t? – the next time you ride your bike, focus on getting closer to it, looking for the places where you have grip, and pushing into them with your legs. Your perceived exertion will be lower and you’ll be riding with more time to react, less risk, and ultimately more speed.