Racers, skills coaches and armchair experts are forever talking about line choice, and with good reason; a couple of inches left or right can make the difference between zero and hero.
While choosing good lines is bread and butter for top racers, it’s something we can all benefit from as riders. Line choice doesn’t have to be about going fast either; it can be about keeping safe, staying smooth or having the most fun.
Making all the right moves on a trail involves pooling all the skills we’ve talked about over the last four months; using your eyes to pick where you’re going, deciding where you’re going to pedal or brake, matching your body position to the terrain and using any available features to pump and carry your speed.
Watch a pro rider like Brendan and it’s eye-opening to see quite how little time his wheels remain on the obvious line; most of the time he’s either in the air or off to the side, hunting for grip. Or he’s ended up somewhere completely different, because he hit the last section so fast, and momentum has carried him off the conventional line.
A good line tends to be either the fastest, or the safest route through a section of trail. When we’re looking for a good line, we’re looking for smooth trail with plenty of grip and as few obstacles as possible, so that we can carry speed.
As soon as the trail gets really technical, this becomes tricky, and you have to make compromises, because there is often no perfect line. Seeing all the different line options on offer is a skill rarely practised, but it’s an area of riding where you can let creativity take over and experiment.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be about finding a faster line or an easier line; you may want to test yourself on the most technically challenging way to negotiate a section.
One way to help stimulate your imagination when it comes to picking lines, is to assess a section of trail with different approaches.
Sometimes the shortest line will be different from the one with least turning — it’s up to you to judge which works best for the particular section of trail you are applying it to, and which best suits your riding style. With regards to speed, just remember the goal every time is to carry momentum out of the section.
A line that allows a lot of entry speed, followed by heavy braking, will rarely work out faster.