Monday, April 30, 2007

Cornering Tips

* I like to put my weight to the inside and pedal through comers. It's like applying the gas in a car as you go around a curve it helps maintain traction." - Silvia Furst

* You may not have the skill or experience to risk putting a foot down at 45 mph, but at slower speeds an outrigged limb can help you through a sharp turn. Almost as much as the foot, it's the low and wide stance that will keep you upright and on course."-Missy Giove

* "I put the emphasis on getting my weight on the outside pedal A lot of people put their outside pedal down, but they really don't push on it. I put a lot of weight on it and carve the turn."-Jason McRoy

* The expert - or showboat - way to ride a down-hill switchback is to nose wheelie through it. Here are five steps for flashy switchbacking:

1. Enter the turn wide, on the high side of the frail. Coast at a walking pace. Test your brakes. Make sure they're working predictably before you drop into the steep part.

2. You're going to pivot on the front tire, so make room for the rear to swing around by steering into the apex of the corner. Your weight should be slightly (just slightly) rearward. Keep the inside pedal (the downhill one) bark for leverage.

3. As your front tire reaches the apex of the corner, dig the inside grip down and back and move your torso forward, Pinch the front brake lever firmly and give a little hop with your feet. At this point, your rear wheel should leave the ground (EGAD!). You'll soon know if you've hopped or squeezed too hard. If so, get up and fry again.

4. In midflip, push the inside grip ahead. This twists the rear wheel around the corner. It also tilts the bike away from the abyss, which keeps you from overbalancing and falling to the outside when you land.

5. Because of your considerable lateral momentum, you need to land the back wheel far enough around the corner that you don't get "high sided" over the edge. This is one of the trickiest parts of the turn. Once you "stick" the landing, the rest is cake. Just pedal away with a big stupid grin on your face.

* Stop pedaling as you enter a turn and keep your cranks horizontal, Unless you think you'd enjoy catching a pedal on a bank, rock or log. On smooth surfaces, however, you can keep the outside pedal down to improve traction. Brake before the turn. Locking the levers in a turn makes you more likely to skid. Even if we don't cuddle the dirt blanket, your rhythm and swoop are disrupted. It's more efficient and, for some reason, quicker to brake before entering a curve. For instance, a rider who surfs an entire turn at a smooth 15 almost always gets through quicker than one who enters at 17 and brakes. (Advanced riders brake later in turns. How the hell do they do that?)

* If possible, try to plan your path to approach wide, cut inside across the turn, and exit wide. This reduces the sharpness of the curve and minimises the amount of lean you'll need. It also lets you ride a more direct line (you go almost straight through the curve instead of turning), which helps traction on loose surfaces. Of course, you won't always have this luxury - sometimes your line is determined by the width or conditions of the trail.

* Lean into turns. Press down on the grip that's on the inside, and angle the bike over. At slow speeds, or for tighter corners, you'll need to steer slightly inward, too. Don't worry about being tentative and not getting much lean. As you gain confidence in your traction, you'll slant more. The key is to slowly build speed and lean. Too much of a jump in either, and you'll skid.

* If you're arcing wide in a turn, cut tight with elbow and knee swings. Your instinct might be to crank the handlebar inward. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it turns the front tire in a direction your momentum doesn’t want to go. Things get messy. Instead, pop your limbs toward the inside corner. It's swoop time.

* When you're leaning in a turn, you can stick your bike to the ground with body weight for additional traction. Used correctly, your weight can drive the treads into the surface and counteract the sideways forces that want to push your bike out from under you. One method is to push down against the outside pedal. Some riders stay seated and transfer their weight straight down through the seatpost. Others move the bike underneath them until it's on the inside track and their body rests outside. Even the opposite bike outside, body inside - and be effective. What's the best method? Depends on your speed, your tires, your juju, the turn, the terrain....

* 180 around a 6-inch cone is the hardest turn in the world. Practice that and you can do anything. Put the cone down in the middle of a field, then ride toward it at 20 mph. Brake 10 feet from it and see if you make the turn. If you do, brake at 8 feet, and keep reducing the distance until you overshoot it." - John Henderson

* Because off-camber turns slope down on the outside of the curve, inertia and other things conspire to throw you off the trail and down the hill. Going slow isn't a sure cure. Your bike will still dive out and down. Try riding an inside line, and also leaning the bike out while your body stays in. Good riders can turn their front wheel 90 degrees, then hop the rear of the bike around - jumping the turn instead of steering through it.

* Switchbacks are like hairpins Trailbuilders blaze them when the slope is too steep to go straight up or down. Here are three hints to get you through the next one:

1. Steer wide, so the pitch is less severe.

2. At the apex (where the turn is most pronounced), cut inside.

3. On way-tight switchbacks, some riders counter-steer. As you approach the turn, lean and steer in the opposite direction you want to. When you enter the turn, quickly lean and steer inside. Do it right and your rear wheel will turn tighter than your front wheel.

* Round your turns in a smooth arc to maintain momentum. Don’t zigzag. Lean your body more than your bike to speed your way through abrupt changes in direction."-Juli Furtado

* In corners, pick a line that can handle your speed. If you're going fast, the outer side usually holds you better."-Toby Henderson

* If I don't come out of a turn on the very outside I didn't go through it fast enough."-Tony Henderson

* Accelerate out of corners. Jam on your pedals sometime after passing the apex but while you're still in the arc. Do it right, and you'll feel as if the turn is flinging you out onto the trail. You can learn to recognise the right moment by practising on a smooth (and preferably soft) turn. Try to begin pedaling closer and closer to the turn's midpoint. Don't feel flung? You're waiting too long. If you stick a pedal in the ground, or find speed but lose it before exiting, you're not waiting long enough.

* In banked turns, don’t hug the inside edge. It's usually off-camber. Instead, ride up on the outside edge of the trail don’t be afraid of that bank. The outside edges help you turn, so the handlebar stays straighter while you lean.

* If your turns suck, you're probably making one of these three common mistakes:

1. Too little lean or weighting to maintain traction. Trust physics and your bike. Lean and press. Lean and press.

2. Too little confidence. The bike makes adjustments on its own. To the uninitiated, these feel like wipeouts - in waiting. So they hail. Ride it out. You'll be surprised.

3. Too much speed. If you feel like you're doing everything right but you still can't stick the turns like the rest of the group, then don't. You're a novice. Enjoy it while you can. Someday you'll be expected to ice every move.

* The apex of a turn is the point where the turn is most pronounced its peak. How you ride through the apex affects the whole freaking turn. Here's a look:

1. Early-apex turns are the most popular kind. This is a mistake, but it's easy to understand why. Most riders start to turn as soon as they see the turn. This leads to "over-turning," where you've turned so much so early that you’re forced to move inside, brake, and end up slowing down too much.

2. A mid-apex turn is the fastest kind of turn-where the apex of your travel coincides with the physical apex of a turn. You ride to the widest point and change your direction of travel there. It is a kind, gentle turn that sweeps you through a curve.

3. Late-apex turns are excellent when you want to pass somebody in a corner or scare the bejesus out of one of your riding buddies. You brake late in this turn-this slows you down-but you usually come out ahead of the next guy. These turns are great on banked surfaces, which help you exit at speed.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Climbing Tips

* To learn how to balance on the edge between power and loss of traction on a climb, find a relatively steep hill with a moderately loose surface. This should be a climb you could handle quite easily if not for the lack of traction. Shift into your lowest gear and aggressively attack it. Get out of the saddle and force the rear wheel to begin breaking free. Do this a few times, then try it while sitting. Learn how much pedaling force you can apply before losing traction.

Now change tactics. Ride into the hill as slowly as you can in your lowest gear. Creep up so you're constantly on the verge of stalling. Pretend you're in an airplane, the stall warning buzzer keeps going off and you have to make the minimum adjustment to shut it up. Try this standing, then sitting.

Now pick the smallest cog you can ride up the slope in. Repeat the previous exercises. Pay attention to your stalling point. Work on sensing the loss of traction before it happens. Do it in and out of the saddle. Play with it. Have fun balancing on the point of power.

* Ride in the climber's position. Just as there is a standard stance for descending (pedals level, weight slightly off the saddle, and elbows and knees loose to absorb shock), a certain climbing position is most effective for most situations. Flex your elbows and bend forward at the hips, keeping your back straight. You should be leaning toward the handlebar and your butt should be pushed back on the saddle a bit. This posture lowers your centre of gravity, distributes your weight to the front and rear, and allows you to easily make the weight shifts and movements you'll need to maintain traction and power.

* Most inexperienced climbers don't bend toward the bar enough, believing that if they sit upright over the rear wheel they'll prevent spinout. Just the opposite. The wayback position unweights the front wheel which either causes the riders to stop, or makes them lose rear traction anyway when they suddenly scoot forward to keep the front down. If you want to go up, you have to get down Lean

* Maintain traction when climbing by modifying your stock position. As the pitch steepens, lean more toward the bar (drop your nose closer). This puts more of your weight over the front and, at the same time, pushes your butt back to keep weight over the rear tire.

Tune yourself until you find the lean angle that keeps both wheels rooted. (Front wheel loose: too little lean. Back wheel loose: too much.) You'll eventually learn what lean matches what pitch.

* On a steep incline simply leaning toward the handlebar won't maintain traction. You need to keep the front wheel down by leaning waaay over - sometimes your nose will be past the handlebar and as little as four inches above it - and by sliding forward onto the tip of the saddle. (This is one reason pros like narrow saddles with long noses.)

But with all your weight forward, what about the back wheel? You can keep it grooved by pulling back on the handlebar. This single move often provides a climbing breakthrough for new riders. It makes the rear wheel dig in.

* When you rise out of the saddle you use about 12 percent more oxygen and raise your heart rate about 11 percent. Or so the lab rats say Regardless, standing is harder on your body. It requires more effort because your legs provide locomotion and support you.

* If you don't stand at least occasionally you're climbing without one of your most valuable skills. Among other things standing lets you deliver more power to the pedals. It can delay fatigue because it uses your muscles differently. And it lets you during extended climbs.

* Here are three tips for making the transition from seated climbing to standing without losing speed, control or traction.

1. As your foot comes around to begin a downstroke, shift to a harder gear (if you don't, you waste energy with choppy pedal strokes), then rise out of the saddle It you have bar-ends, move your hands out to them. You should be as upright as the pitch will allow, with your chest out over the handlebar. Your lower back should be straight.

2. Sway the bike from side to side (but no more than a toot each way). This establishes a rhythm and wakes your downstrokes more direct and powerful. Some riders like to pull up on the bar to do this Pushing is nice because you can do it without clenching your hands.

3. You've nailed the technique when you realise why it's sometimes described as 'running on the pedals.' If you feel jerky and out of control, you're either not pushing a big enough gear or you're completely straightening your leg on the downstroke. Go for a 95 percent bend and concentrate on pushing and pulling through a complete circle. This will eliminate the dead spot.

* As with most things mountain bike, there are no rules dictating how often and how long you should stand during a climb. Just plenty of generalisations. Here arc the helpful ones. Try not to sit back down when the grade is steep. You'll stall. If possible, wait till you have a break in the climbing. And remember to shift back to an easy gear as you return to the saddle. Most heavy riders do better when they climb seated more than they stand. The opposite applies to light riders. Most novices don't stand often enough, and when they do they stand too long.

* Don't try to motor up hills in one speedy gulp. Find your own pace. You can pedal at amazingly slow cadences and stay upright. To make it to the top of a big climb with some oomph left, go a little slower than you might be tempted. Staying just below your pain threshold will give you better endurance.

* Get bonus traction on technical climbs by standing and lifting your front wheel over large rocks and ledges, then jerking the back wheel onto them and using these harder surfaces for more traction.

* On really long climbs stopping to rest is acceptable. During those stops, you might be tempted to turn around or walk. Don't. Recharge your batteries for five minutes, psyche yourself up and pedal to the next rest point.

* Rather than anticipating the top, anticipate the next bend - the one you can't see. Make that a goal. When you reach that one, immediately focus on the following bend

* Because climbing is a repetitive act, it helps to think repetitive things. Really. Try repeating a phase over and over again. Something simple like "I'll make it." Or, "Make mine a double." It gives you rhythm and helps occupy your pain.

* Cross-country pro Sarah Ellis is a hot-shot ascender. Here are four of her secrets for stupendous climbing. Don't tell anyone else.

- "On a long climb I like to get into a rhythm, a pace and pedaling cadence that I relate to. Some riders have inconsistent rhythms-their speeds go straight or straight down. On long, sustained climbs I like to find one rhythm-but I start out easy and ride harder into the rhythm."

- "Anyone can attack a hill fast, but it takes self-discipline to control your pace and climb calmly. It's one of the hardest things to do."

- "A lot of people say how great it is to have someone in front of you on a climb so you can chase instead of being hunted. I like seeing people ahead of me, too, but only it I'm near the front. I think the worst thing is to be so far back you have to work around a lot of people. That can get tiring. I'll get on a wheel on a climb and realise that she's going too strong for me, I don't give up. I hold the pace as long as I can, and then even after she pulls away I concentrate on keeping her in sight as long as I can. You go taster than if you give up right away."

* Ride shallow, On an uphill curve, don't ride too close to the inside. It's shorter but the incline can be much steeper. Take the more gradual outside line.

* "Climbing can be very, very painful. I always think that once I'm over the climb there's usually a fun downhill, so I can really suffer up a climb because I'm anticipating a really awesome downhill. Even though going downhill is strenuous it's really fun, so I concentrate on getting to the top of climb where I know I'll have fun. You can't say that races are won on the uphill, but if you can't suffer on the climb, you won't do well."-Jammy Jacques

* Common steep-climbing mistake: Moving your hips too far forward when you bend forward or scootch up to maintain traction. Keep your hips back, more or less centred over the bike, or else your rear wheel gets skittish.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Braking Tips

* Use your front brake more. Using too much rear causes it to lock and skid, which rips up the lovely trail and reduces your control. (On the right surface, experienced riders can skid in control. Then it's called a technique. For you, it's a mistake.)

* Once your rubber skids you can't brake any harder. It's more efficient if you can keep applying braking force to a spinning wheel - this is why so many new car owners want anti-lock braking systems. You don't have that fancy system on your mountain bike but you can emulate it by using a series of quick, tiny micro-braking actions. It's called feathering or stuttering.

* "When I hear that a solid, hard feel on the brake lever equals stopping power, I want to scream. Walk into Joe's Bike Shop and squeeze the brake levers on a showroom bike. Hard as a rock, right? If it hurts your hand, it must be powerful, right? Not!. Looking for maximum resistance at the lever is like climbing hills in your highest gear. More resistance is not better. Leverage is what it's all about. To get more leverage you must set up your brakes to have more travel at the lever, which turns into greater leverage at the rim. That's where it really needs to happen. And if you want to know why it seems easier to lock your wheel with a firmer-feeling lever, that's because the power comes on more abruptly. But sudden power application with no modulation or control of traction isn't good braking! "-Wayne Lumpkin, creator of Avid brakes and Fevers

* A major cause of poor brake performance is pad residue on your rims. Clean with steel wool.

* About 70 percent of your braking power comes from the front brake. That leaves 30 percent on the back. But these figures change radically as conditions do. Muddy stuff decreases your rear stopping power more than it wipes out your front. And you can change how much braking power you get at either wheel by shifting your weight forward or backward.

* Find a favourite hand position. Most riders put their index and middle finger on the brake levers, and wrap the others around the handlebar. Some riders brake with only their index fingers. There are other configurations, but find the one that feels secure and doesn’t fatigue your fingers.

* The number of fingers on the brake lever should change depending on the terrain. It has to do with how much handlebar control you need balanced with how much force your braking might require. A handy rule to remember is 'Brake hard where the ground is hard, and soft where the ground is soft."

* Brake with your entire bike. Your levers and cantilevers are only the most obvious parts of your stopping system. Do this: To increase control and power, it can help to grip the seat with your quads or move your weight back as you brake. Try scrubbing off speed by running up banks or curving turns. Just as good mountain bikers use all of their bikes and bodies to steer, they go beyond fingers when it comes to stopping, too. Watch them and experiment.

* Don't use your brakes only when you want to slow. Good braking is about control, and sometimes it can even help you build speed. Just try alternating squeezes and releases on your next long descent. Lay off the brakes sooner than usual coming out of a corner. Notice the control it gives you? The surges of speed? This is the hidden power of brakes. They do more than stop you. They help you master your movement.

* High-performance braking comes at the maximum braking point. Right before you start to skid-not too soon before, and definitely not after. Why shouldn’t you brake earlier? Because you scrub off too much speed. Why not later? Because locking up the brakes is inefficient and mean to tender trails.

* Think of braking as a process. It begins not with a lever squeeze, but with a weight shift. You rise off the saddle and extend your arms. Keep your elbows bent. This keeps weight off the front wheel. Result? A more controlled bike.

* The trail is your brake lever. Try peeling off speed by running up on berms, banking turns, bumping over rocks. You'll get a feel for what slows you without actually braking - good for creating a flowy rhythm on a ride. You'll also learn what not to do when you're trying to hit max speed.

* Let your front wheel roll freely after you go over a log or drop-off on a downhill. Applying the front brake can lead to an endo in extreme situations, but more often it merely destroys your stability. That's why so many people ride a tough downhill section then blow it right afterward.

* "If you skid, you failed. Find the maximum braking point just before the tire starts skidding. As you get better, squeeze the front brake harder and the rear brake less. Motorcycle riders can brake so well that the rear wheel begins to leave the ground."-Tom Hillard

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Balance Tips

* Some singletrack trails are really exposed, with huge, deadly drop-offs to one side. Others run through the woods and feature narrow passages through trees. Trying to ride this stuff is fun. Dying isn't. So if you feel uncomfortable, step off and walk or if you feel like people will snicker at you, step off and run while shouting: 'I used to race cyclocross!"

* Beginners ride as if they're riveted to the centre of the bike. The actual relationship is more like when the bad guy in a western walks on top of a train. While it rolls along, he can move to the front of the car, or the back, or just stay in the centre. Of course, his movements won t affect the train. He doesn't weigh enough to alter its motion. But put that same size body on a bike and see what happens.

* When you're trying to balance at a standstill the instinct is to saw the handlebar back and forth. This is bad. It results in something called oscillatory steering instability. Instead, control the bike by moving your head and shoulders sideways. This results in something called coolness.

* The best way to improve your on-bike balance is to learn to do a trackstand which means you just balance in place looking all cool. Here are six steps for mastering this important skill.

1. Relax and ride loose (light grip on the handlebar, elbows and knees bent) as you coast to a stop or lightly apply the front brake, whichever feels more comfortable. A slight incline is the best learning surface.

2. The pedals should he horizontal (in the 3 and 9 o'clock position) with your "good foot" forward. This is the foot you favour. It's usually on the same side as the hand you favour, but not always. If you’re unsure, think about which foot you automatically put forward when you're coasting with the crankarms levelled. That's your good foot. Apply slight pressure to the pedal with this foot first enough to inch the bike forward.

3. At the same time, squeeze the front brake hard enough to prevent forward motion.

4. Also at the same time, turn the front wheel in the direction of your good foot. You'll probably over-steer at first. You just need enough angle to bring the bike into a stable position. You'll feel it when you're in the right spot.

5. Maintain equilibrium between these forces. You want to keep yourself in a kind of suspended state between rolling and tailing. It's like an isometric exercise where muscle groups push against each other but don't move.

6. It you begin to fall in the direction of your good foot, turn the wheel straighter and ease of the brake and pedal. This rolls your weight (and sometimes the bike) back slightly and returns your balance. If you begin to fall in the other direction, put more pressure on the pedal and lock up the brake. This shifts your torso foward.

(When you get better you can move to the flats, and you'll learn how to point your knees to maintain balance. None of this is difficult to understand once you're on the bike, but don't expect much hang time in your first 20-30 attempts.)

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