1. The most important thing about buying a new bike is to make sure it fits. The only way you'll know if the bike is right for you is to size up the bike and make sure that the bike's geometry matches your body's geometry. Ask questions and do some research.
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2. If possible, try to find a shop that will let you demo the bike on real dirt. Five minutes in a parking lot won't cut it. You wouldn't buy a car without a real world test drive, and a bike should be no different.
3. Don't belive the hype. Just because your favorite rider or best friend rides a certain bike, that doesn't mean that's the best one for you. Have an open mind and be realistic about your needs and ability.
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  1. #1
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    Reputation: Tank Girl's Avatar
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    Downhill Techniques for a Beginner on a Rigid MTB (as in zero suspension)

    I know the obvious is to start with FS or at a minimum a hardtail, but that's not going to happen for a couple months.

    I've got a vintage rigid Terry Jacaranda and I've been riding for two months now. I started out doing 90 miles/week, but I'm now doing 60/wk at the advice of my MTB group leader, which really increased my recovery rate and improved my performance.

    I understand the basics of downhill, what I'd like to know are any specific techniques for a rigid bike. The greatest challenge I face is the loss of strength in my wrists, as my arms (aka my only front suspension) become exhausted from taking hits. Another challenge is to maintain a slow enough speed to keep a clean line, but to still keep pedaling to maintain traction. The only solution I can find to this is to brake gently and continuously while I am pedaling, I'm just wondering if there is a better way.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
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    When I ride my rigid I find I spend alot a time off the saddle so that my legs and arms take impact and pull up the front wheel alot and hop over stuff that I'd otherwise plow through. With a rigid, IMO, sticky grips and fat tires are key.
    Round and round we go

  3. #3
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    Yes, I just recently learned that being out of the saddle makes a huge difference in how hard I take the hits. I've also learned to keep my arms and legs more fluid, which really helps.

    I haven't learned to hop yet, I'm still in that powering thru phase, (hence part of the reason for my nickname, my rig is the other.) I do have fat tires with great tread, but I'm not familiar with the sticky grips, I'll have to check that out. Also, I just read on another thread about adjusting my brake levers so that I can use two fingers while still keeping a good grip.

    Thanks for the advice.

  4. #4
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    If you're riding rigid going downhill, it's going to make you one hell of a good rider when you upgrade your bike. Best advice, make sure your saddle isnt too high so youhave ease of sliding off and on,and also pick the best line down(smoothest). It won't be as rough on the hands that way .
    As far as your brake levers go, if you have canti brakes, two finger braking won't happen. And also as you had mentioned, on the downs, keeping your knees bent and arms bent abit, makes the ride more pleasant. When your arms are bent and youare crouched down abit you are in the "ready" position. When youget to a drop, say a one foot drop, being your arms are bent, when you get to the drop push the front of the bike into the drop, this way your arms act like suspension. This is the proper technique taught here in BC by MTB instructors, specifically Fr/DH instructors. Having your arms fully extended on a steep down or drop, youdo not have full control of the bike that way.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by wickerman1
    push the front of the bike into the drop, this way your arms act like suspension. This is the proper technique taught here in BC by MTB instructors, specifically Fr/DH instructors. Having your arms fully extended on a steep down or drop, youdo not have full control of the bike that way.
    I have definately been doing this wrong and that explains why I feel so little control on my drops. I'm doing repeats on a segment of downhill tomorrow and will try to get this technique down. Thanks for your help.

  6. #6
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    Sticky grips isn't a brand but a description. My favs right now are "ODI Rouge" but there's many other good grips that are a little thicker, dual compound, to help absorb impact.
    Practice bunny hops on flat ground so you don't have anything else to concentrate on. Once you pull up the front wheel and it's off the ground, jump up while twisting your wrists and move them foward, and angle your feet like your on tip toes and pull up on the pedals to lift the rear. It's like riding a bike Ha Ha. Once you get....
    Last edited by theMeat; 09-24-2010 at 10:56 PM.
    Round and round we go

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tank Girl
    I have definately been doing this wrong and that explains why I feel so little control on my drops. I'm doing repeats on a segment of downhill tomorrow and will try to get this technique down. Thanks for your help.
    Great and you're welcome... let me know how it works out for you.

  8. #8
    fresh fish in stock...... SuperModerator
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    yup...and to add when your arms are bent point your elbows out, it helps stabilize.

    and keep you pedals at 3 and 9....pedal strikes suck...

    this is basically known as the 'attack' position....


    OP - enjoy riding rigid....you'll get faster and waaay more fluid

    Quote Originally Posted by wickerman1
    If you're riding rigid going downhill, it's going to make you one hell of a good rider when you upgrade your bike. Best advice, make sure your saddle isnt too high so youhave ease of sliding off and on,and also pick the best line down(smoothest). It won't be as rough on the hands that way .
    As far as your brake levers go, if you have canti brakes, two finger braking won't happen. And also as you had mentioned, on the downs, keeping your knees bent and arms bent abit, makes the ride more pleasant. When your arms are bent and youare crouched down abit you are in the "ready" position. When youget to a drop, say a one foot drop, being your arms are bent, when you get to the drop push the front of the bike into the drop, this way your arms act like suspension. This is the proper technique taught here in BC by MTB instructors, specifically Fr/DH instructors. Having your arms fully extended on a steep down or drop, youdo not have full control of the bike that way.
    Visit these 2 places to help advance trail access:
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by CHUM
    OP - enjoy riding rigid....you'll get faster and waaay more fluid
    oh yeah... if she rides a rigid for a season then moves to a fs, no one will be able to keep up LOL.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by theMeat
    Practice bunny hops on flat ground so you don't have anything else to concentrate on. Once you pull up the front wheel and it's off the ground, jump up while twisting your wrists and move them foward, and angle your feet like your on tip toes and pull up on the pedals to lift the rear. It's like riding a bike Ha Ha. Once you get....
    I will be so stoked once I can pull this off! Also, I'm definately going to check out the sticky grips. Thanks again!

  11. #11
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    [QUOTE=CHUM]yup...and to add when your arms are bent point your elbows out, it helps stabilize.

    and keep you pedals at 3 and 9....pedal strikes suck...

    this is basically known as the 'attack' position....
    QUOTE]

    I've been keeping my arms/elbows in pretty tight, so I'll start working on this. Keeping my pedals at 3 and 9 is something I've just learned and haven't quite got as a habit yet, but it definately makes a difference. Thanks for your help.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by wickerman1
    oh yeah... if she rides a rigid for a season then moves to a fs, no one will be able to keep up LOL.
    Actually even though I'm so new to this, there are times (albeit very few) when people have trouble keeping up with me...even going up hill. How does learning to ride on a rigid make a difference in your speed?

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tank Girl
    Actually even though I'm so new to this, there are times (albeit very few) when people have trouble keeping up with me...even going up hill. How does learning to ride on a rigid make a difference in your speed?
    Just that if you learn on a rigid, your learning of skills, and ability to pick a line is forced upon you. Then when you get on a hard tail or better yet FS, it's much more forgiving and you can fly down the same trails with less work, or should I say skill. I spend most of my time on a hardtail. Just feels like home. Even thou I have to work harder, I feel it makes me a better rider.Then, when I ride my FS it's like WOW that was fun, or fast or...
    Oh boy, I hope I didn't open a can O worms and wonder how many with their fancy FS's that never spent any saddle time on a rigid will now be compelled to disagree. Let's hope for the best.
    Last edited by theMeat; 09-25-2010 at 08:04 PM.
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  14. #14
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    With rigid you 'suspension' are your tire and your whole body.

    I prefer supple tire for rough road.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by theMeat
    I hope I didn't open a can O worms and wonder how many with their fancy FS's that never spent any saddle time on a rigid will now be compelled to disagree. Let's hope for the best.
    Actually, when I first started hitting the trails people thought I was nuts for riding a rigid bike. But now that they've seen me out there, I'm surprised at the amount of respect I get for riding one. I've met a lot of serious riders on first rate FS bikes who've told me just what you and Wickerman1 have said, that starting out with the rigid is going to make me a great rider...that's if I survive the learning curve of course! It's definately brutal when you're riding a rigid bike, there's not much forgiveness when you make a mistake.

  16. #16
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    That attack position picture doesn't show how to do it on a slope. I think it's better explained by trying to imagine keeping your legs+hips perpendicular to sea level for that great neutral attack position for stability.

    Get wide handlebars, bend your elbows outwards and low, place the outside heel of your palm on the ends of the bar, 1 finger on the lever, knees straight (not inward or straddling the frame) or slightly out. Staying loose with arms and knees very slightly bent, just try to flow with the bike as it goes up and down on it's own, and just focus on steering and footwork with "pumping" here and there. Elbows out and low with hands like this helps stabilize braking forces--noobies tend to counter brake forces with their arms fully extended and end up simply trying to hang on (they're not attacking, instead they're being passive I guess). The only time your arms should come close to being fully extended is when you're placing the front wheel down on the ground at a drop, which should become immediately bent again once the wheel lands. Your knees should move together, like when skiing. Basically, your body is the suspension; don't let your body be pounded up/back by bumps. Let the bike move under your arms and legs and "push" it back down--think about riding the back of the obstacle rather than the worrying about the initial impact and you should naturally unload/unweight the ends of the bike to get over stuff and maintain momentum. By push, I mean shift your weight forward and back, not do push-ups... think of the word flow and you'll figure out the feeling... maybe. Footwork is basically balancing using the pedals. When you corner, weigh the outside pedal, look and twist your hips to point the same way you would twist the handlebar (image).

    For jumps/drops, preload your arms, by bending them, just before the edge and try to gently place the wheel down (don't simply let it drop and don't force it down hard) on the landing transition so there's somewhat less impact for your arms to absorb and let it roll and carry your rear wheel through. It's much more graceful than simply hucking jumps. If the drop is too high to do that without flipping over, just shift your weight back as if you were trying to do a manual/wheelie and try to land so that both your tires contact at the same time. It's much smoother and more graceful than landing rear wheel first; landing front wheel is ideal on double jumps; not sure when it's ideal to land rear wheel first. You don't need to lift the front wheel up high, you just want to keep it about level with the rear until the rear reached the edge. In most cases, on DH slopes, you're faster when your tires roll vs flying over stuff and pre-loading minimizes the air you get off of ramps at high speed. Switchbacks are one part of DH slopes where a little lift of the rear tire to swing it will take you through much faster.

    Lowering your seatpost a bit for technical trails is extremely helpful for getting good body position, but I admit it sucks for pedaling efficiency. If you are doing mountains, you could leave it up on the way up and then lower it for the way down. For flat singletrack, you could probably just leave it 1-2 inches lower than normal, or get an adjustable seatpost.

    When I ride, my performance seems to change oddly depending on where I am in the pack. When I'm following, I tend to fall back since I like to scan my own lines and give room for speeding up on sections I'm good at without needing to slow down, but it gets to a point that I just don't catch up. When I lead though, things just click and I rip the trail and gain a huge lead on the guy following without even trying. I also feel that I push my limits more when I'm by myself.

    I forgot to mention that running good tires with a high volume casing that's relatively wide is a huge help. Run them at or under 35 psi if possible... as low as you can go without pinch flatting. Or run them ghetto tubeless (google it).

    When you get your flow, when seen from the side or behind, it seems that your head points where it are planning to go and your body and bike flows around the trail with your head taking the smoothest straightest line down while your arms and legs bend, your body rotates on the heels and hips, and follows the terrain. Not sure how to explain it well, but I can at least say a rider that isn't very smooth have his head jerked and shaken around.
    Last edited by Varaxis; 09-27-2010 at 06:41 PM.

  17. #17
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    I started on a rigid two months ago... lasted 4 rides before I got a FS. Everyone thought I was crazy being at skeggs in a rigid but it was super fun. Now, I go down super fast and crash just as hard. :-)

    Nice sticky grips is a must and add some gloves too. It makes a huge difference how glued your hands are to the bars. Also, slightly underinflate your front tire to give you some suspension but not too much so you don't get pinch flats.

  18. #18
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    I set my tire inflation pressures based on what I can get away with without pinch flatting - they're as low as I can go and not have to deal with that silliness.

    Depending on your gear budget, fatter tires can make things more forgiving. Basically just get the widest you can fit on your bike.

    Finally, I think that being able to manual helps a lot with descending on any bike, but I think it matters more on a rigid. You don't need to be able to sustain them for a long time - just long enough to go off drops on your rear wheel only, in control, so that you land rear wheel first. Doesn't have to be a big difference in hang time between the rear and front wheel, either. The idea is to spread that hit over a longer amount of time, and let you soak up more of it with your legs. If it's totally impossible to get the front end of your bike up, you might consider a shorter stem. But talk to your ride leader about it first - lofting the front end of a bike can feel a little bit like the tail wagging the dog, and figuring it out is sometimes tricky. So not being able to isn't necessarily something you can blame on the equipment.

    I think it can be very instructive to ride a pump track if you have one nearby.

    Luckily, skills development is free.
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  19. #19
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    Thanks to everyone, your advice has been dead on and made a huge difference. I was able to pull off areas downhill yesterday that I would have walked through a couple days ago and I am so stoked!

    Btw, what's a pump track?

  20. #20
    fresh fish in stock...... SuperModerator
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tank Girl
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    Btw, what's a pump track?
    no pedaling...and hella fun
    Visit these 2 places to help advance trail access:
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  21. #21
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    Chum, thanks! I have got to find one of those, it looks like a blast!

  22. #22
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    I would recommend Bikeskills.com's videos with Greg Minnaar, since I respect his skills, but he shows a style for beginners and not his own style in the videos. He basically says, be passive and react (like a noobie) rather than be aggressive and attack the trail. It's all in the stance and the mind. When you're on the offensive, you don't have much room to be scared. That kind of explains why I ride slower behind someone and tremendously faster when I'm leading.

    Maybe you can relate to some of the tips here to some of his riding at least: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7dnXiNBDXE

    Look at the first rider in that pump track video above and try to notice what I mean about a person's head taking the smoothest line following the terrain through something when the rider is extremely smooth. That's what I believe is the pinnacle of smooth riding. An exception being when you want more weight put forward and purposely throw if forward.
    Last edited by Varaxis; 09-27-2010 at 06:58 PM.

  23. #23
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    Wickerman1 - I am amazed how much better I am doing drops now, thanks to your advice. Totally thought of you with each one I nailed.

    The Meat - I spent a lot more time out of the saddle after reading your post and it made a big difference not only in decreasing my impacts, but in helping my speed too. Still haven't pulled off a bunnyhop yet, though I think I did one by accident yesterday.

    AndrwSwitch, Chum and Varaxis - I've got a msg out to my MTB group to find a pump track nearby, thanks for telling me about these. It seems like a great way to build muscle memory.

  24. #24
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    Cool. Glad I could help. Haven't seen you ride but legs are by far stronger than arms, and can stand much more impact, so try to keep your weight back over rear wheel and that makes it easier to lift the front quickly, or move foward to plant it for more traction on turns. At least that works for me (most of the time). It's always fun to see someone develope in their own way, and sometimes it turns out to work better than what everone else is doin. Like the person who shows up on their beat-up old clunker, and everyone has a comment, and then he blows past doin some sh@t no one ever saw before, and leaves them scrathing their heads. Been there.
    Also being as your new to mtbing , try to ride new trails frequently so you don't fall into bad habits that work on a certain trail because that technique might not work as well for you somewhere else.
    You also might wanna try clipless since your new at this and will have a much shorter leaning curve than if you try to pick it up once your skills are ingrained. It'll also help you lift the rear over stuff.
    You sound "tough" and I like your style.
    Good Luck
    Last edited by theMeat; 09-27-2010 at 10:21 PM.
    Round and round we go

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by theMeat
    try to ride new trails frequently so you don't fall into bad habits that work on a certain trail because that technique might not work as well for you somewhere else.
    You also might wanna try clipless since your new at this and will have a much shorter leaning curve than if you try to pick it up once your skills are ingrained. It'll also help you lift the rear over stuff.
    Good Luck
    Trying new trails frequently is great advice. I've been doing the same training loops generally until just a couple weeks ago, so I will be more mindful about this.

    As to the clipless, I've had them now for about a month, still occasionally fall over, but doing much better...getting elbow/arm guards really helped with that learning curve. As for liking my style, if you saw me ride you might change your mind. My style tends to involve a lot of crashing, bruised and bloodied body parts with ground in dirt, gravel and whatever assorted burrs and thistles I happened to land in...yIKES! (though honestly, that has been improving immensely lately.)

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