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  1. #1
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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.
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  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.
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  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.
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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.

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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
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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
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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.
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  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.)

  26. #26
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    Good question Tank Girl! lots of tips here for everyone and the lurker in me!!

    poikaa

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    Quote Originally Posted by Poikaa
    Good question Tank Girl! lots of tips here for everyone and the lurker in me!!

    poikaa
    Thanks, Poikaa, you've made a great point.

    Now that I've read back over the thread, I think anyone learning downhill can glean a lot from this thread,.no matter what they are riding, FS, hardtail or rigid.

    It seems the more archaic the bike, the more mastery you need of the fundamentals which really helps you kick butt when you upgrade to something modern (something I can only speculate about right now because in MTB terms, I'm still in the dark ages...but I'll keep you posted
    Last edited by Tank Girl; 09-29-2010 at 09:02 PM.

  28. #28
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    by no means are you in the "dark ages". To me rigid just feels the most comfy and in control. With all the options out there it's easy to get sucked into the hype. Just go with what you got and you will not only become better, you'll become brighter- in the sense that you'll see the trail better and be smooth city And of course less wrenching on some state of the art rig = more riding!
    ...don't worry it's coming...

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tank Girl
    It seems the more archaic the bike, the more mastery you need of the fundamentals which really helps you kick butt when you upgrade to something modern
    Yea, you pretty much have the idea. Rigid gives you much more feel of the trail. You learn good technique much faster, since you don't have the extra room for error that riding a dualie grants. Just keep riding and keep pushing your skills and techniques and you will be a much better rider. Just keep going faster and faster as your skills allow it.

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    Thanks for all your encouragement and advice. I'm stoked to say things are finally starting to click. I rode a clean line on autopilot a few times yesterday and really surprised myself when I realized what I was doing. Seems kinda trivial, but it's one of those little "firsts" that you really savor when you're a beginner. Also, yesterday was the first time I was able to hang with the group for an entire segment of a ride which was a definately sweet.

    Wondering now how to take on something that is abruptly steep. Where you're going along at a good pace and then suddenly the trail drops on a steep slope with a curve just after. I haven't actually attempted this yet, but it's part of a trail I just started doing. The problem is when I look down the steep part, I think my momentum will be faster than I can read the line ahead, but at the same time, I don't want to brake hard all the way down. How do you handle a transition like this?

  31. #31
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    I think I'd have to see what you're talking about to give proper advice. What do the guys you ride with have to say?

    In general, I think it's okay to brake hard as long as you don't lose control of where you're steering and not lose momentum which is needed to carry yourself over obstacles. When I was learning and fearful, I was braking so hard that my front wheel was easily deflecting left and right off stuff. Something just clicks for me when I see my front wheel deflect and I instinctively aim the front wheel down the clearest line and let go of the brakes totally for a short moment and use my footwork and body to lightly stabilize my bike while I focus on keeping my front where I want it to go. That helped me conquer some fear and increase what I previously thought was the upper limit of a comfortable speed.

    For me, comfort braking is more about giving me time to analyze the terrain more than just cutting the speed down to a speed I'm accustomed to. It only takes me about 4-5 times of riding a section before I am completely comfortable with it and able to take it relatively fast. Once I ride fast in one section, that speed rush just carries on to more sections and I discover new limits.

    It always helps to hike the hard parts and analyze it that way. I started riding trails earlier this year and I guess I learn fast since I hit the intermediate/expert trails after I hiked them first. I rode the easy trails first and I was scared of steeps, but after riding the much harder stuff, the easy trail is truly easy, though I still am heavy on the brakes due to not knowing the trails so well. Steeps still tense me up, but as I find harder ones and clear them, the others just seem easy. You just have to go for it I guess.

  32. #32
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    Depends on the traction available and how good your brakes are. If the traction's crappy or your brakes aren't very good, you may not get much of a choice about riding the brake going down.

    There are some things you can do to maximize your braking, though. You get much more braking power from the front brake, especially when traction's not great. If you have to grab a whole lot of front brake all at once, getting behind the saddle helps keep you from flipping over the bars. It'll also give your rear wheel a little more bite, although it's still not going to contribute all that much braking power.

    Stay back, look where you want to go, and feather the brake enough to keep your speed to a level that will let you slow down enough for the turn when you get there. Sometimes the best of us have to drag a little brake from time to time.

    It's sometimes also helpful to watch other people do a tough line. There's one on a trail I like that I couldn't figure out how to do well, and then saw some other people doing a way that I'd initially dismissed, and making it look easy.
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  33. #33
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    It's much much better to roll than to skid. Don't ever lock up your wheels*.

    Going behind the saddle is a noobie move for using the brakes, IMO. I outlined earlier that just staying low offers the same benefit of not going over the bars and allows your arms and legs to still be in a position to help absorb impact and keep the wheels on the ground. Elbows low and bent outwards, standing with body low, knees bent, 1 finger on brakes, and outside heel of palm on the back edge of the grips. Go ahead and practice stopping as fast as you with this method and I guarantee it works and keeps you in the attack position. With 1 finger on the brake, I doubt you get enough power to throw you over anyways, but enough to scrub speed on the trails. If you get behind the saddle, once you hit a bump and your bike gets deflected and you get a bit off balance, you're basically at the mercy of the trail and bike and can only pray that your bike leads you through safely as you hang on. The only time I'd get behind my saddle is if the saddle were low and the hill is so steep that my legs being perpendicular to sea level is basically being in that position. The physics of it is basically: you and your bike moves at 15 MPH. Your bike slows to 10 MPH, but your body is still trying to go 15 MPH. If you are low, your inertia is being transmitted to the bike and the brakes stop both you and the bike. If you were high, over you go since the bike comes to a stop and you and the back of the bike rotate on the front axle. If you were behind the saddle, you wouldn't go over, but that's just plain bad position since your arms are totally stretched out and your center of gravity is biased too much on the back (front becomes light and easy to deflect).

    Make sure you set up your cockpit correctly too, so you have proper reach for the levers and shifters. I always have a few cm between my brake levers and the inside edge of my grips with brake lever pointed down quite a bit.

    http://i53.tinypic.com/21lsfw9.jpg
    http://i53.tinypic.com/2ihurns.jpg

    Here's a recent video on it:

    <object width='500' height='281'><param name='allowFullScreen' value='true' /><param name='AllowScriptAccess' value='always' /><param name='movie' value='http://www.pinkbike.com/v/162257' /><embed src='http://www.pinkbike.com/v/162257' type='application/x-shockwave-flash' width='500' height='281' allowFullScreen='true' AllowScriptAccess='always' /></embed></object>

    * an exception is when you lock them up on purpose to practice drifting and countersteering for a fun way to corner on "loose over hardpack" terrain. Not a necessary skill, but helps for preparing for washouts (skidding sideways on turns from traction loss), which can make lots of people panic and crash.
    Last edited by Varaxis; 09-29-2010 at 11:14 PM.

  34. #34
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    I really like Oury grips. They're soft, sticky, and provide some cushion which would help on a rigid. The only problem is if you have small hands they may not work for you.
    There is not much choice between rotten apples.

  35. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Varaxis
    Going behind the saddle is a noobie move for using the brakes...
    I don't necessarily agree with this, especially on a rigid. On a choppy surface, the back end often wants to come up, throwing you over the bars. If you move your weight back a bit more over the rear wheel, it will help keep the back end down and keep you from going over the bars. This isn't as big of an issue on a full suspension because the shock does most of the work for you.

  36. #36
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    Some awesome information in here and definitely got me thinking about how I ride. I do have a quick question since I saw it somewhat mentioned in here... Leg position while pedaling. How can it effect you?
    Basis around the question is that I am using my brothers bike to ride while I am building up my own. His bike is a bit small for me (med/18" when I should be using a large/19") and I find that my quads are done after a few hundred yards of decent grade climbing. Last time I was riding I noticed that when I am seated my legs really dont extend all that much (i.e. I understood that you should have almost full extension (say 172degrees when I am looking more like 150). Because of this I have to stop constantly when I climb, which I originally accounted to me just not being in climbing shape. So if my legs cannot fully extend while pedaling am I really hindering myself?

    Also, with everything you guys have said I am seriously thinking about going rigid to start off with my new build. The bike I am using now is full squish and feel that it lends to bad habits. I am a stickler for learning things the right way the first time instead of taking the easy way out. So is this a good idea? Then as I get better and understand what I am doing I can switch to a front suspension. The only difference is that I ride more singletrack/trail vs. xc/am, but I would like to build my bike so I can do all with minor adjustments.

  37. #37
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    Try putting the saddle higher. If it helps, awesome, if it doesn't, put it back down where it was, or just try a more conservative change.

    The Fit Kit recommendation is a 15 degree bend, if I remember correctly. But that's just a starting point - you really have to season to taste.
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  38. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by Varaxis
    Something just clicks for me when I see my front wheel deflect and I instinctively aim the front wheel down the clearest line and let go of the brakes totally for a short moment and use my footwork and body to lightly stabilize my bike while I focus on keeping my front where I want it to go.
    This is something I've just recently learned and recommend big time for beginners...when things are getting ugly and you feel you are heading for a crash, let go of the brake. It seems counterintuitive, but it has worked for me time and again. I think it's because the momentum keeps you rolling over the obstacles, but if you slow down you lose the momentum when you need it most and end up crashing.

  39. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by s0ckeyeus
    on a rigid. On a choppy surface, the back end often wants to come up, throwing you over the bars. If you move your weight back a bit more over the rear wheel, it will help keep the back end down and keep you from going over the bars. This isn't as big of an issue on a full suspension because the shock does most of the work for you.
    I have definately experienced this on my rigid bike, being back over the saddle keeps me on the bike.

  40. #40
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    You can learn with a full suspension bike. You don't have to build up a new build to get a feel for something. It's more about the attitude you bring. If you're just looking for a ride a set loop or explore more of the trail system at a comfortable/moderate pace, what do you expect to get out of it? A good fun time enjoying the sights while doing something fairly challenging or...?

    If you really are interested in the skills building aspect (I assume so since you're looking for advice), then the best way is through doing--trial and error, identifying flaws, working on technique, repetition, etc. Like other sports, you have conditioning and drills and other methods of finding peak performance. MTB doesn't seem to have become "serious" just yet, but I do notice performance being pushed more and more. Ever practice wheelies, manuals, bunny hops, cornering, tail whips (for switch backs), drops, technical climbs, or whatever just to work on that skill? Ever not clear a section and then retrace your path way back and try to ride it again to try and clear it? A rigid bike just simply demands that you ride well else you're probably going to get beat up. It's more for a masochistic tough guy type of person. Or for the type of person that likes to show off that it's the rider and not the equipment that makes them good.

    As for climbing, if you have conditioned your legs to spin (you don't put body weight on the pedal, you guide it through its circular motion, like clawing with your feet rather than pushing), the position closest to standing keeping just the slightest bend in your knee at the longest part of the stroke (right crank at 5 o'clock), is optimal for efficiency. Don't make it so high that your knees lock-out at that point. You just sacrifice DH performance, which this thread is about. I compromise and put my seat an inch lower since I don't like to contact the saddle when I don't want to. I hover over the seat and move a bit forward anyways, on the steepest and most technical of ascents.

    There's also a well known theory that the front of your right knee should be exactly over of the pedal axle with the right crank at 3 o'clock for optimal fit, which is known as "knee over pedal spindle". I think that KOPS system deals with a more ergonomic position which helps minimize knee issues which may develop over time due to poor bike fit, but I'm not sure of the science behind that.

    Like I said earlier, I'm not sure why people think they can just get into sport known to be dangerous like mountain biking and expect to learn just from riding. There are bike skills camps out there, like BetterRide.net, that run you through the basics and lead you into more advanced stuff and claim to instruct pros. There are pros like Greg Minnaar that run stuff like bikeskills, but I'm skeptical of his ability to instruct. There are also mountain bike parks sprouting up all over. These things popping up is a sign of MTB getting serious. That and some high schools in CO and TX are picking it up as a sport.

    I was taught the same thing about butt behind the saddle to counter not going over the bars under hard braking. I guess from there, it just carries over to any situation which they have to hit the brakes hard. That's why I call it a noobie move now, since I find that it just puts you into a death grip situation, since you're hanging on and you stop working with the bike. It's going to be a really hard habit to break if you ever want to become more aggressive (faster and harder charging) and pick up the attack stance. I'm not saying never be in that position, since I still find it useful for any time my front wheel is about to head down something steep until my rear wheel is about to go over too, I'm just saying there's more of an advantage to flowing with your bike rather than letting the bike take the lead over when you're being bounced around. It's hard to control the bounce in that position (since you give up a lot of the suspension your arms and legs have) and if the bounce transmits to your 4 points of contact, your hands and feet, what if you slip? If you don't slip, what kind of grip are you using on the bars?

    You say your rear bounces on a choppy surface, but I wonder how much. Too much pressure in your tires can cause that. Tires like different pressure for optimum performance, but I like experimenting under 35 psi. Bigger and higher volume tires and tough casing can get away with 20 psi. I only ever pinch flat if I'm not smooth; I usually only see pinch flats after a crash. You can control the bounce with better technique; you don't need to get back and hit the brakes. There's something called going dead sailor in the dirt jumping scene, which is basically doing nothing in the air and stiffening up from fear, which typically leads to ugly landings. Loosen up and flow and move with the bike. The rear can lift and move where it likes without much detrimental effect on where you're going--the front is what you should be controlling.

    I guess the attack position is relatively advanced and requires a certain mindset. Maybe I shouldn't criticize the passive style of riding so much by comparing the two. People straddle their saddle, their top tube, their brake levers, their grips, etc. when they feel their bike is getting out of control. People just need to overcome their fear. I suppose an instructor helps with that and why these skills camps are popping up a lot more.

    Here's something for the folks looking for an upgrade to help them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLxg0dbvokQ
    Last edited by Varaxis; 09-30-2010 at 06:01 PM.

  41. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by Varaxis
    I was taught the same thing about butt behind the saddle to counter not going over the bars under hard braking. I guess from there, it just carries over to any situation which they have to hit the brakes hard. That's why I call it a noobie move now, since I find that it just puts you into a death grip situation, since you're hanging on and you stop working with the bike. It's going to be a really hard habit to break if you ever want to become more aggressive (faster and harder charging) and pick up the attack stance. I'm not saying never be in that position, since I still find it useful for any time my front wheel is about to head down something steep until my rear wheel is about to go over too, I'm just saying there's more of an advantage to flowing with your bike rather than letting the bike take the lead over when you're being bounced around. It's hard to control the bounce in that position (since you give up a lot of the suspension your arms and legs have) and if the bounce transmits to your 4 points of contact, your hands and feet, what if you slip? If you don't slip, what kind of grip are you using on the bars?
    Now I know you're Joe Bigshot on the trail after a year of trail riding, but dial the assumptions back just a tad and assume that I'm not talking about the 5% grade of your mom's cracked driveway. Like it or not there are situations where you have to brake going down a steep, choppy descent. In these circumstances, it's best to have your weight back. Ask Ned Overend.

    Physics isn't just for newbies. Even roadies get their butts back when braking hard. Sometimes it's just good technique (check out the noob on the right). I'm not really sure you know what I'm talking about.

    Even on smooth trail, getting your weight back can help you stop faster:


    I apologize if I sound cranky. I am.

  42. #42
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    Tha graphic with The Four Steps to Great Braking is perfect. The guys were teaching me this tonight, in fact, and I was practicing it on my way home...a really solid, incredibly balanced and fast way to brake.

    As for having your butt behind the saddle...I threw myself over the handlebars tonight because I balked descending over a rock. Luckily one of the guys was with me and told me what I did wrong (my body was forward of the saddle and I braked right on top of the rock.) He showed me how to do it with my butt behind the saddle and when I did it that way, I cleared it without a problem.

    I'm finding that as I get stronger, I'm actually spending more time out of the saddle. For instance, there's a rocky climb that I can clear easily now, but only if I charge it and stay out of the saddle. And in general, if I stay off the saddle, especially going through a rock garden, I can go a lot faster and it's way less jarring.

    I'm also walking a lot less thru areas I don't know how to clear yet. I've started keeping one foot clipped in, but leave the other out and pedal that way, then when things get rough I use the unclipped foot to brace myself. And instead of walking the bike when it's really rough, I half pedal/creep which is probably slower than walking, but I think it gives me a better idea of how to ride thru these spots, than if I just walked my bike through them.

    Climbing is definately easier for me than downhill. I don't know if that's how it is in general for beginners or if having the rigid just makes DH more difficult to pull off when you're just starting out. I am finding that all I've learned here and what the group has been showing me has made an incredible difference big time. One of the biggest helps was being told to use my legs as my primary suspension. I did a pretty technical descent tonight and my wrists were still strong at the end of the ride, which was a first.

    Thanks again to everyone for all your help.

  43. #43
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    I saw that picture before and seeing it again makes me laugh since it seems so exaggerated.

    I'll just repeat what you quoted, since that picture doesn't change my opinion at all. Many people learned about getting back and low for this purpose, to stop really fast without going over the bars. The most likely place to hit the brakes hard is on a descent, so people use this technique there. While you say getting back is the best, I'm trying to say getting low while maintaining a position in which you have more use of your arms and legs is better. You simply need to be in a position to have your body's inertia transfer into you bike rather than over the bars.

    Look at his arms and legs. It's pretty hard to steer if you're riding the down the entire steep descent like that. If there's a drop of any sort with your arms extended like that, that's going to jerk you forward and if you held onto the front brake lever, the wheel may have locked up mid-air, and you may get bucked over anyways. Hit a large bump and your front may bounce and you will likely recovery safely and have it pointed clear again, but what happens if the rear hits the bump? His legs are already almost fully bent. That saddle is going to hit him in his gut. If you get some wind knocked out... **** happens. You should note that his saddle is low as well.

  44. #44
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    I found myself thinking about this thread when I was messing around on some mellower trails in my area on my 'cross bike. It's not quite the same thing, obviously, but mine is currently set up for a more mountain-bikey feel.

    I was reminded just how much more a rigid bike has to move around than even my hardtail. I think that what a whole lot of technique comes down to, whether it's pedaling technique and KOPS (which I think is somewhat bogus, but whatever,) descending and braking technique, or climbing out of the saddle, is staying centered over the pedals, relative to whichever way the force is coming from them. Centered, my arms are free to be relaxed and let the front end of the bike do whatever it needs to. Cantilever brakes and road levers make that a bit harder. I guess our legs are enough stronger to be both load-bearing and relaxed at the same time.

    Anyway, I think that both getting further back to brake and the KOPS business are indirect ways of trying to keep the rider lined up well relative to the pedals, and the force the pedals are exerting on the riders feet. In the flats, pedaling, the pedal exerts a force that's directly in opposition to the force exerted by the rider. We do better exerting force in line with our centers, and the knee happens to land more-or-less in line with the pedal spindle if the rider's torso's center of mass is also pretty much over it. Most of the time, since we don't put all our weight into the forward pedal, riders tend to end up with their centers a little back of vertically above the pedal, with some weight on the saddle and some on the back pedal.

    I think KOPS is somewhat bogus. Here's an article that I like, and that explains it better than I would.

    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/kops.html

    FWIW, getting low means that less horizontal displacement is required for a rider to have a more rearward angle relative to the pedals and front wheel. I don't think that there's as much actual disagreement here as it might appear.
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  45. #45
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    Quote Originally Posted by Varaxis
    I saw that picture before and seeing it again makes me laugh since it seems so exaggerated.
    You should go out and experiment. Find a good hill to run. Get going to 20mph or so and hit the brakes hard. If you use the technique in that picture, whether or not it's exaggerated, you will slow down faster. I used this technique on my commuter braking on a hill this morning, as I do every week day morning. It helps.

    Quote Originally Posted by Varaxis
    While you say getting back is the best, I'm trying to say getting low while maintaining a position in which you have more use of your arms and legs is better. You simply need to be in a position to have your body's inertia transfer into you bike rather than over the bars.
    Which often times is slightly behind the saddle. It's not just either getting low or getting back. It's kind of hard to be high and back. I'm not sure how you can go down a steep section just being low and not going back. I don't know about you, but I don't want to have my head lower than my butt.

    Quote Originally Posted by Varaxis
    Look at his arms and legs. It's pretty hard to steer if you're riding the down the entire steep descent like that.
    You wouldn't ride the entire descent like that. It'd probably be more like the pic below. Notice his angle in relation to the hill and how his weight is centered more over the back wheel (the camera might be tilted just slightly to the left making the hill look steeper).


    Quote Originally Posted by Varaxis
    If there's a drop of any sort with your arms extended like that, that's going to jerk you forward and if you held onto the front brake lever, the wheel may have locked up mid-air, and you may get bucked over anyways. Hit a large bump and your front may bounce and you will likely recovery safely and have it pointed clear again, but what happens if the rear hits the bump? His legs are already almost fully bent. That saddle is going to hit him in his gut. If you get some wind knocked out... **** happens. You should note that his saddle is low as well.
    A "one size fits all" approach doesn't work. You can't ride in the same position the whole time. Good riders stay light and adapt their body position for the terrain. No one would ride a long descent like the braking picture I posted (from Lee Likes Bikes, BTW). That was meant to show technique when braking fast. Notice this guy's position:


    and this guy's:



    Part of riding well is knowing how to weight the bike. As far as braking is concerned, it's often best to stay off the brakes as much as possible on descents, only applying the brakes when necessary. When it is necessary keep your center of gravity low and toward the back wheel. DH riders lower their seats to make this movement easier, but it can be done with a higher saddle as well.

    I'll finish my post with a couple quotes from Ned Overend:
    "You need to bake on most steep downhills to control your speed, but this also is the riskiest time to touch those levers. Sometimes, braking in an attempt to prevent a crash can actually cause one. A classic example is when you panic a bit and hit your front brake hard without first putting your weight back. With such a high center of gravity, you pitch forward--maybe right over the handlebar. To preven this, always descend steep grades with your body pushed way back. Don't lock your elbows straight though. You still need some bend to absorb shock and maintain steering control." (Mountain Bike Like a Champion, pg 44-45)

    "On a steep downhill, all of your braking power is at the front wheel and all of your weight moves forward. The rear wheel can get so light that it leaves the ground." (Mountain Bike Like a Champion, pg 104)

  46. #46
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    When I roll down something short and steep, I don't necessarily hang all the way back over the rear wheel.

    I'll definitely get my upper body low over the bike, which also tends to put me towards the rear of the bike. Often the steep spots here level out very abruptly, or even steepen for the last foot or two. So I want to be able to pull the front wheel up before I hit the level ground. For that, I need some freedom of movement which I wouldn't have hanging all the way back. Definitely no braking when doing that.

    Riding rigid, I feel like I need my legs to handle the front suspension's job too. The hands just fine tune what exactly the front is doing. Otherwise I'd kill my wrists in no time.

    "it IS possible that you are faster or slower than anybody else who is having at least as much if not more or less fun"

  47. #47
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    Quote Originally Posted by perttime
    When I roll down something short and steep, I don't necessarily hang all the way back over the rear wheel.

    I'll definitely get my upper body low over the bike, which also tends to put me towards the rear of the bike. Often the steep spots here level out very abruptly, or even steepen for the last foot or two. So I want to be able to pull the front wheel up before I hit the level ground. For that, I need some freedom of movement which I wouldn't have hanging all the way back. Definitely no braking when doing that.

    Riding rigid, I feel like I need my legs to handle the front suspension's job too. The hands just fine tune what exactly the front is doing. Otherwise I'd kill my wrists in no time.
    Yep, lots of soft gripping.

  48. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by s0ckeyeus
    Now I know you're Joe Bigshot on the trail after a year of trail riding, but dial the assumptions back just a tad and assume that I'm not talking about the 5% grade of your mom's cracked driveway. Like it or not there are situations where you have to brake going down a steep, choppy descent. In these circumstances, it's best to have your weight back. Ask Ned Overend.

    Physics isn't just for newbies. Even roadies get their butts back when braking hard. Sometimes it's just good technique (check out the noob on the right). I'm not really sure you know what I'm talking about.

    Even on smooth trail, getting your weight back can help you stop faster:


    I apologize if I sound cranky. I am.
    I do not agree 100% wit this type of training. When the rider is behind thje saddle and low, the center of gravity is over the rear wheel.. what does that do? no weight in the front, thus the front wheel will slide out. Seems we do things different here in BC.
    Rider weight should be centered to the bike as much as possible, less chance of crashing, going over the bars doesn't mean you need to get completely behind the saddle, as long as you're off it, and back somewhat and your body lowered, arms bent NOT FULLY EXTENT AS IN THE PIC, you will not go over the bars. Worse thing is fully extended arms... no control at all over the bike with no weight on the front wheel = kiss your a$$ goodbye.
    EDIT: The third pic is just bad... I wouldn't be that far behind on ANY steep descent, my god your destined to harm yourself badly like that .

  49. #49
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    Sock, like what AndrwSwitch mentioned, we're saying almost the same thing, only that we're emphasizing different details and the interpretation that got across needed more elaboration to clear it up. I'm trying to stick to the topic of DH tips trying to explain what I learned that helped me get past my noobie days and now being able ride some of the gnarliest trails, while you're mainly attacking me trying to illustrate your point using a few photos that your opinion differs from mine that my general statement that getting behind the saddle is a noobie move. I've been trying to emphasize retaining use of your arms and legs and how the popular image of getting way back like can be interpreted poorly.

    Most of your new post has bits of info of exactly what I've tried to explain, except you keep bolding the keep weight back parts. Re-read what I've said, I pointed out a few places where getting back is. Don't underestimate how easy it is to interpret those pictures as good technique for going DH from a noobie's point of view. I'll be assumptive again and say that I'm glad that you agree with me so much.

    Pictures can capture movements people use for a split second and may be interpreted wrong by those without experience. Use videos of true high level mountain biking technique... it's 2010. I consider the the difference between the Lee Likes Bikes pic and the guy in red to be very noticeable--that's why I said it was so exaggerated that I laughed. In that last pic, if you read what I said (this'll be the 3rd time), extending the arms like that is useful for setting your front wheel down a drop until your rear starts to head over.

    I criticized your 4-steps photo mainly since I saw Tank Girl getting excited all about and I was worried that she got the wrong interpretation out of it. That's all that's between us. You see one line and ignore the support and attack me for it. I tried to stick to the topic and clear up what you've been spitting out. If you or anyone read the rest of my wall of text, they'd understand better. What do you think a beginner would do if you simply told them to get your weight back behind the saddle on descents would do? You'd think they'd return to a more centered position mid-way?

    Staying low, an alternative to getting far back behind the saddle:



    Some recent DH action:

    <object width='500' height='281'><param name='allowFullScreen' value='true' /><param name='AllowScriptAccess' value='always' /><param name='movie' value='http://www.pinkbike.com/v/156663' /><embed src='http://www.pinkbike.com/v/156663' type='application/x-shockwave-flash' width='500' height='281' allowFullScreen='true' AllowScriptAccess='always' /></embed></object>

    PS: Please stop quoting/reposting that terribly exaggerated 4-step pic. I'd just like to see that go away.

  50. #50
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    Quote Originally Posted by wickerman1
    I do not agree 100% wit this type of training. When the rider is behind thje saddle and low, the center of gravity is over the rear wheel.. what does that do? no weight in the front, thus the front wheel will slide out. Seems we do things different here in BC.
    Rider weight should be centered to the bike as much as possible, less chance of crashing, going over the bars doesn't mean you need to get completely behind the saddle, as long as you're off it, and back somewhat and your body lowered, arms bent NOT FULLY EXTENT AS IN THE PIC, you will not go over the bars. Worse thing is fully extended arms... no control at all over the bike with no weight on the front wheel = kiss your a$$ goodbye.
    EDIT: The third pic is just bad... I wouldn't be that far behind on ANY steep descent, my god your destined to harm yourself badly like that .
    Weight back will increase rear wheel braking force ... and the braking force will drive the front wheel down and increase front wheel braking force. A neutral position leaves almost no rear wheal braking force.

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