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  1. #1
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    Help on side hills trails

    I was racing at Douthat State park this past weekend. The majority of the descending there takes place on side hill trails. Lots of long straight(ish) stretches tied together by sharp switchbacks.

    This type of descending is definitely a huge weakness for me and I can't figure out exactly why. In other situations where there isn't the sidehill drop off I'm significantly better. My cornering and turn carving is improving a lot, and getting down rough/ rocky stuff isn't too bad. But put me on smooth side hill trails and I slow down dramatically and fear over-ride the fun factor.

    Getting through the switchbacks is actually ok (left handers easier than right handers)

    The trails are typical conservation corp trails, some off camber situations but for the most part narrow trails cut into the side of the mountain. They aren't particularly rough though are a tad loose.

    It just seems like I can't let it go on these trails and am constantly brake checking and controlling speed. Even though they are not any narrower than other trails the feeling of smacking a tree seems more prevalant. And the vision of cartwheeling down the mountain enters my mind.

    Any suggestions?
    -Looking down the trail more is an obvious one that I know and 'try' to practice
    -Any thoughts on bike lean/body lean?
    -I think I'm placing my body wrong in a defensive reaction to the drop off to one side.

  2. #2
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    The only way to turn off the "Danger! Danger!" signals going off in your mind is to practice a whole bunch. Trust your bike and your skills. On your road bike can you ride on a painted line at high speeds for a long time? Try it, I bet you can. If you can do that, you can hold a line on narrow singletrack, it's just the exposure on the one side that's freaking you out.

    BTW, I graduated from VT in 1992. Started mountain biking at Price and Brush mountain and did my first races at Rowdy Dawg and Craig County Escape in the late 80s. Miss the great riding, although I hear the riding at Price is pretty much gone.

  3. #3
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    1) Use a lower gear with spinning to keep you and the bike steadier as opposed to power mashing which can make everything go side to side as you pedal.
    2) Lean a teeny bit toward the hill "in case" of screw up.
    3) Keep your gaze closer to the front tire rather than the normal distance ahead helps, too.
    4) Stabilize your shoulders and keep your upper body still.
    5) Maybe a good exercise would be to purposely fall toward the mountain side of the trail so you can see that you are pretty safe after all.
    Last edited by cgee; 09-18-2006 at 01:45 PM.

  4. #4
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    Hah we have a trailed called Sideshow Bob.

    Steep side hill traverse. This summer probably five people have learned to ride this trail well.

    Some have fallen off.

    Part of peoples' fear on steep sidehills is exposure to a slip and a fall.

    Believe it or not on very steep hills a fall will result in a roll of several feet at most without any damage (that wouldn't occur from the original fall). Best solution follow some other beginners and watch them fall (Volunteer Probes).

    Once I learned this trail I ride it like any other I don't lean or favour once side or the other, that makes it harder.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by BipedZed
    The only way to turn off the "Danger! Danger!" signals going off in your mind is to practice a whole bunch. Trust your bike and your skills. On your road bike can you ride on a painted line at high speeds for a long time? Try it, I bet you can. If you can do that, you can hold a line on narrow singletrack, it's just the exposure on the one side that's freaking you out.

    BTW, I graduated from VT in 1992. Started mountain biking at Price and Brush mountain and did my first races at Rowdy Dawg and Craig County Escape in the late 80s. Miss the great riding, although I hear the riding at Price is pretty much gone.
    Price mtn is still there. The ATVs have created some seriously bermed corners. In one way they screwed it all up but from another perspective it's sort of fun. Lots of the trails up there are overgrown and some are really rough/loose. Some of those climbs are so steep that it is great practice for controlling your front wheel. My friend lives up there. I need to get out there more to diversivy my riding which would help my skills in general.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by cgee
    1) Use a lower gear with spinning to keep you and the bike steadier as opposed to power mashing which can make everything go side to side as you pedal.
    2) Lean a teeny bit toward the hill "in case" of screw up.
    3) Keep your gaze closer to the front tire rather than the normal distance ahead helps, too.
    4) Stabilize your shoulders and keep your upper body still.
    5) Maybe a good exercise would be to purposely fall toward the mountain side of the trail so you can see that you are pretty safe after all.
    This contains some interesting advice.
    2)If you lean a litle bit towards the hill you take weight off your tires and move it to the uphill side of the bike which makes the bike want to slide downhill.

    You actually want your weight on the downhill pedal with the bike leaned a little into the hill (to counter balance you). Doing this puts your weight on over your contact patch giving you better traction. I know this is counter intuitive because you are putting weight towards the fall away side but by doing it you won't fall and your focus is on making the trail, not falling.

    3) This one puzzles me. I am curious why you would ever want to look closer to your front wheel. Please explain this to me. Thanks
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by BetterRide
    This contains some interesting advice.
    2)If you lean a litle bit towards the hill you take weight off your tires and move it to the uphill side of the bike which makes the bike want to slide downhill.

    You actually want your weight on the downhill pedal with the bike leaned a little into the hill (to counter balance you). Doing this puts your weight on over your contact patch giving you better traction. I know this is counter intuitive because you are putting weight towards the fall away side but by doing it you won't fall and your focus is on making the trail, not falling.

    3) This one puzzles me. I am curious why you would ever want to look closer to your front wheel. Please explain this to me. Thanks
    Gene, thanks for addressing this thread. I have used your teachings to improve almost all aspects of my descending, but this one area has not seen as much improvement. I'm trying to figure out how to take the fundamentals you taught me and apply them.

    I agree that the previous poster's advice seemed to against everything that I know works.

    -Using a lower gear causes MORE side to side instability. A higher gear serves to stabilize the body. Too high a gear I could see causing side-to-side sway

    -Leaning towards the hill causes washouts of the front/rear tire more easily.

    -looking at the front tire is recipe for disaster.

    This is what I was looking for:
    ----------------
    You actually want your weight on the downhill pedal with the bike leaned a little into the hill (to counter balance you). Doing this puts your weight on over your contact patch giving you better traction. I know this is counter intuitive because you are putting weight towards the fall away side but by doing it you won't fall and your focus is on making the trail, not falling.
    ---------------

    One thing I noticed is I ride much worse when the trail drops off to the left. That is because my strong foot is my right foot. So when descending (and not pedaling) my right foot is always forward and on the uphill side. So my weight is naturally more biased to the uphill side.

    On trails that drop off to the right I feel noticeably better.

    Do you change which pedal you have forward depending on which side the hill drops off to? It's very awkward to have my left pedal (weak foot) forward for any length of time. But I imagine that is a good skill to have to adapt to different situations.

    thanks

  8. #8
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    Eaxctamundo, I couldn't quite figure out WTF he was on about. We have such trails here and I find it's best to have weight on the outside pedal to help "dig" the tyre in - especially on off camber stuff and as said lean the bike in towards the face. Only trail I have this same problem on that's like this is one that's filled with roots, very narrow, very overgrown and slippery as hell when wet - Add to that the fact that we generally really only ride it at night and Whoa.

    Best thing is practice and heed the above advice - weight on outside pedal, bike leaned in towards face, look down the trail so you know what's coming.

    Quote Originally Posted by BetterRide
    This contains some interesting advice.
    2)If you lean a litle bit towards the hill you take weight off your tires and move it to the uphill side of the bike which makes the bike want to slide downhill.

    You actually want your weight on the downhill pedal with the bike leaned a little into the hill (to counter balance you). Doing this puts your weight on over your contact patch giving you better traction. I know this is counter intuitive because you are putting weight towards the fall away side but by doing it you won't fall and your focus is on making the trail, not falling.

    3) This one puzzles me. I am curious why you would ever want to look closer to your front wheel. Please explain this to me. Thanks
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by ashwinearl
    Do you change which pedal you have forward depending on which side the hill drops off to? It's very awkward to have my left pedal (weak foot) forward for any length of time. But I imagine that is a good skill to have to adapt to different situations.
    Unless I'm not understanding what a sidehill descent is, I'm not sure why you would change your descending position or do anything different. A sidehill is just a trail that cuts across the fall line on a mountain, it's still just a normal singletrack trail, just with a drop on one side. Is that correct? The problem you are having is all mental, in that the fear of consequences is preventing you from letting go and descending normally.

    I wouldn't change foot position from what you are comfortable with. The last thing you want is to be more worried and awkward during a sidehill descent.

    The further forward you look, the straighter will you go, and the more time you will have to deal with upcoming terrain conditions. Try riding on the painted lines on your road bike looking far ahead. You'll see that you can hold a very straight line without much effort. This applies to sidehill singletrack as well - you won't go off the trail. Speed comes with confidence.
    Last edited by BipedZed; 09-19-2006 at 07:20 AM.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by BipedZed
    Unless I'm not understanding what a sidehill descent is, I'm not sure why you would change your descending position or do anything different. A sidehill is just a trail that cuts across the fall line on a mountain, it's still just a normal singletrack trail, just with a drop on one side. Is that correct? The problem you are having is all mental, in that the fear of consequences is preventing you from letting go and descending normally.

    I wouldn't change foot position from what you are comfortable with. The last thing you want is to be more worried and awkward during a sidehill descent.

    The further forward you look, the straighter will you go, and the more time you will have to deal with upcoming terrain conditions. Try riding on the painted lines on your road bike looking far ahead. You'll see that you can hold a very straight line without much effort. This applies to sidehill singletrack as well - you won't go off the trail. Speed comes with confidence.
    All of the above is great advice.

    I think Ashwin is talking about a side hill like you mentioned but the trail itself is also off-camber (sloping towards the downside). In these cases I actually drop my outside foot to really weight and lean my bike into the hill to counter balance myself. There was a section of trail like this in the last two NORBA Nationals at Snowshoe (2004-05). It was 6 feet wide and tall (about a 45 degree angle) 50 feet long and muddy and full of wet roots. Most riders (including me) could not commit to puttting enough weight on their downhill pedal (because it was scary) and rode a slower line at the bottom of the off-camber. The lower line went up and over the bases of trees and was much slower but was a 100% option for me. I only saw 5 riders taking the high fast line, Greg Minnar, John Kircaldie, Colin Bailey, Chris Delbosco and Ben Hulse, the rest of the pro field was taking the low line. This was when the student out did his teacher, Ben Hulse is a 16 year old kid I coach who I showed the line and the technique and he just said, "OK" and pinned it! Oh, to be 16 and indestructable again!

    As for Ashwin comment on the lower gear he is correct too. Using a lower gear and spinning faster puts you off balance, at slow speeds you use pedal pressure to help balance yourself.

    I am always looking to learn and improve and would like to hear the poster's reasoning for looking less far ahead. That goes against what I know and do but I am certainally not perfect.
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  11. #11
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    I keep my gaze closer to my front tire because it reduces peripheral vision. By reducing peripheral vision you see less of the downhill cliff. A lower gaze also brings my chin closer to my chest which stabilizes my shoulders and keeps me still. This reduces the chance of falling.

    I lean a little toward the hillside because if I do screw up I can force the fall toward the hillside rather than going head first down the cliff.

    I use a lower gear because while spinning my legs work more smoothly and I can keep my body still.

    Everyone has their own style and way of riding. There are no rights or wrongs. Use whatever information works and keep an open mind.

    A side note: It's funny how people who post on message boards automatically assume that other posters are male. I've learned alot about how men rip into each other and scathe each other from forums. Perhaps my style of doing hillsides is only appropriate for women's bodies?

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by BipedZed
    Unless I'm not understanding what a sidehill descent is, I'm not sure why you would change your descending position or do anything different. A sidehill is just a trail that cuts across the fall line on a mountain, it's still just a normal singletrack trail, just with a drop on one side. Is that correct? The problem you are having is all mental, in that the fear of consequences is preventing you from letting go and descending normally.

    I wouldn't change foot position from what you are comfortable with. The last thing you want is to be more worried and awkward during a sidehill descent.

    The further forward you look, the straighter will you go, and the more time you will have to deal with upcoming terrain conditions. Try riding on the painted lines on your road bike looking far ahead. You'll see that you can hold a very straight line without much effort. This applies to sidehill singletrack as well - you won't go off the trail. Speed comes with confidence.
    Yes you're correct. For the most part the trails I am having trouble on are NOT offcamber, In fact I seem to do better when it is off camber because I do weight the outside more. The trails are as you describe, just like regular single track but with a drop to one side.

  13. #13
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    No trees, shrubs, rocks etc.....

    .......along the trail that would make you feel like you might hit one and get knocked off the edge? That's about the ony time I feel unsafe when riding such trails.

    Quote Originally Posted by ashwinearl
    Yes you're correct. For the most part the trails I am having trouble on are NOT offcamber, In fact I seem to do better when it is off camber because I do weight the outside more. The trails are as you describe, just like regular single track but with a drop to one side.
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by LyNx
    .......along the trail that would make you feel like you might hit one and get knocked off the edge? That's about the ony time I feel unsafe when riding such trails.

    There are several trees on the downhill side. Some stumps. One time years ago on this local sidehill trail I was railing with some friends, right on their tail, then my pedal hit a small stump and I somersaulted off the edge. Like someone said I didn't fall to my death but I've never been the same on these types of trails.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by cgee
    A side note: It's funny how people who post on message boards automatically assume that other posters are male. I've learned alot about how men rip into each other and scathe each other from forums. Perhaps my style of doing hillsides is only appropriate for women's bodies?
    I hope you are not referring to me (as to ripping in to) I was curious to your choice in technique and asked. Thanks for explaining your technique. Having been personally attacked many times on this forum (instead of discussing why they disagree) I wanted to open a dicussion, not "rip in to you".
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    Just wanted to chime in on this topic.

    I noticed several times this season that when I got onto some narrow sidehill singletrack and when I started getting that "Oh Sh#t, I'm off balance and gonna ride off the edge feeling", the moment, and I mean the moment I focused on really looking ahead, trusting that my peripherial vision had already picked up the rocks and roots directly in front of me. Instantly I regained my balance and that uneasy feeling went away, never getting close to riding off the edge. As Gene teachs, the voodoo mind trick really works. However, most of us, including me, do not trust our peripherial vision, so it takes constant work.

    Once a week, I would do the figure 8 drill, focusing on constantly looking ahead, looking way past the corner. I found that this drill really helps my weak side (turning right) Sounds like turning right or exposure to the left, in which case you are normally turning right, is also your weak side. This drill also taught me to put subtle pressure on the handle bar, not true countersteering in this case, to correct myself when I'm off balance. Case in point would be in doing tight switchbacks especially to my weaker side, the right side. Sounds like you already have been working on the hip turn.

    Look at it, forget it. Scan ahead....WAY ahead. Farther than you can imagine. I know that when I don't do this, is when I struggle.

    Bottomline....listen to Gene.

  17. #17
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    Hi BetterRide, I don't consider your statements to be ripping.

  18. #18
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    I understand the part about downhill pedal low. But arn't you guys pedalling??

    If it isn't off camber?? Ride as though it is not offcamber (flat) without exposure

    What about the corners in and out of gulleys. I'm leaning out on some of them.

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