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  1. #1
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    Improving Descending Skills, Confidence

    I live on the east coast (Washington, DC area) and primarily do races in the region (VA, PA, etc). This is my second year of racing and MTB riding, mid-pack expert in local races, 31 years old.

    My strong suit is fitness, and my weak spot is skill descending technical, rocky singletrack (common in the region). Based on my limited observation, I am giving up time here to the majority of my competitors. I get out on the trails about once or twice per week, and most other days am training on the road.

    I have technical rocky singletrack at my disposal to train on (e.g. Frederick Watershed, Gambrill, Elizabeth Furnace, etc). However I feel that I am making slow progress at best.

    Any thoughtful advice for improving besides following faster riders? Is it just experience? I'm looking for advice from others who have had similar challenges and figured out ways to improve (drills, etc?)
    Last edited by jared_j; 07-31-2011 at 09:48 AM. Reason: clarity

  2. #2
    Fat-tired Roadie
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    You're probably a better descender than me - I'm mid-pack sport, with the same problem.

    But, FWIW. I was trying really hard to go faster for a while, and brought up the problem with my team. One of my teammates suggested that it's actually better to focus on riding singletrack smoothly and in control. Getting faster just happens. I think I'm doing better than I was. I also tried to get more training days off-road.

    There's a great thread on cornering faster a little further down the page.

    EDIT: Whoa! Second year racing? Either your series is not very competitive, or you've got a hell of an engine. Singletrack skills take time to develop. Doesn't change the comments above, but bear in mind that you're competing with people who've raced DH, dirt bikes, were BMX kids, have been riding mountain bikes for over a decade, etc.
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  3. #3
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    -Find a group ride/faster riders and bust your ass to follow them, watch their lines, look at their body positioning. How do they anticipate terrain, are they shifting gears, rising up out of the saddle, leaning to one side or another ,etc. All crucial stuff.
    -Ride specifically for working on skills, not fitness. On a easy day of training, go ride a small loop and work on cornering, technical skills, short climbs, rock gardens etc. Then do it again and again. Just like a basketball player practices free throws and shooting with skills work you need to do the same "Amateurs do it till they can get it right, PRO's do it till they can't get it wrong"
    -Stay off the brakes, carry your momentum into technical trails and use your speed to conquer terrain
    -If you want to hit it, look at; if you want to hit that big rock in your way put your eyes on it and you will run into it. That being said, you should be looking up and through the terrain for a clean line and an exit point. Put your eyes on your exit point and the bike will get there
    -Play with tire pressure to make sure you're not bouncing around in the rocks
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  4. #4
    is turning a big gear
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    It sounds like you are a stong rider, but just newer to the MTB. Unless there is some specific weakness (inability to pick a line, fear of crashing, nervousness) you will generally get better over time.

    There are some people that were born on a bike and can dig through corners much faster than I ever can.

  5. #5
    is turning a big gear
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    Quote Originally Posted by sprocketjockey9 View Post
    -Find a group ride/faster riders and bust your ass to follow them, watch their lines, look at their body positioning. How do they anticipate terrain, are they shifting gears, rising up out of the saddle, leaning to one side or another ,etc. All crucial stuff.
    -Ride specifically for working on skills, not fitness. On a easy day of training, go ride a small loop and work on cornering, technical skills, short climbs, rock gardens etc. Then do it again and again. Just like a basketball player practices free throws and shooting with skills work you need to do the same "Amateurs do it till they can get it right, PRO's do it till they can't get it wrong"
    -Stay off the brakes, carry your momentum into technical trails and use your speed to conquer terrain
    -If you want to hit it, look at; if you want to hit that big rock in your way put your eyes on it and you will run into it. That being said, you should be looking up and through the terrain for a clean line and an exit point. Put your eyes on your exit point and the bike will get there
    -Play with tire pressure to make sure you're not bouncing around in the rocks
    Uh yeah... what he said. Good post.

  6. #6
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    Check out the bikeskills channel on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/bikeskills
    betterride.net has some really good articles. This one is my favorite: http://betterride.net/blog/2011/how-...body-position/
    Check out the thread in the all mountain forum for the link to the fabien barel skills video. It a good watch.
    The mountain bike skills book by Lopes/Mccormack is worth checking out.

  7. #7
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    Another point to add to the rest - lots of people ride with their fingers on their brakes when they descend. It feels safe and natural. Try it with your hands on the grips, not the brakes. It takes away the temptation to brake a little bit, and gives you more control. Just something you might be overlooking.

  8. #8
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    Used to struggle to keep up on the DH's. Was one of the slower descenders. Bought a Dropper seatpost 5 years and just got used to going faster and faster on the DH with it. Now I only use it on my freeride bike and the race bike has a normal post, but the confidence it gave me carried over. I have not one time been passed on a DH in the last 2 years during a race. In fact it has turned into my strongest area.

  9. #9
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    Agree with all the above. But will add this:

    Get a 29er, if you don't already ride one. The more technical the terrain, the more it gives an advantage. The big wheels just run everything over. It's like Godzilla crushing villages.

    Also, keep your fork in optimal working condition. I recently got a PUSH rebuild and it makes a pretty big difference on fork performance.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poncharelli View Post
    Agree with all the above. But will add this:

    Get a 29er, if you don't already ride one. The more technical the terrain, the more it gives an advantage. The big wheels just run everything over. It's like Godzilla crushing villages.

    Also, keep your fork in optimal working condition. I recently got a PUSH rebuild and it makes a pretty big difference on fork performance.
    I strongly agree! I got my 1st mtnb in June of 09, did my first race about a month ago and finished mid pack in sport. I recently bought my giant anthemx2 29er. My husband saw such an improvement in my riding we went back to the dealer to get him one.

  11. #11
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    Make sure you have confidence in your tires also. My racing ralph's hook up real good, and I know the limits of them.

  12. #12
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    Best thing that helped me descending was getting light on the front wheel and mostly hopping the obstacles or using them to hop since you'll land smoother/faster than just rolling over them.

    2nd is knowing when to brake and when not to brake. When going through a tougher technical section it is best to not even touch the front brake like someone else suggested.

  13. #13
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    1. Watch a good video like Roam. Yeah, the free ride stuff is completely different than an xc course, but pay attention to rider moves. They make that huge stuff look smooth. Same moves apply on xc courses on an xc bike. Repeat: watch it like a 5 yr old watching Cars for the billionth time. Visualization can help huge.

    2. If you can, get to a ski area with a lift and spend a day or two just working the dh, even check into a lesson if the are has them, or find a better rider to go with you and get pointers. Stay off the full DH courses, of course, but just spend time working on your flow.

    3. Find a flow track near you and log some hours on it. Also, spend time on a grassy field working on track stands, wheelies, bunny hopping, and then move up to basic trails moves like bunny hop turns, hopping side to side, pivoting on your front wheel, etc... Think of time in the grass like a soccer player juggling a ball in practice: it's not something you do in competition but it works on your touch and makes you better overall.

    4. TITS, Time In The Saddle on the trails. This also includes races and trying to stay on riders wheels. Also, find a tech section beyond your skill level and repeat until you make it, don't just give up and walk through after just one try.

    5. all the other people's tips above.

    I'm a crappy climber, so I make most of my passes in the tech or DH. Often times, I get to wear out the fitter rider by making them catch and pass me after every tech section.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Whambat View Post
    1. Watch a good video like Roam. Yeah, the free ride stuff is completely different than an xc course, but pay attention to rider moves. They make that huge stuff look smooth. Same moves apply on xc courses on an xc bike. Repeat: watch it like a 5 yr old watching Cars for the billionth time. Visualization can help huge.

    2. If you can, get to a ski area with a lift and spend a day or two just working the dh, even check into a lesson if the are has them, or find a better rider to go with you and get pointers. Stay off the full DH courses, of course, but just spend time working on your flow.

    3. Find a flow track near you and log some hours on it. Also, spend time on a grassy field working on track stands, wheelies, bunny hopping, and then move up to basic trails moves like bunny hop turns, hopping side to side, pivoting on your front wheel, etc... Think of time in the grass like a soccer player juggling a ball in practice: it's not something you do in competition but it works on your touch and makes you better overall.

    4. TITS, Time In The Saddle on the trails. This also includes races and trying to stay on riders wheels. Also, find a tech section beyond your skill level and repeat until you make it, don't just give up and walk through after just one try.

    5. all the other people's tips above.

    I'm a crappy climber, so I make most of my passes in the tech or DH. Often times, I get to wear out the fitter rider by making them catch and pass me after every tech section.
    I agree. Descending is my strong suit, extended clims are what kill me. Try to get your hands on a bike built for descending (it doesnt have to be a dh bike, any good 140mm slack bike will be great), put on some knee pads, and go push it to your limits. As mentioned above, watching the collective series is a great way to see how the pros do it. My other advice is to go easy on the climbs and flats when you are out practicing descending. Too many people ride super hard to the top and then rest on the way down You wouldn't tell me to go all out on the downhills if I was trying to improve my climbing skills.

    Edit: one more thing. LOWER your seat. A low seat is as important to descending as a raised one is to climbing. You won't be able to do this in a race without a dropper post, but once you understand your body position, you can make due by backing off the seat. Descending is physically difficult. If you aren't tired after a long descent, you aren't pushing hard enough.

  15. #15
    Rod
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    There's a lot of great information in this post. I will add that you need to specifically go out and work on your bike handling skills instead of riding a trail as fast as possible. Work on being smooth through the rocky sections and the downhills. Follow faster riders and see how they ride the sections. Be careful choosing your lines and realize that being smooth is fast. If you're on a full squish you can plow through more areas instead of choosing your lines very carefully if you were riding a hardtail. Get into the attack position and push your limits safely.
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  16. #16
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    Raise your bars a bit, use wider bars (if you are on a narrow setup), run a bigger/more aggressive front tire.

    I've found if I ride with a bigger front tire for a bit, then switch back to my normal race setup, that most of the confidence I picked up with the larger tire carries over.

  17. #17
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    it's the size of your nads and trusting your bike / fork etc....I out descend most of the field when i race but they out climb me.... just let it go you will be amazed at what your bike is capable of riding through / over with some momentum...it's quite amusing sometimes how I will overtake the same person about 5 times in a race when we go down but on the flats and the ups they overtake me....also on fast turns during descents some people tend to hang off the back of the bike...getting some weight forward helps weight the front and stops washouts....

  18. #18
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    NO FEAR. The less you think about it the better. Let go of your fear and your instinct will follow through. Some people are better suited for this than others. I would say that if you are not a natural descender then more time in the saddle descending is key.
    Also. many people let the bike control them instead of them controlling the bike.You have to be in an aggressive body position. Weight over the bars, back flat, body low, elbows out. Look as far down the trail as possible and dont look at what is directly in front of you. Many riders will ride off the back of the saddle when descending un-weighting the front. No good accept for the steepest of the steep.
    Brake early into turns not in the turn. Look around the corner and not the apex. This will help you round the corner and accelerate out.
    And finally the holy grail. Counter steer. Once you get really good at descending use your body english and lean to help your cornering. You actually push your bars in the opposite direction of the turn as you lean your body around the corner. Just as you would on a motorcycle. These are tricks I have learned from DH racers and have applied. It works. Give these tips a try.

  19. #19
    Master of Beat
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    TITS and confidence go hand and hand.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by attomixt View Post
    TITS and confidence go hand and hand.
    Um yes, words to live by right there...

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