Much harder question to answer than increasing power etc, but my greatest limiter is proving to be maintaining speed through technical wooded singletrack. My regional races all feature loamy singletrack with a lot of roots, often off camber and plenty of slippery descents, no rock.
The best guys in my class are screaming away from me in this tricky stuff. Now I'm not a complete incompetent, I do have skills and a reasonable ability to save front wheel wash out etc, but I've got to get myself some more of this free speed.
Riding a Scott Scale 26" with Bontrager xr2 at 24psi up front and xr1 at 26psi rear.
600mm flat bar, bike weight 20lbs.
I have, in the past, used the following techniques:
1) Ride "no brakes". I literally try hard not to touch the brakes at all. My coach, when I rode briefly with a High Performance program as a junior, actually disengaged our V-brakes at the time and had us race some sections (obviously a few years ago now!)
2) Remember to take corners 'outside/inside' as most riders go inside/outside. Better yet of course is outside/inside/outside to maintain speed. Some disagreement on this, but as a general rule, I've found it helpful.
3) Have someone chase you and yell at your through sections like that (seriously!)
Bontrager xr2 at 24psi up front and xr1 at 26psi rear.
Have you tried some different tyres? The tyres you're currently using (especially the rear tyre) aren't going to be confidence inspiring in tight rooty corners in woodland, or anything off camber, because they don't have much in the way of cornering side tread blocks to bite into the dirt.
Tyres that are better suited to the conditions provide you with additional grip and confidence in the bike. That confidence and ability to push hard offroad often translates into better speed with a fully treaded tyre than the (often minimal) drop in rolling resistance from a lightly treaded semi slick like the Bontrager XR1.
I tend to prefer matched front and rear tyres for handling consistency too. If both tyres are the same tread they usually break and regain traction in a similar manner, meaning fewer surprises.
My suggestion would be to try something like Specialized Ground Control 26x2.1" tyres front and rear instead. From your picture it looks like they'd be suited to that type of terrain.
I've used Nics, ralphs, mud x (on the rear in that picture), geax segauro, xr1 xr2, sb8.
Used to like ralph/nic but with new Am Classic wheels didn't get on well with mounting.
Like the idea of matching tyres, that kind of makes sense to me. I've used 2x mud-x in the past.
Don't think it's particularly the tires though. We sometime play a game we call 'bicycle tourettes' in which you have to yell out a swear word every time you even touch the brake levers. Really helps think about braking plus it's quite amusing.
When I'm on form I'll smash through a section with a hop, skip and jump, but after the start of a race my form deteriorates somewhat.
xc race this afternoon my fastest lap was my last as i finally relaxed and trusted the tires.
Maybe I'm missing the obvious, but have you tried practicing? Pick a section of trail you're slow on and ride it over and over until you get the hang of it. I would also recommend following someone who is better than you, you'll learn a lot.
Most riders are self taught which means in many cases you've picked up bad habits. I recommend seeing if there are any skills clinics in your area or try to get one of the riders that is faster then you in the single track to give you some pointers and watch how you're riding. Taking a 4hr DH clinic improved my cornering for XC more than years of riding because my form and technique were all wrong.
Yep. Practice. You get better going up that hill by doing a structured workout of just going up that hill or a bigger hill. Same for this. Extend your envelope such that these sections are well within your ability. Find a section of trail harder than this, pad up and follow someone better than you. Repeat.
Find an off camber corner with plenty of run off room and no trees. Put the pads on and keep hitting that corner at increasing speeds until you truly loose traction. I'm betting the actual limit of traction is greater than the voice in your head thinks.
I'm not sure where in the UK you are but if you're close enough it's worth trying a skills day with UK Bike Skills in Hertfordshire.
Myself and a few guys I knw have done the taking days with Tony and everyone's improved vastly as a result.
He's usually pretty fully booked but it's worth giving him a shout to see if there's anything available.
DH cornering is so much different from XC. DH corners are usually banked or at least decent dirt. XC corners are often flat with crappy loose over hardpack, or even reverse camber, which use a completely different technique from railing a DH banked corner. On top of that, when cornering with a DH bike with a 64 degree head angle, you often have to lean forwards to get enough weight on the front wheel, which is completely different from cornering an XC bike with a 70 degree HA.
Cheers guys, tons of good stuff. Glad to hear you all suggesting practicing over getting new kit.
I do ride trail and love it:
But it's been a horrible wet winter here in the UK and most of my riding has been on road/turbo and boy it shows!
To put my speed/skills into context I was riding xc at the same time (different cat) as our multiple times British champion elite. He won his race of 5 laps in the same time as I did 4. Both of us taking 1hr.30mins overall.