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  1. #1
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    Advice on steep switchbacks

    After getting dropper posts a while back, normal switchbacks are no issue now. Steeper ones can still be a problem, because they are often eroded with a lot of loose dirt and 1/2 embedded rocks that can easily slip out under a front tire.

    A watched a couple of videos, one had just hardpack (I can already do that, so that was a waste), the other had some loose loam and it was relatively steep but there was plenty of room to circle wide and then go down. That one was more helpful, but what about the hairpin ones that are maybe a total of 3 feet wide, and the bottom is two feet below the top? A switchback that has a 60-degree angle and is eroded? Sometimes these steep switchbacks are on the edge of a ridge and you can't swing out too wide or you'll go off the trail down the ridge. This is stumping me. I know the experts and pros can handle them, I've seen their Strava data and I'm usually at least a minute behind them on 1-2 mile segments, so that's one of the areas they are gaining time over us lesser mortals.

    Both videos said to swing wide at first to the outside, and that's what I'm doing, because putting a foot inside can work on a more shallow switchback but not a steeper one. I tried a few times on steeper ones to lean inside and the bike started tipping over, not enough momentum with such a slow, tight turn. The problem is, when I'm about 1/2 way through the turn on the outside top line, I slow down so much to complete the turn that sometimes I actually stop and have to walk the bike down in front of the saddle until the trail gets rideable again. It's a horrible technique, but hey, better than overshooting and plunging down the ridge. Some guys hit the front brake hard and swing the rear end out, endoing, others trail brake the back but all that does is slow you down into the turn, you can't complete it when it's that steep because the back of the bike can't climb up a foot on the top ledge. The rear wheel will start dragging on the embedded ledge rocks and will stop. You either take the top outside line very carefully and slow or you try to force a hard turn in the middle and hope the front tire complies and doesn't understeer. Ironically when the rocks are large in the center it can actually help a bit, but when they are smaller and embedded the bike starts sliding to the outside.

    How do you take steep eroded switchbacks?

  2. #2
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    There's this steep switchback on the trails I ride. Last summer, I took it too slow and too much on the inside, had too much weight on the back and as I started making the turn, my front tire washed out and I went tumbling sideways down the slope with the bike tumbling over me, handlebar end slamming down on my left index finger (swore it was broken, fortunately not but it still hurts sometimes till today). Since then, I've avoided riding it 'cause it just killed my confidence.

    I think I needed to go with a little more speed, take the wider outside line, keeping my weight more balanced, if anything, maybe a little more on my front tire to make sure it doesn't slide out.

    Curious as to how others ride steep switchbacks.

  3. #3
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    I assume from your post youíre talking about descending, not climbing. Itís mostly seeing the line, balance, and confidence.

    If youíre having trouble finding the line while riding it, get off your bike and roll it through the switchback by hand. Youíll find it then.

  4. #4
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    Practice makes perfect, and visualization works well too. All the professional athletes utilize visualization before its their time to race a course.

  5. #5
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    nose pivots


  6. #6
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    FIRST AND FOREMOST... ignore other rider's Strava data! Just sayin'.

    What bike are you riding? I ride trails that have steep (up and down) tight switchbacks that I can't for the life of me clear on one bike, but can accomplish with another. Sometimes you just gotta have the right tool for the job. But for those cases where I can clear that sort of TTF with both bikes, the line, technique, body position, speed, etc., can be completely different for each bike. In other words, no single right answer. The solution is session it until you get your AH HA moment.
    You didn't quit riding because you're old, you're old because you quit riding.

  7. #7
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    Keeping your vision up and in your intended direction down the trail is very important too, but I get that itís hard not to check your front tire when itís right on the edge of the trail.

  8. #8
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    I think of it as leaning forward and putting more weight on the front wheel and riding the front wheel through the corner. Kinda like a nose pivot but without actually lifting the rear wheel.
    What, me worry?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by evasive View Post
    Keeping your vision up and in your intended direction down the trail is very important too, but I get that itís hard not to check your front tire when itís right on the edge of the trail.
    ^This. I learned early on to look where I want the bike to go, not where I don't want it to go. When I was getting experienced enough to consider some of the nasty, steep, tight switchbacks it sounds like you are struggling with, I remembered to apply this same wisdom.

    I approach these with medium speed (maybe walking pace), seatpost down, outside pedal down. As you enter the front of the switchback, try to swing the front wheel out a little bit/as far as the trail will reasonably let you to set up the turn. After this move, immediately glue your eyes on the exit of the switchback. Don't worry about what your body will do, your eyes and brain know - trust them. Stay low and feather the rear brake - you are going to end up sliding the rear wheel around with gravity pulling you out of the turn. Again, lock your eyes down the trail and let gravity do the rest.

    Have a friend "spot" you on the low side of the trail at first if this feels sketchy. It's a great skill to master - good luck!

    E

  10. #10
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    An endo turn will work if the turn is too tight for the bike's turning radius. Otherwise, you may just need to lean the bike more.

  11. #11
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    Take the front wheel high and wide, need some commitment to a slight bit of speed to carry you thru and keep the wheels doing their job.

  12. #12
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    On something really steep and tight enough that I canít turn my bar much more, Iíll basically trackstand around the turn, using only my rear brake.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by richj8990 View Post
    I know the experts and pros can handle them, I've seen their Strava data and I'm usually at least a minute behind them on 1-2 mile segments, so that's one of the areas they are gaining time over us lesser mortals.
    There's a reason that some people are experts and pros. If everyone could ride as well as them then everyone would be experts and pros. Good on you for trying to improve though. On some really sketchy switchbacks with exposure I've been known to... get off my bike and walk. [GASP!]

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nat View Post
    There's a reason that some people are experts and pros. If everyone could ride as well as them then everyone would be experts and pros. Good on you for trying to improve though. On some really sketchy switchbacks with exposure I've been known to... get off my bike and walk. [GASP!]
    It's fun to try some tricky ones, but with exposure, sure have to be careful. Sometimes not worth the risk

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  15. #15
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    The Pilot Rock descent in Pisgah has some fun ones. You'll certainly get practice on technical switchbacks. I don't think the exposure is too severe on those, but they'll definitely test your skills. You come cooking down a long straight to enter the switchback and you've gotta slow way down pretty quickly to scope it out and find the line. It's one of those trails where you're pretty exhausted just getting up there, such that you really don't want to session anything and get even more tired when you've got another 15 techy switchbacks and miles of pounding descending remaining.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nat View Post
    There's a reason that some people are experts and pros. If everyone could ride as well as them then everyone would be experts and pros. Good on you for trying to improve though. On some really sketchy switchbacks with exposure I've been known to... get off my bike and walk. [GASP!]
    That's what I do. Of course I'm in the steep switchback capital, French Pyrenees.

    The trails are made for walkers, I've never seen turns so tight

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  17. #17
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    I just ran across this on YouTube:
    https://youtu.be/0tLj3OLhoko

    The woman at 0:30 got the smackdown.

  18. #18
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    I've decided (for now) that the ones that are moderately steep (but not super steep and eroded), I take the inside line on with an inside foot down, slowly of course, maybe 4-6 mph.

    The ones that look treacherous I take the outside line on and put the outside foot down, then try to see if there is any line that's not too eroded/rutted outside to inside to take and complete it.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nat View Post
    I just ran across this on YouTube:
    https://youtu.be/0tLj3OLhoko

    The woman at 0:30 got the smackdown.
    ouch!

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by richj8990 View Post
    I've decided (for now) that the ones that are moderately steep (but not super steep and eroded), I take the inside line on with an inside foot down, slowly of course, maybe 4-6 mph.
    Do you mean you're dropping your inside pedal? Or taking your inside foot off the pedal?

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by richj8990 View Post
    I've decided (for now) that the ones that are moderately steep (but not super steep and eroded), I take the inside line on with an inside foot down, slowly of course, maybe 4-6 mph.

    The ones that look treacherous I take the outside line on and put the outside foot down, then try to see if there is any line that's not too eroded/rutted outside to inside to take and complete it.
    If you can get around them at 4-6 mph (a brisk walk/jog pace), then most of the techniques discussed above are beside the point. The most important points to focus on are:

    1. Vision- keep your head up and look ahead down your exit
    2. Line choice
    3. See point #1.

  22. #22
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    I have been working on my nose-pivots for years. Even just a small amount of pivot can make a big difference, which is good because I am much better at them in the parking lot than in the middle of a steep loose switchback when I really need it.
    15mm is a second-best solution to a problem that was already solved.

  23. #23
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    Here are two examples. The first one is the steeper one, and you can see a lot more embedded rocks than the second one. With the first one, no way am I going to try and take the inside corner with the erosion divot all blocked up with loose rocks, that's going to be a disaster. I take the outside corner and then sweep around to the bottom, avoiding most of the loose rocks.

    With the second picture, you can see it does have a nice clean outside, but believe it or not that's not the right line. It's tighter than it looks and it's actually harder to steer on the outside because it's so off-camber, so I just take the inside, slide a bit on the loose rocks in the divot, and then complete the turn. I guess you could say the brute force method, but it's a lot better than trying to delicately tiptoe around the outside when that part of the trail is angled to the inside about 30 degrees.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Advice on steep switchbacks-hidden-trail-switchback-i.jpg  

    Advice on steep switchbacks-hidden-trail-switchback-ii.jpg  


  24. #24
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    I'd probably take the outside line on both but that's based on just photos. I'll have to take your word for it that the second one is off camber. There's nothing like seeing a trail in person. I wouldn't try to nose-pivot either; they're not tight enough to bother.

  25. #25
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    I've been riding a local trail a lot thats full of super tight, loose, some off camber, steep switchbacks. with no berm/support to catch you. Its bugging the hell out of me that I cant get these, I've ridden just as tight but teeper switchbacks with some support at the exit that I can commit to, ill just lean the bike and aggressively turn the front in, knowing that the berm will catch me. but without that berm i think the technique needs to be a bit different.

    The switchbacks on that trail that I know i can do, and can ride with confidence, I've been having an easier time getting way out over the rear and dragging rear brake around it, just to keep the back tire gripping and keeping the speed down, and ill just let the front almost pivot around the rear. seems a bit faster that way. but on the tighter harder switchbacks that doesnt work, the front needs more grip, to make the turn, and a lot of times i need to use some front brake because just the rear isnt enough. and thats where i get lost.

    Maybe a nose pivot is the way to go, but its soooo damn loose and sketchy, it doesnt seem like a technique that I could rely on to always work, yet those switchbacks are sometimes tighter than my turning radius, there might not be an option to go wide early to open up the radius, my bikes about as long as the turn is wide.
    Any tips for getting around steep switchbacks like that WITHOUT a nose pivot?

  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    The Pilot Rock descent in Pisgah has some fun ones. You'll certainly get practice on technical switchbacks. I don't think the exposure is too severe on those, but they'll definitely test your skills. You come cooking down a long straight to enter the switchback and you've gotta slow way down pretty quickly to scope it out and find the line. It's one of those trails where you're pretty exhausted just getting up there, such that you really don't want to session anything and get even more tired when you've got another 15 techy switchbacks and miles of pounding descending remaining.
    Pilot rock...
    First time it put me Otb twice.
    Second time Otb only once.
    Last time did not get thrown off bike but I had to hike down 2 of the bad ones.

    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk

  27. #27
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    I finished building my new bike a month ago and been riding the same trails that I used to get wigged out on my older HT bike with the steep head angle. With the new bike, I'm finding that I can drop down into the same tight switchbacks a lot more easily and in control. Dunno if it is the modern geo of the new bike or just more confidence with this bike that makes it feel easier. With the new bike, I feel like I'm riding IN the bike compared to my other bike where I felt like I was sitting high on top of it.

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by theycallmeE View Post
    ^This. I learned early on to look where I want the bike to go, not where I don't want it to go. When I was getting experienced enough to consider some of the nasty, steep, tight switchbacks it sounds like you are struggling with, I remembered to apply this same wisdom.

    I approach these with medium speed (maybe walking pace), seatpost down, outside pedal down. As you enter the front of the switchback, try to swing the front wheel out a little bit/as far as the trail will reasonably let you to set up the turn. After this move, immediately glue your eyes on the exit of the switchback. Don't worry about what your body will do, your eyes and brain know - trust them. Stay low and feather the rear brake - you are going to end up sliding the rear wheel around with gravity pulling you out of the turn. Again, lock your eyes down the trail and let gravity do the rest.

    Have a friend "spot" you on the low side of the trail at first if this feels sketchy. It's a great skill to master - good luck!

    E
    Exactly. You should see the feature, obstacle, etc. that you don't want to hit in your peripheral vision, but do NOT keep your eyes and focus on that. Keep your eyes and focus on where you want to go, and your body and your bike will naturally follow.

    Almost every time I crash (or fall off of the edge of a skinny), I am reminded of this concept.

    Also, when coming up to something, pick your line, then stick to it and ride it out, right or wrong. Don't change your mind in the middle (but making adjustments is fine). Almost every flat squirrel you see on the road changed its mind about its line. Don't be a squirrel.
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  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shark View Post
    Pilot rock...
    First time it put me Otb twice.
    Second time Otb only once.
    Last time did not get thrown off bike but I had to hike down 2 of the bad ones.

    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk
    Hey, I must be doing well! I didn't go OTB at all on it on my first run. But I did have to walk a handful of the switchbacks. Mostly because I just didn't see the line until it was too late to hit it and didn't want to wear myself out trying them again. Mostly lots of dabbing and adjusting the position of the bike because I overshot the turn.

    Quote Originally Posted by SA77 View Post
    I've been riding a local trail a lot thats full of super tight, loose, some off camber, steep switchbacks. with no berm/support to catch you. Its bugging the hell out of me that I cant get these, I've ridden just as tight but teeper switchbacks with some support at the exit that I can commit to, ill just lean the bike and aggressively turn the front in, knowing that the berm will catch me. but without that berm i think the technique needs to be a bit different.

    The switchbacks on that trail that I know i can do, and can ride with confidence, I've been having an easier time getting way out over the rear and dragging rear brake around it, just to keep the back tire gripping and keeping the speed down, and ill just let the front almost pivot around the rear. seems a bit faster that way. but on the tighter harder switchbacks that doesnt work, the front needs more grip, to make the turn, and a lot of times i need to use some front brake because just the rear isnt enough. and thats where i get lost.

    Maybe a nose pivot is the way to go, but its soooo damn loose and sketchy, it doesnt seem like a technique that I could rely on to always work, yet those switchbacks are sometimes tighter than my turning radius, there might not be an option to go wide early to open up the radius, my bikes about as long as the turn is wide.
    Any tips for getting around steep switchbacks like that WITHOUT a nose pivot?
    So you're saying that you essentially use a pivot on the rear wheel? I've certainly used that one. Sure, nose pivots won't work every time, especially when there's lots of bigger chunk.

    You could also work on rocking/hopping the bike while trackstanding. If you see enough nasty, tight, techy, steep switchbacks there's a good chance you'll need to pull out all of these tools (including nose pivots) from your bag 'o tricks.

  30. #30
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    How you hold onto the bike in challenging situations, whatever they may be, can be as important as what you do to control the bike (steering, balance over the bike, foot position, etc). If you squeeze the bars tightly, have a rigid body position, or don't balance fluidly with loose shoulders, you unfavorably contribute tire traction and suspension kinematics. Bikes do things really well one thing at a time, but asking them to do multiple things at once can cause problems--like steering and braking, like speed while corning, and other dynamics. One of the first and most important things to learn on any two wheel machine is now to be soft over the bike. Unnecessary rider input is one of the most common causes of technical errors. When you watch top riders they always appear to be relaxed making their moves and that is because they are relaxed. Once you relax over the bike you can learn new skills. Try it, you'll like it.

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