Climbing tight switchbacks on modern AM bikes- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Climbing tight switchbacks on modern AM bikes

    The other day I went on an exhausting ride where there's some extended climbing up some tight switchbacks. This trail is relatively new and meant only to go up.

    I'm getting old and my cardio is the shits so I'm having problems powering my way around these turns. But I'm also thinking any of the newer trail bikes would have issues getting around because of longer wheelbases, slacker head angles and shorter stems.

    I'm on a medium Intense Carbine 29. I'm using a 55mm stem with 785mm bar, which I think is the culprit there (I'll cut it to 775 to start).

    Anyone else have trouble on trails like these?
    Kona Operator CR and Santa Cruz Megatower

  2. #2
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    Well, a Carbine isn't chump change on wheelbase and HT - with 67 degrees and a 160 fork up front. The biggest problem though is simply this: sometimes it's very difficult to ride a tight switchback, even if it's smooth. Throw a rock shelf or something in the middle of it to get up, and many people simply can't do it. I specifically struggle with two switchbacks in my area that are tight, steep, and have some nice chunky bits in them. One, I simply cannot see the line coming into it until I've gone by the right line. If I back up and take a second shot at it on any given day, I've got a 60/40 shot at making it. The other has two usable lines, one very, very tight, and the other relies on getting the front wheel way up on the side of the backslope to bring it around a show stopper rock. The closest I've ever come to cleaning that one is spinning out on a root after having the tight inside line all but licked. For the record, XC bikes, HT between 71 and 69 degrees with 100mm and 120mm forks.

    Here's the thing: Every switchback will be a little different. Sometimes having bigger wheels will make parts of some of them easier, sometimes it will make it harder. The key to me, on the really tough ones, has been the ability to move the bike around, ie pick the front wheel up, and spin the bike around on the rear, then pick the rear up when the front hits, move it over then pedal when it's back on the ground. A great deal of it then, is technique and that's going to vary from bike to bike, so the only answer is set something up where you can practice stuff that will help you next time.

    There is a possibility that a certain bike is simply the wrong bike for switchbacks like the ones you're one. If that's the case, you have to ask yourself if it's the right bike the rest of the time. If so, maybe you just push sometimes instead of ride. If not, maybe there's a better bike for you out there.

  3. #3
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    If you think it's the bar length, I'd advise that you just move the grips in a little, from the ends of the bars first. If that helps, THEN cut the bars down. Also, if you have trouble because they are climbing switchbacks and you feel the front end getting light, try moving any spacers above the stem to lower the bar. That should increase the weight on the front. I'd also say that it is technique critical, so, if nothing else, just keep at it and you will improve.

  4. #4
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    I have a 150mm bike. I think its a ton easier to climb a rocky switchback with the fork dropped down to 120mm. I just toughed it out for years with a fixed travel fork and happened across a great deal on a travel adjust fork, and wow. Its not a small difference. You definitely can drop your elbows, get your chin towards the stem and power it through with a long travel fork and slack front end. It takes some grunt, but it works. You can also drop the front end and the whole thing just gets incredibly easier.

    I dont know if I buy the marketing that these new super long, slack, and big forked AM bikes can maneuver the tight stuff like an older bike.

  5. #5
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    Have the same issue and reducing bar width didn't help. Had to go to a longer stem. Otherwise I had to bring my chest down really close to the bars or top tube while the nose of the saddle was in my ass. Obviously not very comfortable. But it was the only way to weigh the front down and also keep enough traction on the rear. 20mm increase in stem length solved the issue though handling doesn't seem as crisp.

  6. #6
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    I find I have to stand up (way up and forward, like I'm on a BMX) to get around tight, steep switchbacks. It also helps if I can muster some extra grunt and accelerate my way around and out. If I don't, the front starts to wander and then I usually can't get it back on line.

    It takes more energy, but then I just granny it along the straight so hopefully I recover enough to hit the next one hard again.

  7. #7
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    If you're going down, stab the front brake and swing the rear end around the switchback! It works well, but mostly its a lot of fun.

  8. #8
    LMN
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    There is on doubt climbing switch backs on a long travel bike is difficult. The slack head angle makes it very hard to get the bike to track nice and evenly. You really need to make sure that the you start turn as wide as possible and smoothly pedal through.
    "The best pace is suicide pace, and today is a good day to die." Steve Prefontaine

  9. #9
    Keep on Rockin...
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    These new long, slack, plow bikes have issues with these sort of things.

    They are not real trail bikes.

    Just posted this on the yt jeffsy thread and have people disagreeing with me.

  10. #10
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    Tons of good responses. Thanks.

    FYI, I find the Carbine 29 for my trails to be pretty good. I mostly see 27.5 around but the 29" wheel has been awesome. The bike is a monster for descending and climbing (as long as I still have some lungs left and my legs aren't on fire and the switchbacks aren't too tight). I find the wheelbase, head angle, 160mm fork and wide bars all contribute to the sluggish handling and stalling during those tight switchbacks. I find if I'm able to power my way around, the wide handlebars slow the steering down a little too much which is why I'm probably going to trim them 10mm to see.

    I also think I need to figure out my gearing a little better. For the rocky and rooty climbs, I need to stay somewhere in the middle gears (I run 1x10) otherwise I spin out. For the switchbacks, if I stay leaned forward and go up to a low gear (I have a One-up 42T gear) I should be able to make it.

    Either way, it's fun to figure this all out... even when I'm on the side of the trail and feeling like I'm having a heart attack and brain aneurysm all at the same time.

    Also, while I find the Float X2 works well on that suspension platform, the climb switch Fox is releasing will be a welcomed add-on.
    Kona Operator CR and Santa Cruz Megatower

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Miker J View Post
    These new long, slack, plow bikes have issues with these sort of things.

    They are not real trail bikes.

    Just posted this on the yt jeffsy thread and have people disagreeing with me.
    I think you're right. I think people are getting "Enduro" bikes mixed up with trail bikes. I wouldn't want to be riding around a slacked out 6.5" travel bike...unless I'm riding up an easy trail to get to the good DH trails.
    Kona Operator CR and Santa Cruz Megatower

  12. #12
    SISSIF
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    Took the Carbine 29er up many a switchback. It does well but needs to be ridden more aggressively than more of an XC bike. Things that made it work for me.
    1-Ride to keep a little in reserve, if you're already on the limit when you get there you can't...
    2-Surge into it, build extra momentum on the approach, just a few pedal strokes.
    3-Start wide and keep the bike vertical, steer by turning the bars, save the carving for coming down.
    4-Forward on the seat, briefly stand if needed to clear the apex, keep the knees along the top tube since the bars are turned tightly. Don't lean.
    5-The front wheel describes a much wider line than the rear, often nearly stalling out on the high side of tight switch backs as you leave the apex. This is where keeping the bar turned and the extra momentum can finish the turn as the front tire rolls off the high side onto the trail and helps pull the bike through the finish.
    6-I like low gears and oval chainrings to help avoid stalling out.
    7-Stem length can make more difference than HB width. I did better on the C29 with a 60 vs 50 mm stem.
    8-160/130 fork in the low position turns this bike into a Switchback Switchblade. Loved my Pike DPA on the C29.
    When you get to the top, let me know and we can talk about coming back down switchbacks.
    Big Wheels and Fat Skis keep me young.

  13. #13
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    "Modern" is in flux right now. The carbine was modern when it came out in 2013, now... its 17.75 chainstay is loooong, 72 degree effective seat stay is slack, reach is on the short side when compared to the cutting edge. I think all your problem is in the long wheelbase, sweet high speed stability but once the speed drops you have to deal with it. I have a medium Carbine 29 with a 40mm stem and can make all the same switchbacks as I did on my 26er, yes there are a few where the rear tire has to rub the inside rock where the trail 26er can do it cleanly. To be fair I can put the handlebar between my knees and rachet through a turn.

    Not sure if cutting to 775mm would help, mine are 740 and my knee still hit it. Back in the day we ran 530mm and you knee never came close to the bar. I accidently found leaving the fork in lockout or at least putting it in trail mode helps in the switchbacks because it make the steering positive and more reactive without the mush. And have you considered an Oval chainring? It makes 'coming over the top' easier and may help with your power issue into the turn.

  14. #14
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    ^ That's a great advice. I think cutting the handlebars shorter will push your upper body and center of gravity back, which is the opposite of what you want (weight forward). What you need is a longer stem, and lower (stem spacers / rise). Travel adjust fork will make a difference too. But really for that type or riding with so much travel you need a shock with lockout.

  15. #15
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    Well I'll work on increasing my cardio and strength to keep myself going through the climbs and look into those oval rings. Sounds like an upgrade most people are happy with.

    Sent from my D6603 using Tapatalk
    Kona Operator CR and Santa Cruz Megatower

  16. #16
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    Chris,

    I had to have my Pike warranty replaced on my Carbine 29 and got a 150mm version with the extra shaft for 160mm back from Rockshox. I decided to keep it at 150mm and I don't feel like I am giving up much at all on the downs but I feel like it has improved climbing tight switchbacks for me. I am 5'9" with 32/33 dress shirt inseam (monkey arms) and I am riding a medium with a 50mm stem and 800mm bars. This setup works really well for me.

  17. #17
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    sometimes when climbing switchbacks, I find that I need to drive the bike through the turn and not let up. Once I do, I fall, but as long as I can maintain forward momentum it seems to work. This may involve weighting and unweighting the front to keep things moving.

    May work for you.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheCanary View Post
    Took the Carbine 29er up many a switchback. It does well but needs to be ridden more aggressively than more of an XC bike. Things that made it work for me.
    1-Ride to keep a little in reserve, if you're already on the limit when you get there you can't...
    2-Surge into it, build extra momentum on the approach, just a few pedal strokes.
    3-Start wide and keep the bike vertical, steer by turning the bars, save the carving for coming down.
    4-Forward on the seat, briefly stand if needed to clear the apex, keep the knees along the top tube since the bars are turned tightly. Don't lean.
    5-The front wheel describes a much wider line than the rear, often nearly stalling out on the high side of tight switch backs as you leave the apex. This is where keeping the bar turned and the extra momentum can finish the turn as the front tire rolls off the high side onto the trail and helps pull the bike through the finish.
    6-I like low gears and oval chainrings to help avoid stalling out.
    +1 on these! Lots of good advice already, so I'll just add a bit that hasn't been said yet...

    Coming from a Spider 29, which I dare say might be slightly more "nimble" than the Carbine. That said, tight uphill switchbacks, especially with rocks in the turn, required some special tactics:

    - Singlespeed it: if I had the gas, staying in a middle gear, standing up and building momentum before the turn was a good technique. Your momentum can help get you up rough stuff and clear the apex. Then you can gear down to recover.

    - Pull up on the bars: a lot of us get up over the bars when we want to give it a little extra, which unweights the rear wheel and makes it easy to spin out. If you can't do the power move above, staying on the nose of the saddle, pulling up on the bars and spinning a lower gear puts a lot of leverage on the rear wheel, and it will just tractor up whatever you need. Keeping the front end light also helps it to walk up rocks and up the high side of the switchback so the rear wheel can track in the middle.

    - Like everything else, looking where you want to go makes a big difference. Try not to focus on the turn, the rocks or all the junk you want to clear - just lock your eyes on the exit and trail ahead, and your body will often do what it needs to to make it.

    A lot depends on power, so backing down a bit before you have to tackle these helps too. Cheers,

    E

  19. #19
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    I find on my super slack ultra short chain stay 29er (canfield riot) That when riding steep switch backs I spend a lot of the time on those with the nose of my saddle firmly implanted in my taint. That and keeping the momentum to help my way up, and when in doubt stand up and mash up that *****. I find if i just sit back and try to not attack the switch back i suffer from tiny heart syndrome and give up half way and blame the bike. If i make a mental challange to just keep pedaling and lean forward I can get it. Well unless I am too blown up from being out of shape. I decided I cannot ride 780+ bars on a a "trail/enduro" bike. They are just too wide and Im 6'2". They work fine on my DH bike where I am hauling all the time at slowng down the small inputs from my hands to help from feeling twitchy. But on a trail bike, I stick to 750ish bars. otherwise things just feel i am putting in way to much input from my steering and nothing is happening.

  20. #20
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    I have a short steepish XC bike with 1990s geometry and a long slack AM bike from last year. As long as I'm not completely out of gas I can usually get the big bike up any set of switchbacks I can climb with the XC bike, it just takes a bit more body language and oomf on the pedals. On the AM bike I'll let the front wheel lift off the ground partway into the turn then pivot it around onto the trail. If it gets to the point where I have to do the pivot move on the XC bike, the trail is almost always to steep & tight to maintain momentum and I usually end up spinning out on the corner exit. I've yet to find a set of switchbacks I can somewhat consistently clean on my XC bike which I can't make on my big bike, I'm not saying it doesn't exist, I just haven't found'em yet. When I'm tired though, the XC bike is definitely easier to ride up tight switchbacks and gets up them more consistently since it doesn't require as much co-ordination and power moves.

  21. #21
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    biggest issue I find with tight switch backs is I find myself trying to muscle the front end through the turn and my pedalling stalls or goes in fits and starts. this is especially bad on rock armoured corners, suddenly trying to stomp just loses traction. now I approach them keeping in the front of my mind to just keep pedalling smoothly,
    I don't have to pedal hard and it's much easier on the cardio side with that mindset to just keep the bike moving forward that stalling. trying to haul the front around, mashing the pedals

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by One Pivot View Post
    I have a 150mm bike. I think its a ton easier to climb a rocky switchback with the fork dropped down to 120mm. I just toughed it out for years with a fixed travel fork and happened across a great deal on a travel adjust fork, and wow. Its not a small difference. You definitely can drop your elbows, get your chin towards the stem and power it through with a long travel fork and slack front end. It takes some grunt, but it works. You can also drop the front end and the whole thing just gets incredibly easier.

    I dont know if I buy the marketing that these new super long, slack, and big forked AM bikes can maneuver the tight stuff like an older bike.
    I put an adjustable fork on my Enduro late last season, and it does make more of a difference climbing than I thought it would, especially in the more technical stuff. Drop it from 160 to 120 and the bike is more maneuverable and the front wanders a lot less.

    But you are always going to give up something climbing on a 'bigger' bike. To me, its worth it -- I would rather not quite clean a couple switchbacks here and there, and be able to ride the downhill sections the way I want.
    '19 Ibis Ripmo
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  23. #23
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    We have a LOT of tight and steep switchbacks on our local trails, way too much for my liking.

    I ride a Transition Bandit currently and my friends ride various bigger bikes, like Yeti SB66's, Banshee Runes, Bronsons and Nomads. On the trails I'm seeing more and more "enduro" bikes, hell, I even saw a Knolly Chilcotin w/ a 170mm fork the other day climbing switchbacks (barely).

    I suppose it comes down to technique, and muscle. Sure, they're always going to be hefty and wander a bit, but with the proper technique, you can muscle it up.

    Spin rather than mash, using lower gears help a lot. If you're going too fast your front tire will likely skid if its too tight. Start your corner as wide as possible and don't lean. Sit as far to the front of the saddle as possible, I'm sure you'll eventually be able to go up those switchbacks without much hassle.

  24. #24
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    Am I the only one who stands up and powers through these things? I have no issues of front tire wander/push, too small of turn radius, or any of the above stated issues. When I sit down is when I seem to have these issues.

    When I think of uphill switchbacks, I think of the climb up the Kitsuma trail in WNC.

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