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  1. #1
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    Need help with Switchbacks

    I'm a roadie that recently pulled out my mtn bike and have been dreaming of dirt ever since!

    Having some issues with switchbacks - especially on the downhill. I seem to have to unclip 75% of the time. My friends slow down but never unclip on the same ones. Any advise on technique? I think it's a mental thing and I'm scared the bile will fall.

  2. #2
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    The key for me was to take them at a higher speed. The bike stays more stable and actually handles tight corners better with some momentum than trying to brake/creep your way around them. Some people have success with applying the brakes while pedaling through them...... the force created while pedaling against the resistance of the brakes helps with balance somehow. Try doing them a little faster and look towards the exit of the switchback, not down at your front wheel.

  3. #3
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    Always start wide on tight switchbacks. Aim for the outside of the turn on entry then when you near the apex cut it and turn in. Look where you want to go and you will go there. Balance is also important. I like to keep my weight either neutral or to the outside depending on the turn and how tight it is.

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  4. #4
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    Yes, it is quite a change from going from a road bike to riding off-road. You might try practicing going as slow as possible and maintaining your balance, and then practice doing this while turning sharply. This will help with both going up and downhill.

  5. #5
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    There are a lot of good videos on YouTube about switch backs. Do a quick search on them and check several out.

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  6. #6
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    These two videos should help.
    .Cornering with Fabien Barel - YouTube
    .Hey Coach! Ep. 1 - Mountain Bike Reviews, News, Photo and Video
    Practice on a paved hill then a grass hiil.
    I ride platform and they may also help. Fabien has a video "Straights" for platform pedal technique-- it's standing with low heels.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtnking View Post
    Yes, it is quite a change from going from a road bike to riding off-road. You might try practicing going as slow as possible and maintaining your balance, and then practice doing this while turning sharply. This will help with both going up and downhill.
    Good one.

    When you have the balance, slow way down coming into the switchback, line up your exit, and then let 'er rip. To me, it feels a little like dropping in on skis, except that static balance on a mountain bike is harder.

    Sometimes you also have to be willing to lean into the switchback a disconcerting amount. Luckily, this basically amounts to leaning uphill. So if you fall, it's not typically that big a deal.
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  8. #8
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    ^ AndrwSwitch has the key. The key is to let you and your bike lean into the switchback. It takes commitment though. Let off the brakes, turn and lean into the switch back all at the same time, while keeping your inside pedal up.

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    I love my diamondback Sorrento

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by eb1888 View Post
    These two videos should help.

    Practice on a paved hill then a grass hiil.
    I ride platform and they may also help. Fabien has a video "Straights" for platform pedal technique-- it's standing with low heels.
    Thanks for these!

  11. #11
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    Practice track stands: this will get you comfortable with a more static balance position. Speed almost always makes things easier but on some trails it's just not possible. Having both tools will help you in more situations.

    Look at the exit of the switchback: your body always goes where you're looking. When you turn your head driving to look in the back seat you tend to swerve out of your lane, it's not that dissimilar to biking. If you're not looking where you're going your body has no idea what it's trying to accomplish. It's an amazing thing but you have better balance, better control, and better riding when you pick your head up. When you get to a switchback, line yourself up on the outside then as you get into it turn your head and keep watching the exit. When you're past the halfway point look down trail and magic physics will pull you through. You should be trying to look about 10 ft in front of your wheel.
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  12. #12
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    A lot of the guys/gals here recommended track stands to me, and they have helped immensely. I'm on platform pedals, but i rarely, if ever, come off anymore because I'm more comfortable with slow riding and/or balance issues.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoshF View Post
    I'm a roadie that recently pulled out my mtn bike and have been dreaming of dirt ever since!

    Having some issues with switchbacks - especially on the downhill. I seem to have to unclip 75% of the time. My friends slow down but never unclip on the same ones. Any advise on technique? I think it's a mental thing and I'm scared the bile will fall.
    I think the advice regarding practicing really tight turns very slowly, as well as trackstands is good.

    In really tight dh switchbacks, I don't lean the bike into the turn, in fact I keep it pretty upright until am coming out of it

    Uphill is different. That takes some lean and commitment. Some speed helps as well.

    You are likely to hear varying, sometimes contradictory advice regarding switchbacks. Part of this is simply due to different people having different techniques. It also depends a lot on the nature of the switchbacks: How tight the turn is, how steep it is in the apex of the turn, how loose it is......
    15mm is a second-best solution to a problem that was already solved.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoshF View Post
    I'm a roadie that recently pulled out my mtn bike and have been dreaming of dirt ever since!

    Having some issues with switchbacks - especially on the downhill. I seem to have to unclip 75% of the time. My friends slow down but never unclip on the same ones. Any advise on technique? I think it's a mental thing and I'm scared the bile will fall.
    If you mean the old style tight switchbacks without berms etc.....

    Then what matters is the line you take through them.

    We have a classic switchback descent....8 really tight switchbacks in a row...

    The line through each switchback is different....most have several lines and all have lines that just don't work out at all.


    I would suggest you follow some of the better riders and learn their lines through your switchbacks....ask them to go slower and show you if you can't keep up.

  15. #15
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    I agree with trackstand, some switchback is just so tight and leaning the bike in is not always the option. Get comfortable with super slow speed bike handling would freak you out less.

    Here's another vid that I found very helpful. http://youtu.be/hF9efIKIvk8


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  16. #16
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    In really tight dh switchbacks, I don't lean the bike into the turn, in fact I keep it pretty upright until am coming out of it
    Here's another vid that I found very helpful. Bikeskills.com: Switchbacks - YouTube

    I don't know about that . The book "Mastering Mountain Bike Skills" as well as Ned Overend's book recommends "leaning your bike more than your body" in turns.

    The idea is that the sides of your tires are conical, and will naturally roll in a circle just like an ice cream cone would. Also tires -- my tires anyway -- have larger knobs on the sides of the tread than the middle, so you want to dig those into the dirt, not the little center knobs.

    This "leaning your bike more than your body" is easy to overdo -- on a turn that isn't so sharp you will be traveling fast, leaning a lot anyway even if you keep your body and bike in-line. But for slow turns, I think it helps.

    I'll try it the way the video says. The books give this advice for turns in general, not switchbacks per se, so maybe there is some angle that I am missing.
    Last edited by DennisF; 01-16-2013 at 02:49 PM.

  17. #17
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    are you talking really tight switchbacks (180 degrees in a short distance)? When you say your friends slow down are they almost stopping?

    If it is that kind, it can help to use your front brake to stop then body english to lift the rear up and literally move it to straighten out the bike.

    If they are long sweeping switchbacks then the cornering suggestions will help. Keep your weight on the outside pedal. If you lower your seat out of the way you will find that your seat is probably blocking you from putting all your weight on the outside pedal.

    Turn your outside knee into the bike and push down on your inside hand. This turns your hips and your body and leans the bike into the corner more while your weight is still mostly vertical. If you do this you will find you can take tight corners at speed.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by DennisF View Post
    I don't know about that . The book "Mastering Mountain Bike Skills" as well as Ned Overend's book recommends "leaning your bike more than your body" in turns.

    The idea is that the sides of your tires are conical, and will naturally roll in a circle just like an ice cream cone would. Also tires -- my tires anyway -- have larger knobs on the sides of the tread than the middle, so you want to dig those into the dirt, not the little center knobs.

    This "leaning your bike more than your body" is easy to overdo -- on a turn that isn't so sharp you will be traveling fast, leaning a lot anyway even if you keep your body and bike in-line. But for slow turns, I think it helps.

    I'll try it they way the video says. The books give this advice for turns in general, not switchbacks per se, so maybe there is some angle that I am missing.
    Yes, that advice about leaning in turns is good when cornering traction is needing, and is the way you want to go in about 99.9% of the turns you encounter. However, in tight, slow switchbacks, that might not be the case. At least that is the case for me in many of the ones I need to navigate where the apex of the turn is pretty steep and sometimes loose. In those cases balance becomes more of an issue. As I come around the apex and through the bottom of the switchback and pick up speed, I will lean the bike little more. Of course, many of these are off camber as I come through the bottom of the switchback (and the top), so the ground does the leaning for me.

    Also, I sometimes will do a little nose wheeley just as I enter a switchback, and swing my rear tire up and around a few degrees (I'm still not too good at this, but even a few degrees can make the switchback a lot easier). I need to be more upright to do this.

    On the other hand, if this is just a "really tight turn", leaning might be the way to go. again, like I said, different tools for different jobs. And switchbacks vary greatly in specifics.

    Here is a shot of me and a friend doing one of the typical switchbacks I am talking about. I'm the one in the front. Behind my wheels is a small rocky ledge. This turn is pretty level at the bottom, so I can still do a bit a turning on it and right after this shot I would likely have let the brakes go and lean the bike through the rest of the turn. On other switchbacks, it would be a little off camber where my front wheel is, and I would probably not lean my bike into the turn.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Need help with Switchbacks-switchback.jpg  

    Need help with Switchbacks-buck-sb.jpg  

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  19. #19
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    To add to everyone else's comments..... for downhill switchbacks, to keep optimal balance, ride through the turn with your leading foot to the outside. So if you're approaching a right hand switchback, lead with your left foot. For a left hand switchback, lead with your right foot.
    Last edited by JSumner13; 01-16-2013 at 11:30 AM.

  20. #20
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    Leaning your bike more than your body is sound technique for most turns, but it starts getting harder and harder to control when the speed gets lower, like on super narrow switchbacks. And if it's an uphill switchback, it doesn't allow you to peddle.

    You can practice your slow speed balance between track stands as well as turning small circles in a parking lot.

    If you have to peddle through a tight turn, I've found that sometimes just ratcheting the cranks helps keep better balance.

    And visualize how your front wheel will swing a wider arc in the dirt than your rear wheel in tight turns, and plan accordingly.

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