Even after 20 years of riding bikes, my armpits start to sweat at the thought of riding a technical section that I’ve never ridden before. In mountain biking, it’s inevitable that we will find ourselves asking, “Can I ride this section of trail smoothly, or will I crash and be left with injuries for months to come? Is it worth the risk?” While spending the last month in Sedona and Phoenix, I was faced with some of the rockiest and most technical trails around. I surprised myself during this time and developed a love for challenging myself and improving my handling skills. Even though I felt completely stressed at times, it was totally worth it for the satisfaction when I finally nailed a portion of trail I never thought I could ride.
When I was younger, I would fly into sections of trail without a care in the world, and, if I crashed, I would laugh it off and do it again; usually with the same outcome. After several major injuries, I realized I needed to slow down and analyze the trail before dropping in. Here are few techniques I’ve learned along the way:
If you find yourself heading toward a section that you’re not confident you can ride, stop and:
1. Set your bike off the trail, walk up to the segment, and look for line choices that are reasonable for your skill level. There might be several different route choices that you didn’t notice when you came blazing up on your bike.
2. Remember, the most traveled line might not be the best option. It’s time to get creative; a new line may not only be easier, it could be faster. Double bonus!
3. Consider walking your bike through a section, so you can see how the bike reacts over the obstacles and if your chain ring will clear rocks or logs. I do this all the time, and I make my friends do it too!
4. Look for the exit and focus your attention there while riding. Don’t stare at the ground!
5. Find a person whose skills you trust to show you how they ride the section of trail. Sometimes it’s so much easier than what you had in your mind!
6. Get on your bike, roll towards the section slowly, stop at the top and visualize yourself riding through successfully!
7. Go back up the trail far enough to get clipped in and settled on your bike before dropping in. The last thing you want to be worried about is your foot placement on your pedal.
8. Take a deep breath, relax, think positively, and look where you want to go! Sometimes I even flap my arms first to make sure I’m not over-gripping the handlebars or sitting too stiffly.
Once you’ve cleared the portion of trail, walk back up and ride it again twice more. After the third trip through, you won’t think twice about riding that part of the trail!