When the trail we’re riding down
becomes more challenging than expected,
we are tempted to become fixated on the
obstacles that are directly in front of us.
Looking down amplifies our perception of
speed and provides us with less time to
appropriately react to the trail conditions.
Looking ahead and scanning down the trail
reduces our perception of speed, allowing
us to make better decisions. Being less
reactive and more proactive while navigating difficult terrain will make you a safer
and faster rider. Looking ahead, you will
be able to see the trail through a different
lens. Trails have lots of different features—
rocks, roots, jumps, off-camber corners,
berms, ruts; you get the point. Advanced
riders will look ahead to identify and use
terrain features to improve their speed, flow
and control while descending. If you haven’t mastered looking down the trail, then
you won’t be able to successfully utilize the
trail to its full potential.
If there is one mantra I wish I had
learned in my early years of riding, it
would have been this: heavy feet, light
hands. Driving force through your feet
while descending is applicable to many
terrain scenarios. Heavy feet will keep the
bike more consistently planted to the trail.
Mastering heavy feet is a crucial building
block for more advanced skills like pumping
terrain and jumping. Using flat pedals is a
great way to help improve your technique.
Keeping your feet heavy on the pedals will
allow for more predictable handling of your
bike. Too much weight on your hands while
descending is a recipe for disaster.
If you have been riding flat pedals for
years, you will likely be good at this skill.
Lifelong clipless users, listen up: dropping
your heels while descending is critical for
keeping your feet on the pedals and your
body’s center of mass over the bottom
bracket. As you encounter difficult terrain,
there is a tendency to perch onto your toes
DROP YOUR HEELS
HINGE AT THE HIPS and tighten your legs out of fear. This is
a serious problem for maintaining control.
Perching on your toes causes your center
of mass to shift forward, increasing weight
bearing through the arms, making the
legs less effective shock absorbers. This
increases the risk of going over the handlebars in a crash. The heel drop may seem
easy on straight sections of trail, but it is
more difficult to maintain while cornering.
Being conscious of your heel position while
cornering will improve traction and keep
you in optimal control. Good ankle mobility
is a key prerequisite for having a good heel
drop. Myofascial (muscle) tightness in the
calves will limit your ability to effectively
drop your heels.
The ability to hinge from the hip joint
is vital for a strong descending position.
Proper hip-hinge technique will reduce
lower-back and quadriceps fatigue while
descending. Hinging at your hips is controlled by your gluteal muscles; your spine
should remain flat and neutral. This is a
fundamental skill of nearly every athletic
endeavor, and mountain biking is no
exception. In order to master the hip hinge
on the bike, it takes a fair amount of
practice off the bike. Hamstring flexibility,
gluteal strength and control, and torso
strength and control are all prerequisites
to a successful hip hinge.