Fall mountain biking on the east coast is the best time to ride, especially after a dry summer. The scenery is to die for, the crisp, clean air is uplifting and the dirt is that perfect loamy dark brown. Fall lap times may be a bit slower compared to summers, but railing turns and spraying a dirt roost is exhilarating! Traction is in abundance when you find pristine dirt, but watch out for those dreaded acorns!
This fall, it seems acorns are piled in every turn. I was told that the trees this year produced more than the usual amount of acorns due to stress (not enough rain this summer). Negotiating a turn on these natural marbles of doom can be tricky. I have a few tips for riders struggling to ride in these conditions. The technique to enter and exit a turn covered with acorns ironically is the proper way to turn year round.
When the dirt is just right, we get lazy and trust the dirt and our tires to hold the line for us. This is a bad habit, one that you’ll pay for some day.
Leaning your body along with the bike is not the proper way to turn on natural terrain. Try this technique as you turn on acorns and you will hip check yourself into oblivion. Turning your bike properly may require some effort at first. It’s not easy to change a bad habit, but that is exactly what you’ll need to do in order to stay off you head this time of year.
We are faced with more than just the dreaded acorns in fall. Wet roots hidden under wet leaves deflect our tires and have less than zero traction. Rocks that once had gobs of grip are now dripping in a coat of green slime.
We are lucky we have so much variation in trail conditions. The same old trail that was easy to clean a few weeks ago now presents new challenges.
After learning and applying this riding tip you will rail turns covered in slime, acorns, loose dirt, sand, whatever. It is possible to carve a turn at speed and not slide out. Often you’ll get into a two wheel drift and maybe soil your chamois. Drifting through turns is an awesome sensation when it’s controlled. (This tip doesn’t apply to turning in a deep rut or berm. Most properly built berms can be trusted. Riders can lean their body weight on an angle when riding through berms. All other turns, like the other 99 percent we encounter on the trail cannot be trusted.)
The trick to finding traction in the loose stuff is to keep your body as close to 90 degrees to the ground as possible while leaning the bike with your arms. Your body will lean slightly and that’s OK. For instance, when turning left, lean the bike down to the left, far as possible with your arms while keeping your head upright and in the same position it was in before entering the turn. Look ahead, not down. Apply pressure (weight) down on the right handlebar with your right hand. At the same time pressure down on the right pedal with your foot (like you’re trying to step down to the ground, straight through the center of your bike). The outside right pedal can face down, but it is not necessary to have the pedal in the down position. The idea is to load the tires left side knobbies with pressure, directly down into the dirt. You are looking to eliminate any sideways pushing to the tires side knobs. You need to do all of this while loading the front tire with a tad bit more body weight compared to the rear. You do this by shifting your body weight forward a small amount.
Every bike rides differently and every turn will require more or less body English (the jerky movements your body performs to maintain control of your bicycle). You need to practice a lot and find your bikes sweet spot. Small shifts in weight make a huge impact on maintaining traction. Keep your chin and chest above your stem as a starting point, elbows slightly bent and up. This is called the “attack” position.
That’s the tip! It’s really that simple to explain, but I’m sure it will take loads of practice to master. Never do I see an XC rider on the trail applying this technique. Get used to riding this way year round. It’s insane how much faster you become when you can carve turns with confidence. Eventually, when you master turning, you’ll never take your foot off the pedal again. Stay in your pedals and power out of the turn as you exit. Nail the turn just right and you may loft the front wheel into the air as you exit a turn.
After you have your turns down pat, practice pumping through turns like a skateboarder pumps for speed on a ramp. It’s possible to gain speed when exiting a turn, even a turn covered in acorns!
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