The early frost may have put a quick end to the prettiest part of fall, but there’s still plenty of mountain biking left in the season before un-melting snow coats the mountains. Even better, right now might actually be the perfect time to learn how to ride single-track trails or to push those skills up to the next level. Singletracks are narrow trails only wide enough for one bike; many require guts and daring.
There are a few reasons why it’s easier to boost your daring at this time of year. First, the trails have been packed down by a summer’s worth of riders, so the sketchy slideout conditions of spring are long gone.
Second, you’ve got the visual factor in your favor. The lush growth of summer can tend to make trails look narrower than they actually are. Many bikers are intimidated by that visual illusion, so they hold back. Remember this truth when biking a single track: He (or she) who hesitates goes down.
The lift-served bike season is over, but the recent snow likely will melt, leaving mountain trails still quite rideable. So drive to any local resort and follow the tracks to the nearest trail, or ask an employee where to find it.
Ride or push your bike to the trail, then use these tips from skilled biker and former Olympic skier Holly Flanders to build skills while riding down: “When coming downhill, you want to be standing off your seat, with your butt back, even behind the seat. Squeeze the seat with your legs. Riding downhill, you want to keep your weight to the rear of the bike.”
She’s just given riders the secret. Shifting weight properly is the key to single track. If you’re too far forward, traction is all on the front wheel. It’s easy for the back wheel to fly up, causing that hilarious and potentially painful maneuver known as an “endo.”
When riding uphill, shift your weight forward. If you hit a particularly troublesome spot or start sliding out, stand up, push down on the handlebars, lower your upper body into a tuck and keep a smooth pedal cadence. Shift to an easier gear before you really need to. A sudden gear shift, like a sudden hard pedal, can cause the bike to wobble, and bam, you’ll have to bail—meaning you’ll now be pushing the bike.
Switchbacks can be a problem for many bikers. Flanders says, “You kind of lean in to turn and brake with both front and rear brakes, because if you just brake with your front brake, you can get shot over the handlebars.”
Don’t ride your brakes on a switchback. You may want to go slow, but you don’t want to stop. Instead, pump the brakes, the same way you would do when driving a car. Another clue to conquering switchbacks is to use the old ski mantra: “When it doubt, ride it out.” Fear will bring you down, but once you use daring to make it around that first scary switchback, the next one is easier.
Another significant single-track problem is natural obstacles—a root, a rock or a rut. You can practice riding over these in your neighborhood. Put down a tree branch or a couple of bricks and use them for a daily obstacle workout. Flanders says, “Practice lifting your handlebars as you go over the obstacle, riding at a normal speed to perfect your timing. Ride over the obstacles at a speed you’re comfortable with. As you build your skills, you’ll be comfortable riding faster and faster.”