Skills Q&A: How to keep speed on snaking singletrack

By Chris Ford, CycleActive | Friday, April 16, 2010 12.00pm

Chris Ford of bike training and holiday company CycleActive is back to answer your questions about mountain bike skills and technique in the run-up to BikeRadar Live 2010. Here he explains how to improve your singletrack technique.

Q: When I’m riding through twisting singletrack, tight trees, etc, I always lose time in races – how can I be quicker through narrow sections? Steve.

A: Singletrack skills and speed is one of the top topics we get asked about, and we spend most of our weekends delivering training on this. The holy grail that everyone is after is perfect flow – moving through singletrack like water racing through a stream – and there are a few simple steps you can take to work towards this.

First step is to consider your body position. The bike needs to be free to move, leaning from one side to the other as the trail twists and turns. This means your position needs to be low, central and with baggy arms and knees to allow you to throw it around. You also need to be hovering on the saddle rather than pressed firmly to it, so you can quickly unweight as you turn but still pedal smoothly and consistently when needed.

Staying low with flexed arms and legs:

One of the most common problems we see is people sitting too upright with arms almost locked straight. In that position you can't quickly and smoothly lean the bike, because your whole body would have to shift through your rigid arms. Another issue can be the temptation to pinch the saddle between your legs when you stand up – don’t do it as you often want to be able to lean the bike without leaning your body.

The other frequent problem is people being too far back, and you may need to get help to check this out (a friend with a video camera, or an instructor). “Get your weight back” is something we hear so often that when we hit technical terrain it becomes an almost instant reaction. Fight it, because in singletrack you need plenty of weight on the front tyre to ensure it continues to bite as it shifts from edge to edge through the turns, to keep the bike stable. 

Looking ahead:

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The final tip is on managing your vision. We always hear “look ahead, not down” but do you know how good you are at doing this? Racing drivers talk about looking at the “point of convergence” – where the sides of the track meet in the distance – and for us this is a pretty good target.

Try sessioning a bit of trail and see if you can hold your focus on the furthest ahead part of the trail you can see. Your eyes will be pulled back to your wheel from time to time, but try to quickly push them back up to that point of convergence and see how that helps your flow.

If you want to work on these skills with an instructor then CycleActive run Singletrack Skills one-day courses as well as private skills tuition in the Malvern Hills, Cannock Chase, Lake District and Ae Forest – you can find the details at www.cycleactive.co.uk.

Chris and his team of experts will be on hand at the UK's ultimate bike festival at Brands Hatch from 10-11 July to offer their unique brand of skills tuition to experts, novices and kids. For more details, visit http://live2010.bikeradar.com.

You can follow BikeRadar on Twitter at twitter.com/bikeradar and on Facebook at facebook.com/BikeRadar.
You can also improve your fitness and train with us on training.bikeradar.com.

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