Technique: How to Freeride - Part 4, North Shore Styling

How to tackle North Shore-style riding

You don’t have to be in Vancouver to encounter trails littered with jumps, ladders, stunts and raised skinny sections - you’ll encounter North Shore-style ladders and stunts virtually anywhere you go to ride freeride trails.

These can be intimidating to ride – it’s amazing how much more daunting it is to ride something a foot wide when it’s a few feet off the ground – but it’s all about confidence and having the right skills.

Here you’ll find out how to tackle all the Shore obstacles you’re likely to find out on the trails, which will enable you to take on anything the UK’s freeride centres can throw at you.

Before riding any obstacles, try walking them first to get an idea of what it feels like to be up there, and take note of the areas where you may lose your balance.

How to handle basic ladders/cornering

The key to riding North Shore ladders is to be confident, keep your flow, and know the wheelbase (the distance between the centre of your front wheel and that of the back wheel) of your bike – this will help you know when to start the turn – you need to turn your front wheel as late as possible to make sure the rear one will make it round.

Until you’re confident rolling along NorthShore obstacles, keep your speed at walking pace and try to keep the bike as central as possible on the ladders. Walk your bike over the obstacle first to see when you need to turn.

How to ride teeter-totters/see-saws

Known in Canada as teeter-totters, see-saws are fun to ride, and nowhere near as intimidating as they can look. Like riding a skinny (see below), you need to know the width and length of your bike, but it takes a little more balance.

There are two ways that you can ride a see-saw. If they’re big enough, you can keep rolling (and you’ll also have better balance), but on some see-saws, the tipping point and the length of the see-saw means you have to stop to initiate the rocking movement.

Practice makes perfect in the world of see-saws – although once you’re over the initial ‘shock’ of the feeling of the bike travelling downwards while virtually stationary, you’ll love them.

How to ride skinnies

The EsherShore spot featured here has a specific low skinnies trail for learning on.

The problem with skinnies is all in the head. When you see how thin they can be you think you can’t possibly ride along them, but think about it – you can ride along a white line on the road with no trouble, it’s just the height that’s putting you off.

  • The key is to start low. 
  • Confidence is the other key, so you must trust your judgements.
  • Start off at low speeds and try to keep as much flow as possible to help maintain balance.
  • As soon as you get jerky, you’ll have to dab (put a foot down to steady yourself).
  • The track stand (balancing on the bike while stationary without putting a foot down) is a very useful skill to learn here, because it allows you to pause briefly between sections without putting a foot down and ruining your flow.

Basic tips for North Shore-styling

Sitting when it gets narrow

When you’re riding narrow sections of ladder, it’s easy to get a bit unstable. If you find yourself wobbling, try sitting down – your bike is less twitchy when you’re seated.

Inspect the fall zones beforehand

Sooner or later you will fall off your bike on a ladder, so make sure you have clear areas to fall into if you’re worried about certain sections. Walk the ladders and check out the ground below any bits you’re worried about.

Master spontaneous dismounting

It’s important to learn how to fall properly. If you’re going to abandon ship to the right, swing your left leg round the back of the bike, jump off in one motion, and push the bike so it falls off the other side of the ladder, rather than hitting you.

Install a hanger banger

Bashing your rear mech is inevitable when riding NorthShore, so consider a Hanger Banger – a device designed to stop you breaking your rear mech and hanger.

How to manage steep roll-ins

Unlike rolling off something steep that’s made from dirt, ladder roll-ins usually have an angled edge that can foul your chainrings, or grab the bike and send you off it.

  • Test the roll-in by holding your bike in position – allow an extra inch or so to allow for the fact that your bike will sag when you’re on it. 
  • If it looks like your chainring will foul, you can hop the rear wheel into the transition by flicking it up with your feet on the pedals, like you would for a bunny hop, just before the chainring hits the roll-in, but otherwise just roll off the edge. 
  • Make sure you keep just enough speed to roll over it without dabbing.
  • If the run-out allows, release the brakes during freefall.
  • If it’s a slow technical trail, stay off the back of the bike and control your speed.

How to tackle ladder step-ups

When jumping on to a ladder there are three factors to bear in mind:

1. Getting safely on to the ladder2. Keeping a straight flight path3. Not hanging your rear wheel up

Most jumps like this won’t have the ladder extending down like this one – they’ll just have a straight edge that could cause a pinch puncture if you don’t make it smoothly on.

  • Watch others to get an idea of the speed you need to approach with, stay loose, and be ready for take off.
  • Compress your bike into the take off and the transition will pop you up towards the deck.
  • Once airborne, shift your weight forwards to land the front wheel on the deck– the rear wheel will follow.
  • If you feel the rear wheel may not make it, a dab of the front brake on landing will help bump it up a bit.
  • Land as straight as you can, and focus on the trail ahead.

How to land ladder drops

Unlike drops out on the trail where there will usually be a couple of options for landing or rolling, North Shore drops tend to offer only one way down. The thing that makes ladder drops easier is that you can see the edge of the ladder, so you have something to aim for.

NorthShore drops have a variety of landings, so inspect the landing before you tackle the drop to make sure you adopt the right style on take-off.

In this example, the landing is fairly flat and has a turn almost as soon as you’ve landed, so a slow ‘plop’ off the edge is the way to tackle it. As I reach the edge I’m only pulling up slightly to stop the front dropping, then I’m keeping my weight back until the rear wheel leaves the edge.

As the rear wheel leaves I allow the bike to drop away from me and extend my arms and legs ready to absorb the landing.

Intermediate tips for NorthShore styling

Practice riding white lines

Still not convinced you can ride a skinny? Try riding along a white line in a car park, or along a curb stone – it’s pretty easy! Now get your head around the skinnies and get on with it…

Use a bashguard for protetction

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a bike with a bashguard already fitted, it’s a wise idea to invest. This MRP guard allows the use of three chainrings, and has the safety of a skid plate to help you over rocks, roots and wooden ladders.

Polish up your track stands

The track stand is an essential skill. From balancing at traffic lights to pausing on a tricky NorthShore section, the advantages are clear as you already have your feet on the pedals and are ready to roll…

Launch at some ladder gaps

A ladder gap is a space between two ladders that can be jumped – it’s important to learn how to clear a ladder gap because hanging up your back wheel on one can be dangerous. Like riding a basic ladder or skinny for the first time, you just need to get your head round them.

The take off will normally have a lip to pop you over the gap – you’ll only have to ensure you have enough speed to make the gap. When you land on the ladder, this speed should be enough to keep you stable. 

When landing, look ahead – if the ladder continues out on to dirt, focus on the dirt. If it’s an extended section of ladder, only look at the landing zone as you’re about to take off, and focus on the ladder further ahead – this’ll keep you stable when you land.

Ladder gaps are the classic examples of needing to look before you leap – some will be hipped, some will be blind, some stepped-up and others stepped-down. So make sure you check beforehand. If anything, it should be easier on ladders because the path you should be riding on is made very clear.

Riding ramps and getting some booter air

Some may call them kickers or even ramps, but the Cannucks call them booters – apt really when you consider what these wooden launch ramps do – which is boot you into the air.

Booters are normally situated near a bank and are designed to boot you into the bank as a nice landing transition. Riding booters is very predictable and they are ideal for learning tricks on.

To start with, just ride off the end and land. Once you’re comfy with this, let rip with faster speeds and less pulling up for a clean and smooth landing, or going slower and pulling up harder for bigger air without the danger of landing too flat.

If the landing bank is long enough, you’ll be able to let rip and have a really good thrash session without too high a risk damaging your bike, but be aware that landing to flat and harsh landings can be asking for trouble – you won’t get any sympathy if you go crying to your bike shop with broken cranks and tell them you were ‘just riding along’!

Advanced tips for North Shore-styling

Do it yourself

Building a portable booter is a great idea for fun on the go – find a bank, place your booter at the top and session… Be wary of building in public places as they can be deemed dangerous and torn down.

Practice makes perfect

Want to practice? Check out these locations:

Do the real thing

It’s very well trying the best the UK has to offer, but what about planning your very own trip to the North Shore of Vancouver?

The North Shore of Vancouver in Canada is home to three mountains – Cypress, Seymour and Fromme. There are hundreds of trails strewn across these mountains, each littered with jumps, ladder stunts and raised skinny sections. Originally, trail builders would incorporate a fallen tree or boulder into the trails and would build ladder sections to bridge swamps, gullies and unrideable sections.

Over the years these ladder sections have evolved into a new style of riding, and the technical ladders and stunts that cover the mountains here have now reached every corner of the mountain biking world.

Check out www.nsmb.com for details on how to get there, where to stay, where the trails are and even guided tours. You will not regret it…

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