How to ride tree roots on the trails

Top tips to help you stay upright over wet and slippery roots

Except on the most sunbaked summer days, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter wet roots riding natural trails. Now firmly settled in to autumn it's time to get your technique dialled.

Roots are the Russian roulette of trail obstacles — you never know which direction your bike is going to go after hitting those shiny snakes of doom! But there are some fundamental skills that’ll help you best manage the unpredictable nature of wet or polished roots…

1. Focus

Look ahead, not down at the roots. Your natural Jedi-like senses will kick in and the phenomenon known as target vision — looking where you want to go, not at the obstacle you want to avoid — will help pull you through.

2. Speed

Reducing the time your tyres are in contact with roots reduces the chances of you slipping on them. Speed will help you go over, rather than slide along, them. Only go as fast as your ability allows — session a section, building up speed gradually.

3. Weight

Unweighting your bike helps — the lighter you are, the less effect slippery roots will have. If you can’t unweight your bike then practice bunnyhopping and manualling on the flat before transferring those skills to rooty sections.

4.  Attack

The angle of attack is important. If you can, approach roots square on — the more acute your angle of approach, the higher the chances are that the roots will force your tyres to slide off course.

5. On course

If you need to slow down or change direction, do it before you hit a root section. Braking on roots will spell disaster — your tyres will hang up and slide. If you try to change direction on roots, the shift in body weight can also cause your tyres to hang up.

6. Body position

Keep your elbows bent and shoulders relaxed to absorb any impacts and be ready to compensate for a slip. With knees slightly bent, cranks level and heels down you’re giving yourself the best chance to control your bike.

Set-up tips

Your bike can play a massive part in helping you negotiate a maze of roots. Think about these three things:

1. Tyres — Tyre type and pressure will have the biggest effect on how your bike handles over roots. If conditions allow, reduce pressures to help the rubber deform over the roots for better grip. ‘Spike’ mud tyres are the least grippy on roots with their tall, straight tread. The grippiest tyres have shorter siped knobs made of soft-compound rubber.

2. Suspension — If you’ve got your bike set up hard, with fast rebound, the suspension won’t be able to absorb the roots and will try to push the wheels into them on the rebound stroke. This means you’re likely to slip as your bike fights against the roots. To boost grip, set up the suspension with mid-range rebound and compression.

3. Contact points — These are very important. Angle your brake levers so that your handlebar is pushed into the palms of your hands, that way you won’t have to cling on so tight to stay in control. A wider bar and shorter stem will also help you maintain control. Drop the saddle so your bike doesn’t kick you up the backside when things get hairy.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Alex has been riding bikes since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. He first raced back in 2003, winning the Juvenile category on a sketchy hard tail Planet X bike. Alex lived in the Alps for seven years so isn't shy of a climb or two and loves getting out in his bike in all weather. His favorite thing to ride is steep loamy tracks with loads of opportunities to slam the bike into turns and really give it some frame bending welly! He's broken his fair share of frames, so any bike between his knees is going to get a right seeing to.
  • Discipline: DH, Enduro, XC, BMX, Road
  • Preferred Terrain: Epic descents covered in the world's finest loam and hero dirt
  • Current Bikes: Nukeproof Mega 275 / Giant Anthem Advanced 275 1 / LeMond Reno / Deluxe Pro 2 BMX
  • Dream Bike: Giant ATX 1 DH (1999 model)
  • Beer of Choice: Teetotal
  • Location: Bristol, UK

Related Articles

Back to top