How to track stand on a mountain bike: Parts 1 - 6

Ryan Leech demonstrates how to balance with ease

This is a sponsored post in association with Ryan Leech Connection.

BikeRadar has teamed up with the mountain bike coaching site Ryan Leech Connection to give you the first six parts of its Baseline Balance Skills for Mountain Bikers online course for free.

The full course features 42 progressive video lessons designed to quickly boost your confidence and maneuverability on technical trails. You'll eliminate foot dabs and gain flow. Track stands, hopping and rocking are radically transformative techniques that every rider can learn yet they’re often overlooked and under-utilised. You can learn these even if you're a beginner, and if you're an expert — it's never too late!

Part 6: Precision

This drill is often more challenging than one might think at first glance. It requires not only your slow speed corner ratcheting abilities, but now precision!

Set up 3 or 4 cones (or if you don’t have any fancy soccer training cones like me, baseball sized rocks or something similar will work just fine) in a line and up a gentle slope, spacing them approximately 3 bikes lengths apart - best start with them further apart, you can always make them closer together for more of a challenge as you become more comfortable with this drill.

Picture the cone as if it was a rock or small obstacles sitting right in the middle of the trail in the middle of a switchback and approach slowly. Turn your front wheel as close as you can to the outside edge of the cone/rock while ratcheting very slowly, you will then find your rear wheel passes safely on the inside of the cone/rock.

Once you become comfortable, add a momentary pause while you’re turning.

After you pass a cone, you can continue the switchback pattern so you get used to turning both directions (this is amazing switchback practice), or reset with a zig-zag so you can build up your confidence by initially just practicing turning one direction.

Once you become comfortable and stable with this, try increasing the difficulty of this skill by using a taller prop like a water bottle. This way you’re challenged to avoid knocking it over with your pedal or crank by using careful ratcheting control.

Your gaze, or eye placement is useful to consider at this stage in the program; you want it to be steady and since track stands are slow, there is no need to look too far ahead - you want to know what you’re riding on and around so in most track stand situations somewhere within a bike length ahead will suffice, and the gaze doesn’t have to locked. When riders are instructed where to look and focus it may result in a locked and stiff gaze that can create a locked and stiff body and mind - not good! So this is a gentle suggestion, and based on it please feel free to experiment a little and grow trust of what feels most steady for you.

As you advance with your track stands, you’ll be able to stay in one spot for as long as you need providing an opportunity to glance further up the trail to choose the best line.

Part 5: A Momentary Pause

This lesson provides a natural and beautiful ‘next step’ in your track standing progression sequence.

Once again find a nice grassy uphill practice slope. While still standing up, ride across the slope and turn up the slope in your favorite turning direction while ratcheting.

As you’re ratcheting tune in to the gentle power you need in your forward foot to ratchet you and your bike up the slope against gravity that is gently tugging you back downwards.

The key goal for this practice is to calmly and with purpose, come to a momentary pause (stopping all forward momentum) and then continue ratcheting. This pause will either occur when:

  • You’ve ratcheted back and are about to ratchet down with your forward foot
  • During the first part of the ratchet stroke down while the pedals are still more or less horizontal

See if you can intentionally experience both variations.

After you’ve turned the corner you can zig-zag, as I show in the video, back to your favorite front wheel turned position and continue practicing. We’re making some great progress here!!

Part 4: Dizzy Drill

Riding in circles and figure-eights is a fantastic drill for developing slow speed bike control. I want you attempt going as slow as you can and making the circles as tight as you can!

There is a small chance you’re reading this far without having even swung your leg over the bike, if that’s you, I understand, though please do get out there try this practice for real before you move on!

Practice this drill on any flat grassy area. Start by rolling in a large circle with a tall, relaxed stance. Your shoulders and chest turned about the same amount and direction as your handlebars. For now, practice this skill with whichever foot forward you are most comfortable with. You may notice I do this entire practice session using my left foot forward, this is my preference but that may not be the same for you.

Gradually make your circle smaller and smaller. If you’re going really slow, you’ll max out how far you can turn either by hitting the handlebar on your thigh which may happen when you turn in the direction of your forward foot; or if you’re turning the other way you’ll actually be able to turn the bar more than 90 degrees, but will quickly find out this simply stalls the bike which will cause you to lose balance, so please be careful here!

You may need to control your speed with your brakes, especially if the ground is smooth, a little uneven, or sloped. It's important to get in the habit of having your index finger on each brake lever ready for when you need it.

Once you’ve done a few circles in both directions, try some figure eights. Again, start making your figure 8’s with large circles, and gradually make them tighter and roll along slower.

The speed of your ratchet backwards is also important, work on quick, efficient and smooth ratchets back. If you’re hearing a lot of clunking from your drivetrain, you may need to work on a gentler re-application of power for each new ratchet stroke so you’re not banging down on the drivetrain with your power.

And again, while it’s great to practice this both directions, think about and note which direction feels most comfortable for you!

Part 3: Corner Ratcheting

Find a nice wide practice area, preferably on grass, and most importantly with a gentle uphill slope.

Pedal into this practice drill across (perpendicular to) the slope and then turn your front wheel up the hill. Ratchet with your front (dominant) foot doing the work until you’re almost facing the opposite way (across the hill again) then turn your front wheel the opposite way until you’re once again heading up the slope and ratcheting with your strong foot again while turning — you’re basically aiming to switchback up the slope in a continuous ‘S’ pattern.

The power generated in the ratchet stroke comes from a combo of body weight transfer and quad strength, and the steeper the hill the more power is necessary to keep your momentum moving forward. If it feels like there is too much pressure on your front foot, you may need to try an easier gear or a gentler slope.

Be careful to avoid the urge and tendency to do a full pedal stroke around the corner. If this happens, just take note, and try again and again until you become very comfortable using the ratchet technique.

A great drill is try using your non-dominant foot while ratcheting in both directions. This may feel weird, but it is a good way to:

  • Confirm to yourself which foot is your comfortable or dominant foot
  • Decide which direction you prefer or are most comfortable turning
  • Confirm that you can do this same skill with the “wrong foot” forward for those times on the trail that you get caught not having a choice of pedal position.

You may find your quad and calf muscles get tired while practising, so careful not to overdo it. Soon you'll feel more comfortable standing taller and relaxing which will take the extra load off! As you practice you'll also build up some extra endurance.

For the next number of lessons, we’ll be focusing most of your practice time with your stronger/dominant foot forward and the front wheel turned in the same direction. This is so that you have a go-to safe place to track stand that you fully trust and that you can utilise in most trail situations. Remember there is no right or wrong combination, figure out what is best for you. Have a great practice!

Part 2: Ratcheting

Ratcheting your bike is a very important standalone skill (pun intended). It is a skill you may have noticed you resort to when negotiating trails that have obstacles that might prevent a full pedal stroke or when switchbacks are tight. Ratcheting also happens to serve as a fantastic initial technique to practice for track standing.

Roll along any section of slightly uphill ground (firm path, bike path, hard but smooth grass) standing up, at a comfortable walking speed.

Keep your strong foot forward and begin moving your forward foot up and down to power you and your bike forward, otherwise known as ratcheting!

If you don’t know which your forward foot is, experiment with which feels most comfortable and natural to have at the front while ratcheting, or think about when you coast along on your bike with your pedals horizontal… which foot do you naturally have forward in this neutral coasting position? We all have a stronger or dominant foot (ie goofy or regular for board sports) and if you don’t know yours then no worries, over the next couple of days practice and drills you’ll soon discover the one way that feels most comfortable.

Watch that your ratchet range isn’t too high or low. If you look at your bike from the side and think of your crankset as a clock face, then when your forward foot is at the 12 o’clock position (crank arm straight up) you won’t have very good leverage or torque to start the ratchet stroke, and if you finish with your crank arm pointing straight down at 6 o’clock you’ll be compromising your balance and stability, not to mention both extremes put your lower pedal and foot in the path of obstacles on the trail. So the ideal power and control range is between 1 o’clock and 5 o’clock.

Play with your speed, you may need to slow down or find a better slope to experience the power and acceleration contribution of the ratchet stroke. Happy ratcheting!

Part 1: Track Stand Theory with Ryan Leech

What are your current perceptions about the difficulty of balancing in one spot on your bike? Whatever they are, let me help shape them or at least add some context so that your learning trajectory has no limits.

Even though you’re in one spot, you’re still moving! Movement is key to balance, both in the bike and body! For track stands, you’re actually rolling back and forth utilising gravity or body language (instead of relying on a fixed gear like on a track bike). This is the foundation for quality track stands.

This movement allows much more room for error than most riders initially think! For example, I challenge anyone to balance in one spot on their bike, with their front wheel straight, and their brakes on.

Without the bike moving, your body is left to desperately balance a bike that is fixed on one skinny line, impossible even for a balance master like me! However, simply by turning your front wheel to create a more triangular base of balance and allowing some rolling movement of the wheels makes the track stand a very accessible and do-able skill.

So perfect balance isn’t required, you just need the right technique and progression sequence. Track stands are easier than you might initially think!

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