9282 Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN (map)
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Riding Over Roots & Rocks

Riding over Roots and Rocks



Momentum is your friend


It doesn't matter if you are going down a steep chute or rock face, riding over a log, through a rough rocky section, or over wet slippery roots, it is a fact that a rolling bike is easier to control and keep upright than a bike that is standing still. Using too much brake or going too slow in certain sections and conditions will cause your bike to hang up or slide out. If you are going down a trail and your front wheel gets hung up on a root or rock the chances are you will flip over the handlebar. Likewise, when you are going through wet angled roots or down steep rock faces, if you go too slow or use too much brake, your bike will slide or shoot out from underneath you. By letting your bike roll through or over obstacles, you are allowing the bike to do what it is designed to do, the trick is not going too fast, too slow, or using too much brake.


Brake Right


To clear bumps of any size and to stay in control, the tires have to keep rolling. Let your wheels roll over roots and rocks, so that all of your traction is available for steering and slide control. Rather than wasting your traction on the roots with heavy braking, try to do your speed control on the non-rooty parts between obstacles. To do this, keep track of where your wheels are, and keep a feather touch on your brakes, ready to grab a handful of them when the opportunity arises. You'll be able to slow much more effectively on solid ground, and you'll have more control.


Obviously, the key to controlling your speed and momentum is in braking. To control your momentum you have to learn to modulate or adjust the amount of pressure you apply to both front & back brakes. Before you start, you have to know the following facts. The front brake provides the majority of your stopping power and is your main source of slowing down. The rear brake is more of a set up and control tool that allows you to slide out the rear end of the bike in a controlled manner. When properly modulating your brakes through technical sections or down steeps, you never lock up the front brake while the rear brake can be periodically locked and unlocked in a controlled manner. A little mental note or tip for using the front brake is "don't squeeze, squeegee the brakes".


Take Obstacles Head-On


Be sure to approach a root head-on. Especially when it's wet or muddy, or when riding big knobby tires with a low surface area, the front wheel can slide sideways along the root if the approach is not close to 90 degrees.


Soak up the Bumps


Especially when moving quickly, a plush suspension fork is a great help in handling the lumps that trails throw at you. When you're moving less quickly, or riding a stiffer fork, your body must act as a useful suspension. Many riders will stiffen up when presented with a rock garden or a network of slippery roots rushing up at them, but one must do the exact opposite.


Keep your arms bent and your butt off the saddle. Be supple and fluid, like a ballroom dancer, and let the bike hammer about below you as you gracefully float down the hill. Don't let the roots bounce you around -- keep your arms and legs loose to soak up the bumps.


Keep the Tires Flat


Thinking about tire pressure? Think again. Sloping obstacles demand that you keep your tires flat against them, to keep the tread in contact with the root's surface. Lean your bike at as close to the angle at which the obstacle slopes as you can, while keeping your body upright. Otherwise, only the edge of the tire will be touching the obstacle, and you'll slide to the bottom.

New to the sport of mountain biking?   Here are some brake exercises to practice on a flat empty parking lot or field.


Ride a straight line (not too fast) and apply the rear brake only. Do this several times applying different amounts of pressure. You will notice if you stay relatively upright, you will stay in a straight line, but if you lean or shift your weight to one side of the bike, the rear end will want to slide out to the opposite side. To stop the back end from sliding, simply release or unlock the brake.


Now ride a straight line gently applying the front brake only. You will notice that the harder you apply the brake, the greater the tendency to pitch you over the bars. To counteract this tendency, simply shift your weight backwards. You will also notice how quickly the front brake will slow you down with little pressure on the brake leaver. The thing to remember is not to lock up or use too much front brake. Please note that the tendency to pitch you forward or over the bars is magnified by speed, the steepness of the trail, as well as going down the back side of obstacles such as logs.


Now ride a straight line using both front and rear brakes. Once you are confident you can slow down and stop in control, go have some fun in the trails, but don't be afraid to stop and walk you bike through or around any obstacles or terrain that you are not confident or comfortable with.

When In Doubt, Walk It Out – Do not cut the tree roots!