I was recently in Southern Utah, escaping winter and mountain biking the fun technical trails in the area. Taking the easy return to work a technical feature I was dumbfounded when I had to put a foot down. I was nailing big lines all day, and this spot was green terrain. What happened? I broke rule #1 for riding ANY obstacle. Can you see what I did?
Do you see it? No? Watch again.
Rule # 1: Look where you want to go, not at where you don’t.
When I teach skill clinics or work one-on-one with mountain bikers I preach that following this rule will-
- get you out of most “bad” situations
- get you riding obstacles you are getting stuck in the middle of
- make your air time comfortable
- let you carry speed with confidence
- (just to name a few)
I have found that this one “trick” is the first thing to try when a rider is not having success with almost any mtb skill. I regularly run ahead on a line, wave my arms, and yell, “look at me” to help riders keep their gaze ahead. When riding into something unexpected or too fast; looking for the clean exit ups the odds to getting through. If you can do more, that’s great; but in a pinch this is the most bang for your buck trick.
Why does this work?
- Your body will follow your focus; driving your bike to that destination.
- Look at that stump/boulder/cliff/etc. = ride directly into it
- Look at the ideal exit = bike will move under you, not into that scary thing (usually)
- When you look down your center of gravity moves over your front wheel. Being heavy on the front tire encourages it to:
- get buried in divots
- stop when it drops in a divot or on the backside of a rock
- slide out on corners or loose terrain
- slow down more than expected (touching the brakes = endo*)
- Looking at the exit of an obstacle or a corner, and scanning ahead for the trail keeps your center of gravity over the bottom bracket (place where the pedal crank-arms attach to the frame). This allows you to:
- drive the bike forward – avoiding face-plants, maintaining traction and carrying speed out of corners
- stay light on your handlebars so you can maneuver your bike if it starts to stray
- lets you put power to your pedal if you need to get over a rock/root/snake/etc.
- roll over and away from drops
Breaking rule #1 happens to the best of us. Adherence will advance your riding and give a higher probability of a good outcome when you make a mistake. Breaking it may be the cause for mishaps on the trail and diminishing confidence. Being aware of how this played into your, “I can’t believe I just rode that” or, “oomph, that didn’t go as planned” is a big part of progressing. But, be gentle on yourself; we all break the rules now and then.
*Endo: a sudden stopping of the front tire of a bicycle resulting in the rider face-planting in front of the bike as the rear wheel flies into the air.