How to Ride a Gnarly Chute on Your Bike
One of my favourite things about biking, is that there’s always a challenging section on your casual bike trails that been on your mind for a while. You are just waiting for the perfect moment; - “You know, THE perfect weather and THAT good feeling, when it’s finally the day you hit it. Oh yes, you know what I am talking about!”
I have a few simple tips to help, when you approach those more technical, out of your comfort zone sections. As I always tell the riders that I coach;
"In any trail section that is challenging you, it is important to picture yourself successful in the first place. It might not always feel like it but biking is a physical sport where a positive state of mind will make a difference with a good rider and a very good rider !"
A good thing I like to do in order to achieve that is trying to find out what to improve or what move I need to do to make sure I nail it. It is crazy how a little understanding of each specific move helps me picture myself doing it! And as you know, it always feel very good to achieve a new “gnarly chute”, or a rock roll for the first time, when you’ve had it in mind for a little while.
Before going into the “gnarly” stuff, let’s talk about simple and basic techniques to make you feel solid on your bike at all times.
POSITION ON A STEEP TRAIL
First of all, you want to have a neutral position, when approaching a feature. That means being nice and tall with your head over the handle bar, elbows and knees slightly bent with heels down. This position allows you to adapt to any terrain, quickly, by moving towards different axes. When you move into a feature, you want to get lower on the bike to ensure good stability and keep yourself closer to the ground. We call this the “ready” position. That position will give you more room to move the bike around. It is very important to go back to the neutral position whenever it is possible to ensure maximum strength in your legs and a fast response to upcoming obstacles.
ADAPTATION OF THE “READY POSITION”
If you look at the rider above, it is a good example of how to adapt to a gnarly chute. You can clearly see that the rider was coming fast and had to adjust his “ready position” by pushing the bike forward to stay as much as she can close to the ground. We can clearly see that the rider is still centered on her bike and it is in correlation with the terrain. Also, she is using a lot of his flexibility to not catch the seat between his legs. The knees are bend at 90 degrees and should be fully opened. To stay small on the bike, she is bending a lot at the waist. Right after the chute, she probably did use her arms to go back center and keep on riding. A good rider is always able to adapt between neutral and ready position.
BRAKING ON A STEEP TRAIL
Having good brake control while going down a chute is another very important piece of the puzzle.
"It is all about finding the right ratio between front and back brake."
Try to use the right amount of brakes in order to adapt your speed to what you are
comfortable to handle. The brakes are very powerful these days and there is a lot of modulation before the wheels will get locked. It will help you to control your speed better and stay in control. It is easy to accelerate and carry speed, if you release the brakes for too long or to make it feel super janky if you are on the brakes too much. Be aware that both brakes must be involved for a smooth ride down. Your should not be scared of using the front one, it is even more important than the rear one while descending a steep chute.
The front brake is good to stop and the back brake is good to slow down. Now, when the trail gets steeper we want to keep the same amount of weight over both wheels. This is why we want to increase the use of the front one.
-"I have seen people being scared of the front brake too often and I would say that most of the time the rider ended up skidding sideways with the rear wheel completely locked or the complete opposite, coming way too fast and out of control."
Try to look for a smooth patch of dirt if you really need to be heavier on the brakes and re-adjust speed accordingly. Always remember that your position is directly affecting your brake control, and that staying centered will help you keep the traction on the front wheel. It is crucial to be able to adapt from the neutral to the ready position at anytime while riding steep terrain. It will ensure a full control of the bike and avoid an unforeseen crash.
This section of the article will talk about real bike life situation that you will be able to recognize. All of them are similar but different at the same time. We will point you the right things to focus about on those situations. Remember, as simple as it is, it’s a matter of where you are on your bike and how you will use your brakes!
A good way to see a feature is to break it down in many steps. First, there is the point of commitment, the initiation, the feature and the exit.
1. DON’T LET THE TRAIL DRIVE YOU, ENSURE YOU RIDE IT!
When you past your point of commitment, ensure you are centered on your bike so you keep your front wheel traction and your front brake stays powerful to help you control your speed. Start slow to feel the grip of the ground and use your brakes in relation with it. I would recommend going as slow as you can first and pick speed later in your progression. We are looking for control and not speed (the speed will come naturally!). During the feature, maintain a solid stance with your heels down, keep your chest up, bend more your knees and in the waist. You can refer to the photo above. We call this the ready position. Keeping your knees open will allow you to be ready for the exit and move your bike where you want to go. Remember that the Gforce of the motion will try to bring your body down. Having a strong body position will ensure control. If there is a dip at the end, being strong with your legs will help not collapsing and make it through. Look at your exit to keep in smooth until the end and be ready for anything coming.
2. MANAGING A CHUTE TO A CORNER
Staying centered as much as possible with good brake control when entering the chute, be careful not to crouch too much. Keep your upper body up and engage so your position will stay fluent and easy to adapt when you get to the corner. The hardest part on a chute to corner feature is to have a smooth transition from the steep slope to the quick corner. In the chute, a good relation with the front brake and the back brake is required to slow down enough for the corner. Release the front brake before the corner and use your back brake to control your speed as you need. It might feel like a skid but you will realize quickly that it will help you to be precise and turn. If you are able to keep your front wheel traction and lean the bike into your cornering position just before the corner, you are in business!
3. GAIN STABILITY IN STEEP CORNERS
If you are an advanced skier, you must know that being back seated will give you no control when you link turns. It is the same on a bike. We all know that it happens sometimes but we try to recover and regain stability as we can.
Engage your core and your lower back muscles to be strong on your bike. Keep your arms relaxed enough to change direction. At the start of a corner, be very gentle with the front brake to help direct your bike and keep rolling. It will give you more direction control and also stability. When you feel that you nailed a corner, you can give a press with your feet and legs so the bike will feel light and easy to change direction. Take a deep breath and look ahead, you can do it! Maintain a good speed as you will need to keep on moving to stay on top of your bike. You will have to anticipate the corners so you can control speed to be smooth and find a flow in your riding. This one feel really great when executed properly!
Not sure where to start to improve?
There is a way to progress with minimal consequences that are going to make you more aware of your position and your braking technique. This is couple ideas for you:
Find a opened slope just steep enough and try to play with the ratio of your front brake versus your back brake. When you get comfortable, try if you can use only your front brake!
Try to go as slow as you can on a feature that you already feel good. Start at the top almost like a track stand. The slower you can do a feature, the better your position is in relation with your braking control.
Scan ahead to find your braking points on the feature. By knowing where is the good grip, it will be less intimidating to commit to it.
Split the feature in steps: initiation, feature and exit. Think about the speed you are looking for to enter the feature, what kind of move you will do on the feature and if you have anything to be aware in the exit.
I hope this article will be useful for your own riding. Take it easy and try to find features that are achievable and match your riding level. Build your skills step by step so this way you can control the risks you are taking. Remember that the goal is to ride down a trail and control where you want to go. Don’t be shy and try to be offensive more than defensive in the gnarly chutes that we have been talking about.
Enjoy the ride!
Stephanie Lachance, ambassador of the PEPPERMINT Collective.