Downhill Like a Pro - Aaron Albright - Chapter One

So, you’re looking to shred the gnar, are yah? Of course you are, because that’s what mountain biking is all about.  I am here today to enlighten you with some knowledge for doing just that. I never really considered myself a master bike handler or descender (in fact, I still don’t, in comparison to the real downhill racers), but in the past year I have finally been able to transfer my previous motocross racing skills into the pedal- powered machine.

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Starting off the 2015 season by winning the Pisgah Stage Race Enduro classification was a shock to myself and others, and a realization that the skills I have been working on have finally clicked. A lot of that has been due to my acquisition of a dual suspension bike, and feeling like I’m on a squishy MX bike again. In my case, the BMC Fourstroke FS02 is the ticket.

You don’t need a full suspension to rip though, as there are plenty of guys (and girls!) that can ride the wheels off of a hardtail, but it certainly helps. Let’s go over a few of the things that helped me and should help you go fast downhill.

Let’s just cover the basics to start to make sure we’re all on the same page: elbows out, hips back, chest low, eyes up, heavy feet, light hands. Got it? Good. We’ll call that the attack position, and it’s where you should be anytime you want to shred. With that said, my first tip is to stay loose. You should be relaxed to an extent. No death grip on the bars! I hear so many people mention their hand cramps or arm pump after an extended rough descent. That is a pretty clear sign that they are holding on too tight, their weight was not centered, or both. When your weight is centered over the pedals and your legs are doing most of the work, your arms and hands really don’t have to do much.

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Think about a pro motocross race; their races are almost 35 minutes long and it’s like a rough descent the entire time. They recruit the biggest muscles in their body to do most of the work- that’s right, their legs.

Your lower body has a lot of input into handling a bike. Hey, when Chubbs from Happy Gilmore said, “It’s all in the hips”, he was really onto something. The big picture here is, feel free to move around on the bike.  Absorb the bumps through your arms and legs like they are big Fox Float shocks, and adjust your body position according to the grade on the trail to keep the weight centered over the pedals.

The next technique I have to share is pumping. Pumping terrain through the trail is simply becoming light on the upsides of obstacles, and heavy on the downsides. Those obstacles could be rocks, logs, roots, or just the natural roll of the surface. When done right, it’s like creating a bunch of miniature down hills within the trail that give you so much free speed it’s stupid.

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For example, let’s say you’re coming up on a nice rounded boulder about two feet high. You can preload just before it to become light up the front side (or completely clear it if you have enough speed), then gracefully land on the backside, pushing into the transition to get a boost of speed from the tiny downhill. If you can do this to every bump on the trail, you will ride away from people that are pedaling squares into rocks while you look like a bunny rabbit hopping along through the woods.

You can pump turns, too. Traction is what we’re all looking for in the corners, and the more down force you can put into the tires, the more traction there is. Just like pushing into the downside of an obstacle for a boost, push into the turn just as you are leaning the bike. This really applies to the quicker chicane type moves, because long sweeping turns cannot really be pumped. Steer with your hips, drop the outside pedal if there’s room in the trail, lean the bike, and rip it. Similar to the saying “heavy feet, light hands”, you want to be heavy in the corners and light over the bumps.

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Once you are comfortable with pumping through rocks and such, you can take it a step further bycombining obstacles. What I mean by that is using two obstacles in the trail that would normally work against you by slowing you down, and combining them into one move that will build speed. For example, there is a decent sized rock coming up on you with a root exposed just 2 feet in front of it. Should you:

A) Slow down and weave your way around the rock?   

B) Slow down and try to pump over the root and the rock? 

C) Maintain speed and preload into the root to jump right over the top of the rock, while pumping into the backside as you land? 

If you chose option C, then you are on the right track! This is really one of the most fun things you can do through the trail on a MTB. You’ll need to be comfortable getting your wheels off of the ground for just a little bit, and that comes with practice.

This can be done with even the simplest of things, such as getting a little boost off a rock to get your wheels to land flush on a small down slope after it. There are so many possibilities for combining things, even off the side of the trail out of the main line. You just have to look around.

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Being able to do a lot of these techniques comes with having confidence. With enough practice and preparation, confidence comes naturally. If there is a section of trail that scares you or trips you up every time, then you simply need to practice it more! Once you have done something multiple times before, like hopping over a really tall log, coming up on something like it again is no big deal. There’s less thinking going on and more doing.

When you ride with instinct, that’s when things start to click.  You begin looking farther ahead for more options in the trail, sliding through corners without hesitation, and your front wheel never touches an upside. The trail becomes a raw piece of clay that you sculpt to suit your fancy. Practice, stay loose, keep centered, use your legs, drive with your hips, ride more, and you will become one with your bike on the downhills. Now get out there and have fun!