A Learning Experience In Colorado
By: Aaron Lucy | Lead Skills Instructor
Recently, after a decade and a half of sun baked fire road climbs in Southern California, I decided it would be a good idea to lead a more oxygen inhibited lifestyle and move to Colorado. Denver to be precise. A quick survey of my newly accessible trails left me both overjoyed and slightly intimidated, how was I going to find time to explore the abundance of trails now within striking distance on the Front Range? (For non Coloradans the Front Range is the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and is littered with trails from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs and beyond). Little did I realize time management was not going to be my only problem!
I linked up with some local rippers including ex New Zealand Pro DH racer Hayden Barnie and the Yeti Factory crew for an introduction to some great Colorado single track. Being a bit of a downhiller myself I was stoked at the thought of carving sweet corners and finding flow through the clusters of rock gardens that make riding here both challenging and super fun. Soon after tackling the first climb however, I realized there were far greater challenges in store for me.
As we all know, what comes down must first go up. And the trails on the Front Range definitely go up! Often steep enough right out of the parking lot to challenge my “sea level” lungs and if that weren’t enough there was also the seemingly impassable fortresses of stone that appear around every turn. Oh, and the water bars conveniently placed in almost every switchback. The technical challenge combined with my lack of acclimation left me staring in helpless wonder as my riding partners easily picked their way through and over the rocks into the distance. It quickly became obvious that if I wanted to keep up I had some tricks to learn.
Rather than throw my bike into the nearest ravine and go home to watch reruns of Red Bull Rampage I decided to get to work. Actually it was no choice at all really, the trails in Colorado are simply too good to ignore.
My experience teaching Mountain Bike Classes has also made me a good student. I knew if I could pay attention to what was stopping me on the climbs I could also figure out which MTB tools to apply to overcome the problem. Learning mountain bike skills is very much like adding tools to a kit. The more tools you have, the more things you can fix!
The problem I found is that I was losing balance and tipping sideways through technical sections. This made it impossible to hold my chosen line through rock sections and as a result I kept straying into unrideable sections of trail. I realized the instability came from placing too much weight high up on the bike because my seatpost was fully extended for the climb. I wanted to maintain correct seat height so simply lowering my seat wouldn’t solve it, but what if I could unweight it? By lifting my butt just a half inch off the saddle into a crouched climb and supporting my upper body with core muscles, I was able to drive all of my weight low on the bike into my pedals. I quickly found the stability I needed to hold my line and turn my bike into a rock crawling machine! It was hard at first, I hadn’t climbed technical terrain like this in a long time and found myself engaging muscles in a different way but knowing I had the answer I stuck with it. It took some practice to really develop the ability but it was worth it. I’m now making climbs I would have thought impossible for me several months ago!
One of the key elements of good body position on a mountain bike is riding with your weight low into the pedals.
Now I know The Front Range and I are going to get along just fine.
Here’s a quick checklist for negotiating technical climbs
1. Approach in a gear that will allow you to apply power without needlessly spinning your pedals.
2. Look for the easiest/smoothest parts of the section and connect them in your mind, this is your line.
3. Hover slightly above your saddle driving your weight low into your pedals.
4. Lower your chest towards your handlebars while supporting your upper body with core muscles.
5. Keep looking ahead focusing only on your line, scan ahead to the end of the section.
6. Making sure your elbows are up and pointing out (not tucked against your body) use your arms to lift the front wheel over obstacles placing it back down on the other side.
7. Shift your weight fore and aft to maintain traction and clear obstacles. Aft to add traction, fore to unweight the rear wheel to clear objects.
8. Engage your core to help supply smooth consistent power to your pedals.
9. Crush it!