“Smooth is fast.” You’ve heard that a hundred times … but what does it really mean? If you’re focused on riding fast, expect to spend the majority of your ride in a very reactive state. This can result in poor line choice, over-breaking in corners, bouncing down technical sections (causing fatigue), wasting energy cleaning up mistakes and an overall a feeling of fighting your bike down the trail.
Now take a second to think about riding smooooth … exiting corners with constant (or even increasing) speed, floating over rock gardens, roots and other trail features, feeling like you’re riding a wave! Which sounds better to you?
Slowing down and focusing on riding smooth will allow you to more easily identify and work on your skill limiters. For example, if you can’t nail that corner at moderate speed, how the heck are you going to ride it full-throttle?
Once you’re getting all the features spot-on at moderate speed, turn it up a notch! Riding smoother will put you in a much more proactive riding state and with time, you ‘ll find yourself riding faster.
We’ve identified what we think are the 10 ten most important skills to riding smoother, thus faster, below. With practice, these tips will help you ride with more confidence, momentum, speed, efficiency and control.
1. Keep your weight centered on the bike.
If the bicycle were removed from you while riding, you should fall flat on your feet (not your bum or face). Too far forward and you’ll be inclined to launch over the handlebars. Too far back and your front brake won’t be as effective as it should be.
2. Keep your body loose on the bike.
Arms and legs should be slightly bent and never fully extended. If you can’t wiggle your fingers, you’re holding on too tight – relax. One finger on the brakes – with today’s hydraulic disc brakes that’s really all you need. This allows you to keep a good handle on the grips.
3. Let your bike do the work, trust your bike.
Fighting your bike will make riding feel long, tiring and usually more bumpy that it needs to be. Tell your bike where you want it to go and then let your bike flow down the trail, into and around corners.
4. Keep momentum on your side.
If you come to a technical section, having a bit of momentum helps tremendously. If you are picking your way over and around every rock you are going to lose your momentum which will require even more power to get your speed back up when the trail improves.
5. When in doubt, go straight.
Don’t waste a bunch of time and momentum trying to pick that perfect line every time. Focus on flow and keeping the bike moving.
6. Lower your tire pressure.
Too much tire pressure is going to cause you to bounce all over the trail. Modern tires can handle the lower pressure (tubeless setup is recommended to eliminate the possibility of pinch flats).
7. Ride like a butterfly – float down the trail.
Push down into areas where you need traction (bermed corners, etc.) and let the bike be light in areas that are rough.
8. Keep your head up.
It’s OK to glance down at an obstacle or feature on the trail, but don’t fixate on it! Once you’ve identified your line, bring your head back up and look down the trail.
9. Rail the corners.
As you turn, centrifugal force wants to throw you off your bike into the bushes (or into that pesky poison oak!) on the outside of the corner. So when you whip around a corner fast, you’ll want to lean into it. But because your speed and the radius of the turn are rarely in sync, you need to lean your bike and your body at different angles. Generally, this means leaning your bike into the turn and keeping your body slightly more upright.
10. Brake before the corner.
Keep your momentum – brake BEFORE the corner, not in the corner. Already have your speed set prior to entering the corner and flow out the other side of it. If you brake in the turn, your bike will want to stand up, your traction will diminish and worst of all, you’ll have to power up again coming out of the corner.
So there you have it, 10 tips for riding (smoother) and faster. What are you waiting for? Go smooth it out and speed it up!