If you’re like me, you never gave up stomping through puddles on a rainy day. Fast-forward a few decades and now we get to trade our galoshes for bike tires. Creeks, brooks, rivers, or streams… every moving body of water poses an exciting (and sometimes refreshing!) challenge on your mountain bike and a chance to experience that same child-like mischief!
Here are a few tips to keep your confidence high and your risk of getting soggy low:
1. Ebb and flow
Waterways change frequently thanks to seasons and weather so don’t assume a creek will look and feel the same as last time. Just ask Instructor Richard! He learned this the hard way after a big rain turned a babbling brook into a 6 foot deep canal…
I came into it full speed and was stopped dead in my tracks by the surging flow. My bike was swiped right out from under me! I guess you could say it was a “refreshing” reminder not to make assumptions when it comes to creek crossings.
Water also speeds up erosion so exits will vary from ride to ride and something that was previously rock armored may be a loose, sketchy pile of chunder today.
2. When in doubt, scope it out
If you come across a creek in the middle of a pack of riders, give the rider in front of you some space. This will give you a chance to see their line, evaluate whether you’ll take the same route, and give any debris a chance to settle so you can see what’s under there (and what to avoid!). Plus, do you know what happens when you tailgate someone into a creek and they don’t make it across? There’s a hefty chance that neither will you!
If you’re in the front of the pack or riding solo and you’re unsure of the creek’s ride-ability, get off the bike to see what what you’re up against. How deep and fast is water is running and what’s at the bottom? Beware of anything deeper than your hubs. Is there sand, muck, slick rocks, or chunder to deal with? All require different tactics to get through just like out on the trail, but with extra resistance and soggier consequences.
3. Pick a line
Right on! You’ve determined that the creek is rideable (or at least worth a try!). Now choose your line through the water noting anything lurking under the surface that you need to avoid. This line should connect easily to your exit route. Take note if your exit has a steep pitch that needs extra power and momentum to boost up or roots and ledges that require a front wheel lift.
4. Pick a method
It’s time to dig into your skills tool box and determine which skill, or combination of skills you will use to cross the water –
COAST / For a short or shallow crossing with a smooth base, you can carry enough momentum to get from one side to the other. This option can help you avoid wet feet and pedal strikes!
PEDAL / Need some extra juice to get across? Aim for even continuous pedal strokes so there is no time for you to stall out mid-stream.
MANUAL / Is the crossing smooth and short and you have manual skills in your mountain bike toolbox? Get that front wheel up through the crossing! Not only does it look rad and is a blast, it keeps your drivetrain dry(er) so dirt doesn’t accumulate on it.
RATCHET / Oh hey, a rock garden! Prepare to ratchet your pedals with slow technical moves to maneuver your way through it.
5. Ready yourself
You have a line, method, and exit strategy, now it’s time to execute. Shift to an easier gear before entering the water – with that extra resistance and a steep exit you’re going to need all the help you can get. If you’re coasting or ratcheting through a rock garden then be in the ready position so you can recover from anything that tries to throw you off course. If you’re going for a manual, then get that front wheel up before it hits the water and carry your momentum through to the exit.
If you don’t commit, you’re probably going to get wet. Keep your head up and your eyes where you want to go – the exit! When it comes to crossing water, whenever possible, straight is best. Avoid trying to turn in the water to reduce your risk of sliding out and going down (hard) on your side. On a similar note, avoid using your brakes for the same reason. A little bit of momentum is our friend when it comes to creek crossings! Once you get to the exit, give yourself the extra boost to power out with a few pedal strokes and a forward hip thrust or front wheel lift, if needed.
7. Or… Walk it
If you’re not feeling confident about the crossing, don’t be afraid to walk it. Pack extra socks for big crossings so you can carry your shoes and wear a pair of socks for traction.
High fives all around whether you manualed, ratcheted, coasted, grunted, toppled over or walked through your creek crossing. Every creek is different and each success and failure will build up your skills toolbox to make you more confident to tackle the next one. Once you’re back on dry land and moving, lightly drag your brakes for a few rotations to dry off your rotors and be on your merry way!
9. So… how bad is this for your bike?
Submerging your pedals and bottom bracket will allow water to get into your bearings so dry your bike and turn it on its side or upside down ASAP to help remove it. Consider investing in a fender to help protect your headset (and your face) and for winter riding, clean and dry your bike off before storing to avoid freezing water expansion on any seals. Lastly, speed up your maintenance schedule for cleaning and re-greasing your bearings to extend the life of your trusty steed!
My wife started mountain biking recently and while she enjoyed it, she was lacking some confidence and needed some skills....
My wife started mountain biking recently and while she enjoyed it, she was lacking some confidence and needed some skills. I knew Richard La China from the cross country racing scene and felt confident that he and the ninja team could help out. I bought a woman's beginner clinic for my wife and she really enjoyed the challenge and experience. She is a better mountain biker now with much more confidence and new and improved skills. Mission accomplished! I highly recommend Richard LaChina and the ninja skills clinics for any level. I bought my wife a clinic gift card for Christmas which she will use to take the intermediate clinic. I plan on taking an advanced course to improve my cornering skills. ~ Mark T.
Good clinic. It was helpful to learn, practice with repetition and get critiqued by the coach all at once. I...
Good clinic. It was helpful to learn, practice with repetition and get critiqued by the coach all at once. I look forward to an intermediate level class! Thanks for doing this coach Richard! ~ Sally A.
The best money I’ve ever spent on mountain biking!
Just finished a two day skills workshop in Dallas. To say it was the best money I've ever spent on...
Just finished a two day skills workshop in Dallas. To say it was the best money I've ever spent on mountain biking would be an understatement. Our instructor was Aaron Lucy, a wonderful teacher and just a real pleasure to be around kind of guy. I highly recommend Ninja for anyone from novice to advanced riders as they cover just about anything and everything that will make you a more rounded rider. Thanks so much Aaron for all the advice and coaching! ~Mark Stewart
I'm a 63 y.o. Road and MTB cyclist. I've ridden mountain bikes since 1988. I really wish that I'd taken...
I'm a 63 y.o. Road and MTB cyclist. I've ridden mountain bikes since 1988. I really wish that I'd taken this course 25 years ago and I might have avoided some of the injuries I received over the years. I took only the morning first intro session at Phoenix and I learned a great deal in a short period of time. Richard is a very gifted cyclist and coach with excellent pedagogical skills. The class moved quickly, but covered all the appropriate details needed to handle a bike on technical trails. Richard had two local expert cyclists who demonstrated techniques while he provided a narrative and answered question. We had one relatively new rider who was very wary of some of the steeper, technical descents. By the end of the class, you could actually see a significant increase in her confidence using the skills acquired in the class. I'm looking forward to doing one of Ninja's camps and I hope they are able to expand their clinics to my area (Albuquerque, NM). William J.
We are a group of passionate, dirt-loving, community oriented, world class mountain bike skills instructors committed to helping you reach your personal riding goals through clinics and camps. We are excited to work with riders of all ability levels and share the joy (STOKE) of mountain biking.