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  1. #1
    Back in the Sooner State
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    Going up switchbacks

    So I've jumped back into mountain biking after a few years without a geared MTB. I'm working on my technical riding, which is something that I never really had down to begin with. Among the many skills that are, um, in progress is riding up switchbacks. I don't have too much of a problem if they're wider, but the narrower the switchback the lower the chance that I find the right line. This is especially true if there's sand along the way. Any tips for weight shifting at a certain time in the turn or anything? Or is this just one more thing that I need to practice until my body just knows what to do?

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    1/2 a binding 1/2 a brain telenick's Avatar
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    Those can be really tough if they're tight and steep.

    Momentum is your friend. Twist from the waist instead of from the shoulders to turn your bars and stare at your line and your bike will follow. I find that the twist in the waist is a better way to initiate a tight turn because it will keep you balance in check better and it makes you more commited to the line.

    Another way is to brake to a stop and hop your bike around.

  3. #3
    DNPAIMFB pinkrobe's Avatar
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    I tend to go wide before I get to the apex of the turn, then turn in sharply to the inside. This will put you on an off-camber pitch, but the line is straighter. Of course, this depends on the switchback. Momentum is definitely your friend. Just how narrow of a switchback are talking about here? 10'? 6'? 3'?
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  4. #4
    is slower than you Peek the Geek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by telenick
    stare at your line and your bike will follow.
    Great advice. I'll add that, being mostly a roadie, it helped me a lot to remember to look to where I wanted to go, and my body would follow. This is important on the road when you're trying to avoid potholes or whatnot, but it's even more important on the mtb when the correct line becomes very important.

    I will say though, that my technique improved even more when I took it a step further: Instead of just looking with my eyes, I'll turn my entire head toward the turn. It made a huge difference for me.
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  5. #5
    Back in the Sooner State
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    In all honesty, I think that the tip to look around obstacles and look where you want to go is the best mountain bike tip I've ever gotten. I use it all the time and it's about the only thing that I remind those that haven't even spent as much time on a trail as I have. I also use it a lot on the road to avoid the rocks, gravel and glass that are pretty common around here. That said, it doesn't seem to help me as much with this stuff as it's my body and the bike that can't seem to coordinate well enough to get up a tight switchback. As far as how wide, the ones that are giving me trouble are 3 feet or a little less and there's on in particular that has a nice soft sandy patch right about where the front wheel needs to go to keep the rear from tracking off of the trail completely. That's a right hander but there's also a narrow and really steep left hander that I have yet to get up on the bike at all.

    As for hopping around, I'm not confident enough to try it on something this tight and steep yet.

    Turn with your waist. Makes good enough sense, and I think it's basically what I've been trying to do. I usually end up with a little bit less weight on the front end than what I need and I'm having trouble getting my weight forward while hitting the right line and taking the turn all at the same time. I've thought about getting out of the saddle for a sec to shift weight forward onto the front end to keep the front wheel from washing, but I don't want to lose the rear.

    Thanks for the tips. Glad to know that this isn't something everyone's born knowing how to do.

  6. #6
    1/2 a binding 1/2 a brain telenick's Avatar
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    Trail maintenance/enhancement to make a section negotiable might be met with scorn. Sometimes it's necessary. It's a judgement call.

    I'm not saying you should alter the trail so that YOU can ride it. I'm saying that it might need some alteration so that the majority can ride it.

  7. #7
    Colorado Trail Rider
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    Quote Originally Posted by telenick
    Trail maintenance/enhancement to make a section negotiable might be met with scorn.
    I'm not saying you should alter the trail so that YOU can ride it. I'm saying that it might need some alteration so that the majority can ride it.
    hmmm, I leave the trail maint to those responsible for that activity, trail maint or "rock stacking" is certainly a pet peave of mine, if you do it for yourself, take it down when you are done. Nothing like busting your but all season to make an obstacle or a series of ostacles to find someone has paved the way.

    Switchbacks, go wide, turn sharp at the apex of the turn, as stated momentum is your friend, keep you wheel speed up and you can get through it.
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  8. #8
    is nothing
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    whats a switchback?

  9. #9
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    I'm not about to start changing things, especially with the switchbacks being built to withstand erosion from late summer monsoons here. It's not the trail, it's the rider in this case. I'm not saying that everyone can make it up this stuff, but if everyone could it wouldn't be as much fun the first time over it cleanly.

    I suppose it's a matter of my keeping enough momentum to get around without having so much that the front end washes.

  10. #10
    is slower than you Peek the Geek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Decadence213
    whats a switchback?
    Wasn't it a really crappy movie with Dennis Quaid and Danny Glover?
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  11. #11
    eert a ekil yzarc SpiderMike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Decadence213
    whats a switchback?
    A trail or section of trail that follows a zig zag pattern. The turns can vary in angle, and can vary in distance between turns.

    ImprezaDrvr, hate to ask but could you better describe the turn you having trouble with? Interested to know how wide is it going through the turn, and what it the angle?

    If your unsure of how to tackle the soft stuff, find a dirt road, or go to the beach. I gained confidence to tackle the soft stuff by riding at my beach house. The beach there isn't a tourist beach, has drift wood and all sorts of other obstacles. When I get a new bike, I'll take it to the beach. Find the bikes limits of sliding that way.

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    The first is probably about 3 feet at the turn, widens a bit as you go up. It's a left hander with a pretty straight and not too steep approach and it pitches up slightly after the turn. This is the one I've made it up in the past. PRoblem here is confidence in keeping the front end going where it needs to in the sand that's conveniently located in the best line up.

    Second one's just tough. Steep in the approach and the exit, a little rocky in the turn. A left hander. I'm in the little ring on the way up. Not a real clean approach and that keeps me from getting the speed up. That will improve as I get better. But the turn's steep and the exit's steep. Momentum's hard to keep. Turn's probably wider than the first one, but there're only about two good lines and they're both a little inside of where I'd be most comfortable. But, taking it wider means hitting some slickrock that, in spite of its name, is pretty rough. The exit is cleaner in terms of sand, but it's just a more technically challenging turn to begin with.

    I'm tempted to take a tape measure out and see just how much harder I'm making these than they actually are. I say 3 feet, it's probably just my perception.

  13. #13
    eert a ekil yzarc SpiderMike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ImprezaDrvr
    The first is probably about 3 feet at the turn, widens a bit as you go up. It's a left hander with a pretty straight and not too steep approach and it pitches up slightly after the turn. This is the one I've made it up in the past. PRoblem here is confidence in keeping the front end going where it needs to in the sand that's conveniently located in the best line up.

    Second one's just tough. Steep in the approach and the exit, a little rocky in the turn. A left hander. I'm in the little ring on the way up. Not a real clean approach and that keeps me from getting the speed up. That will improve as I get better. But the turn's steep and the exit's steep. Momentum's hard to keep. Turn's probably wider than the first one, but there're only about two good lines and they're both a little inside of where I'd be most comfortable. But, taking it wider means hitting some slickrock that, in spite of its name, is pretty rough. The exit is cleaner in terms of sand, but it's just a more technically challenging turn to begin with.

    I'm tempted to take a tape measure out and see just how much harder I'm making these than they actually are. I say 3 feet, it's probably just my perception.
    I see a pattern here, all left hand turns. Good thing your not a NASCAR driver

    Seriously though, take it easy til you get confidence with the soft stuff. Sorry but I'm going to steal a auto racing term here. Drifting or slidding while on the trails can be a unnerving at first. Learn to control the slide and use it to your advantage.

    Only one more suggestion. Hit the trail when you know it will be busy. Camp out at the turns and take notes of how others attach them.

  14. #14
    ODB to those that know me outdoorboy's Avatar
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    I've been known to do a short front wheel hop to get around the turn but that does take some muscle on a really steep run. It turns into brut force getting you up more than technique. Usually the problem comes in when you have tree's on the inside and outside of the turn that make it hard to manuver handlebars or be able to lean.
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  15. #15
    1/2 a binding 1/2 a brain telenick's Avatar
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    I should clarify my trail maintenance comment.

    I've been building trails on the mountains in my hime town with some other guys. We have a IMBA guide to assist with design and concept. One of the sections of the book refers to rebuilding areas that get worn with use and how to approach those projects.

    It could be that the switchback in question needs to be addressed. It was mentioned that ther is a pool of sand that is causing some problem with the move to clear the switchback. Rocks are a good substitude for sand. My guess is that the sand got there because of skidding from downhill riders. Just a guess.

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    Member ianrox's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by telenick
    I should clarify my trail maintenance comment.

    I've been building trails on the mountains in my hime town with some other guys. We have a IMBA guide to assist with design and concept. One of the sections of the book refers to rebuilding areas that get worn with use and how to approach those projects.

    It could be that the switchback in question needs to be addressed. It was mentioned that ther is a pool of sand that is causing some problem with the move to clear the switchback. Rocks are a good substitude for sand. My guess is that the sand got there because of skidding from downhill riders. Just a guess.
    I don't know how the summer has been where you live, but here in Philadelphia, we've had a moderately rainy spring/summer after a few dry summers, which completely ruined the trails in the Wissahickon. Wash outs and ruts everywhere. New lines cut by heavy rain, and no topsoil. There's sand in a lot of the turns, and I find myself almost putting my feet down on the sandy sharp turns. I actually had a very minor crash in a sandy turn last Thursday. Nothing to write home about.
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  17. #17
    Senior Member iamthetas's Avatar
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    Only one more suggestion. Hit the trail when you know it will be busy. Camp out at the turns and take notes of how others attach them.[/QUOTE]

    Excellent suggestion but dont be intimidated if others do it like its NOTHIG because theyve been at it longer and are probalby very familiar with the trail
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    I'll get out with some other guys soon. I actually mis-spoke about the directions of the turns; first one's a righty, second's a lefty.

    As for drifting around a corner, not gonna happen here unless you want to hit a rock face. This isn't a kinda twisty singletrack section.

    In terms of maintenance, the fact is that, while sandy, it's not anything that I shouldn't be able to get through. I know guys that get through it regularly. It's a matter of my body control, etc. Hence my asking the question in terms of what I can do differently. to me, it may as well be a foot deep crazy sandy spot when in fact it's just a bit of sand and fine rock. Nonetheless, when I'm struggling it's intimidating.

    In terms of other folks doing it, the good thing is that we're all pretty familiar with each other and the egos stay at home. Everyone's really helpful actually. The problem is getting to this particular trail when other folks are there. Fall's a busy time of year, and the more popular trails are further outside of town.

    At any rate, I may head out there tomorrow night and I'll see what I can do. I can visualize getting over the first one (the righty that I misspoke about before) but I've got to study the lefty more to figure out the best line.

  19. #19
    UareFASTjustNOTfastENOUGH MasterSezFaster's Avatar
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    I would say find the tightest turn with the steepest incline at the apex and practice it over and over until you clear it 4 or 5 times in a row. Then find the hardest turn in the other direction and do the same. Be sure to pay attention to your cadence, body position and angle of approach so when you finally do clear the turn you know what you did.

    We can give you tips after tip but the only way to conquer it is to practice, practice and did I say practice?

    It also helps if you can track stand while seated so if you need to ride slowly through the turns you can keep your balance better.



  20. #20
    Digs technical steeps
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    Quote Originally Posted by btadlock
    "rock stacking" is certainly a pet peave of mine, if you do it for yourself, take it down when you are done. Nothing like busting your but all season to make an obstacle or a series of ostacles to find someone has paved the way.
    Agreed! Moving a big branch that has fallen out of tree and across the trail is one thing; 'smoothing' the trail out is another and will also frequently add to erosion problems.

    Earlier this summer I worked and worked at making a rather steep switchback that had three stair-step rocks on the top side. I finally made it; I figured out just how to use the rocks for leverage to make it through. I no doubt developed additional riding skills by learning how to work through that section.

    The last time I went through there someone had dug out the three rocks and filled in the holes with loose trail dirt!!! Sure, it made it easier for people to ride but that's the point: if everything is going to be easy to ride what's the challenge in it? I'm half expecting to find that someone has brought in a wheel-barrow full of asphalt the next time I ride there!!!
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  21. #21
    Senior Member Edward_Breck's Avatar
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    I don't know much about specific weight shifts in the turn to improve the switchback climb.

    I prefer to start leaning foward, but not too much, to make the climb much easier. If I lean too much forward then my back wheel loses traction.

    However, Becareful. I do know that at the slow "switchback" speeds you have to maintain your balance since you have so much power at your disposal - in your legs.

    What I mean is; this weekend I was riding a steep switch back and I came to a slight crawl. I was sweaty, not thinking and all. I accelerated which sent me leaning uncomfortably toward the downhill side of the switch back. The cause was the fatigue, power and the fast acceleration.

    That's all.

  22. #22
    SNIKT! Karldar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MasterSezFaster
    I would say find the tightest turn with the steepest incline at the apex and practice it over and over until you clear it 4 or 5 times in a row. Then find the hardest turn in the other direction and do the same. Be sure to pay attention to your cadence, body position and angle of approach so when you finally do clear the turn you know what you did.

    We can give you tips after tip but the only way to conquer it is to practice, practice and did I say practice?

    It also helps if you can track stand while seated so if you need to ride slowly through the turns you can keep your balance better.


    That would be my recommendation, as well. That's how I got to be halfway decent at steep, narrow switchbacks(among other trail "features"). I'm pretty much out of practice now, tho. Not a whole lot of 'em around these parts.
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  23. #23
    Back in the Sooner State
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    I was about two turns of the cranks away from getting through the right hander yesterday. I think I took the suggestion about shifting weight at the waist to heart as well, as other switchbacks were somehow easier. At any rate, the righty kicks up more steeply than I was ready to manage, but I made it through the turn itself. Tired as I was, though, I count it as a victory.

  24. #24
    1/2 a binding 1/2 a brain telenick's Avatar
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    Sounds like you're there. Nothing feels better than cleaning a move that previously seemed impossible.

    Arizona is beautiful riding.

  25. #25
    Back in the Sooner State
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    Haven't ridden up in Leadville but drove through last year and wished I had a bike. The Colorodo Plateau is good stuff.

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