I've got some gravel MUPs and light singletrack nearby which I'd like to get better/faster on. I'm still new to riding, so I'm wondering if there are some basic skills i'm missing out on. My tires are ritchey speedmax 32mm, but haven't experimented with pressures yet.
The singletrack is mostly packed dirt, a little rutted in places, but not too bad as long as I look ahead to miss the occasional root/stick/rock.
My bigger concern is the gravel. Some of it is pretty hard with a thin layer of fine gravel on top. Other sections can get interesting because its bigger chunks (1/2" ?), more loose, and sometimes combining a downhill with a turn. On both the hard and loose stuff, I've gotten to a speed where the steering is a bit unresponsive, it felt like hydroplaning in a car. I test the steering response before a turn, then brake mildly with both the front and rear (more front) as needed until the front end starts to turn. Then I let off the brakes and make the turn. I've accidentally slid the back end a tiny bit, but try to avoid that for now. Sometimes my braking is late and the late turn-in throws off my line, killing the exit speed. I try to follow the outside/apex/outline, unless visibility through the turn or avoiding bad terrain is a concern.
I'm always on the hoods, and probably steering mostly with the bars, not by countersteering or intentionally leaning the bike. I alternate between sitting with the outside foot down and standing on the turns.
Tips or comments? I'm picking up Mastering Mountain Bike Skills (Lopes) from the library soon.
Low tire pressure makes a huge difference in handling, which is why racers like tubulars so much. With clinchers you're riding a fine line between optimal handling and susceptibility to pinch flats... for me at 140lbs it's around 35-40psi.
The fireroads around here have tons of deep gravel pits on them as erosion preventatives. You shouldn't have trouble with them if you hold a straight line, keep your weight back, and keep your hands off the brakes. Speed is your friend. If you need to make a turn through gravel, do most of your turning before and after the gravel section, trying to maintain a straight line through the gravel itself.
If you want to go low pressure it might be worth looking at something like Stan'sNoTubes -it converts a clincher into a tubeless plus installs some liquid latex to re-seal punctures before they become flats. It's said to be very good for low pressure offroading. Eg http://www.kk.org/cooltools/archives/000587.php. I'm probably going to try this out in my next wave of bike modifications myself.