At First Glance This Looks Like Just Another Race Photo…

Hi Groovers,

Here’s a photo of me competing in a 35km Cross Country race at the weekend.

Now, while I totally sucked at the race, having not yet recovered from 6 weeks of the flu, this fantastic photo from Brad Cook emerged to brighten my day.

At first glance it looks like just another race photo…

Bundy creek crossing

But then it occurred to me that Brad has captured the perfect moment.  The ‘highest-pressure’ moment of this creek crossing.  I’ve used so many skills and techniques to get to this point.  Stuff it up here, and the next 6 metres are ruined.

What’s in the next 6 metres?

First, let me take you back about 66 metres, to the approach to the creek.   That’s where the fun begins.  And that’s where you’ll find the start of the real story that’s hidden in this picture.

“I’m heading towards my favourite part of the 7.5 kilometre race lap… 

The creek crossing and pinch climb.  The pressure of doing it right, with speed and control, excites me.

It’s the thrill of hammering the creek, all water and noise, then snapping immediately left on exit to power with speed up the greasy and very steep pinch climb in one seamless and smooth effort.

Stuff it up through the creek, and you’ll lose the momentum you need for an easy climb.   And I hate walking up climbs.  So here’s what I do:

  • Dropper down early, perhaps 60 metres before the creek at about 30-35 km/hr.  Pumping the bike over the downhill rollers on my approach,
  • Looking perhaps 20 to 25 metres ahead, searching for the big tree down near the creek.  That’s my marker.
  • Relax, I tell myself.  Shoulders down, chest wide, fluid arms and legs.  Body low.  Floating my head over the rollers to smooth my vision.  Focusing on timing what comes next to perfection (hopefully!).

Shortly, I shift to second gear (or was it third?), in preparation for the pinch climb.   I do this while I’m rolling downhill, well before the shade near the creek.

All the way down I straighten my line through the slightly snaking trail as I brake lightly to set my entry speed.  When the creek appears I’ll line up for a far right entry.  This will set me up for a wide entry into the lefthand turn after the creek.

I tell myself to relax again.  Then I,

  • Release the front brake and relax for the oncoming roots, drop my heels a touch, then
  • I hit the water at about 20 km/hr.  Soaking up the shock of the super square-edged root just at water’s edge, then
  • Mostly using the water to slow my speed for the turn, I add just a touch of rear brake.  (See photo)

Notice my left thumb is at the ready on the dropper switch?  I’m also raising my bum for when I hit ‘saddle-up’  as the rear wheel exits.

As well as that, I’m

  • Using one finger braking for relaxed grip and maximum control.  And,
  • I’m leading the bike out of the water and into the turn with my eyes.  Just about to eye further left up the climb.

Just after this photo, I’m fully off the rear brake.  Then,

  • I’ll smoothly engage the chain by matching my pedal speed to my momentum,
  • Then it’s sharp turn left and full power to the pedals halfway around the turn.  Just like on an uphill switchback.  Then,
  • I power up the climb with momentum, using the Chest and Nose technique and a smooth pedaling motion for maximum traction and control.

What a blast!  So much going on.  So much to get right.  So many words hidden within.

And now that you know the full story, that creek crossing looks much more exciting, doesn’t it?

(Big thanks to Brad Cook for a great photo!)

Somewhere on your trails you might have a section just like that.  Here’s a catalog of the video tutorials for most of the skills I used in that 66 metres. 

  • here – How to Use a Dropper Post to harness your full riding potential
  • here – How to Scan the trail ahead
  • here – Head Float technique for rough terrain
  • here – 22 Gear Shifting Do’s and Don’ts
  • here – One Finger Braking
  • here – Front Braking technique
  • here – Thigh Stop control technique
  • here – The Magic of the Heel Drop
  • here – 7 ways to Pedal Smarter
  • here – How to Ride Switchbacks better
  • here – The Chest and Nose steep climbs technique
  • here – How to Pedal up Loose and Slippery Climbs

Enjoy and share them with your friends!


12 Responses to At First Glance This Looks Like Just Another Race Photo…

  1. Ray says:

    Chris, I’m 60 years old and in my 6th year of mtb. I’m going to the World Police/Fire Games in the US next month. Your description of the photo was exactly the training I was doing the other day (only I was going faster). I was grinning for two days after floating up/down hill repeats using your tips. No matter what the Games bring, I’m one happy dude riding. Thanks my friend!

    • Chris Carter says:

      Hi Ray, I’ve just seen your message now I’ve returned from my ‘little’ break. I know it’s a little late, but I hope the World Games went well for you and you’re still ripping the trails. Cheers! ~ Chris

  2. Great write up Chris!

  3. Doug Rierdan (San Diego) says:

    Another awesome posting Chris!

    It’s is amazing how much goes into such a “seemingly” simple creek crossing.

    You have helped , and continue to help, me and my friends become better riders. Thank you for all that do. I continually refer back to older videos when I need a refresher.


    Ps I think an mtb tips t- shirt is in order. I would gladly buy 2 to line your wallet with a little gratitude

  4. Jason K says:

    Excellent picture and an even better write-up. Thanks a lot Chris, that is awesome!

    • Chris Carter says:

      Cool. Thanks, Jason. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure if anyone would be interested in the story behind the photo, so I’m glad I went ahead and posted it.

      ~ Chris

  5. Brad Cook says:

    Glad you enjoyed the photo. Your insight is an interesting read.

  6. Phil Taylor says:

    Hi Chris…. they say a picture can speak a thousand words… but I think your summary is fab and adds that extra feeling to the image. .. I almost feel like I was there watching you…
    Many thanks and keep up the great stuff!


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