How to ride rock gardens on a mountain bike

Learn how to ride rock gardens on a mountain bike with confidence and control using these six easy steps, Super Tips and 3-minute How to ride Rock Gardens action video.

No longer will you cringe at the site of your local rock garden.  Instead, you’ll be seeking them out to enjoy the fantastic challenges they provide.

Once you’ve read the 6 steps, scroll down to the Super Tips section to discover some extra ways to accelerate your rock garden skills.

1. Set your speed and gear on approach

  • remember, momentum is your friend, it’s what helps you balance and keep rolling over obstacles.  Too fast though, and the terrain will bounce you off the bike.  Too slow, and you’ll struggle to clear abrupt obstacles
  • use a gear that provides enough torque and acceleration for you to pedal out of a stall moment, or over an abrupt obstacle with only a quarter or half turn of the cranks

2. Look ahead, not down

  • follow the Golden Rule of Mountain Biking ‘Your wheels will follow your eyes’.  Focus on where you want your wheels to go, rather than looking at what you want to miss.  Looking ahead helps you anticipate the terrain and determine your line sooner
  • choose a line that appears to be the path of least resistance based on your current skills and ability.  Look for ramped and smaller obstacles placed before and after bigger ones to keep your wheels rolling
  • commit to your line and limit zigzagging, but at the same time be prepared to accept a different line should the bike or terrain steer you off course

3. Relax your mind and your body

  • drop your shoulders, unclench your fists and keep your arms and legs bent.  Drop your seat if need be and suspend your weight slightly rearward with your bum off the saddle.
  • how far back of the saddle should you be?  That depends on the angle and severity of the terrain.  As your skills improve you’ll be able to judge how far back you need to be for any given situation
  • keep loose but in control and be ready to shift and wiggle your body and bike in any direction to maintain balance (see the 3-minute video for a good example of this)

4. Avoid heel strike

  • keep your cranks level when you’re not pedalling and be ready to tilt your bike or pedal a quarter or half turn in an instant to avoid pedal strike

5. Pump the terrain

  • use subtle handlebar lifts and pushes as you pump your bike to assist the wheels up, over and down obstacles
  • be prepared to un-weight the rear wheel, as shown in the 3-minute video below, sucking the rear wheel up between bent legs to help it roll up and over more easily

6. Use your body’s suspension too

  • Trust your bike’s suspension.  It’s amazing what it can handle.  BUT!  Use your arms and legs the most – because they’re the best suspension you’ve got!

  Learn to ride rock gardens sooner with these Super Tips:

  • Walk it  New to rock gardens? Walk the rock garden first to help you determine a good riding line to take based on your current level of skill
  • Drop your seat to reduce the chance of your seat bucking you off over the bars on rougher and steeper terrain.  A lower seat height can also improve your movement over the bike and help you ride looser and more relaxed.
  • Start small Rock gardens can be dangerous place, so start small and work your way up to more gnarly gardens as your skills improve
  • Backyard fun  Practice riding in the backyard over obstacles secured to the ground with camping pegs, as shown in the video
  • Lumpy creeks  If you can’t find a suitable rock garden to practice on, look for a dry and lumpy creek bed littered with obstacles to suit your current level of ability
  • Derailleur strike  Always be ready to tilt and wiggle your bike out of the way to avoid derailleur impact
  • Balance drills  improve your balance on a mountain bike fast with this mountain bike balance drill you can do just about anywhere
  • Slow that rebound Slow that fork and shock rebound a couple of clicks (with the shock rebound slightly slower than the fork) to reduce the chance of the bumps and lumps sending you over the bars