Shooting down a 60-foot face is a great rush. So too is crawling down a steep 4-foot drop-off. There’s just something awesome about riding down really steep things. The adrenaline rush, the speed, the steepness and the challenge of sticking on. Maybe it’s the whole conquering your fears thing.
But, are drop-offs and slopes for everybody? The typical mountain bike trail rider may not want to do anything like what’s in the video. Your challenge might only be a 4 foot slope. But if that 4 foot slope helps you enjoy mountain biking a whole lot more then it’s still a win.
How to ride drops on a mountain bike
There’s no fast way to success with drops, so start small. Start on manageable challenges, then as your skills and confidence grow, step up the size of your challenges.
Remember that no matter the size of the drop, if it’s big for you then you’ll learn from it. The experience will boost your bank of skills and make you a more capable mountain biker.
And here’s the thing…that 60 footer in the video may not be for you, but part of it is. Which part? The part of ‘how to do it’. The method. Because, whether the slope is 60 foot, 4 foot, or even 2 foot…the recipe for success is the same.-
The Recipe for Success is the Same
So let’s get started with ingredient number one…
Step 1 – Look For a Good Roll-out
The roll-out is the transition from the bottom of the steepest part to the ground. And it’s the most important factor. A rough and steep slope with a good roll-out is do-able. But a smooth slope with a square or guttered transition to the ground could easily put your head in the dirt.-
Look for: ramped or curved transitions that will push your front wheel out, preventing fork bottoming and reducing the risk of you going over the handlebars!
Avoid: gutters, ruts or other features that could abruptly slow your front wheel. These obstacles could stop you in your tracks or compress your front suspension, increasing your chance of going over the handlebars.
If it’s a good roll-out then the next step is to…
Step 2 – Read Your Route
For a new drop-off or slope, hop off and scan it first. Know your limits and the limits you want to put to the test. Determine if the slope really is possible for you today.
Read the terrain and check for subtle bad spots and loose or tricky sections. Once you think you have it sorted ask yourself if you have everything in perspective. Often you’ll find you’re being over-cautious.
As an example the steep face in the video had several ledges on the way down. And from the top and the side they looked a bit risky. But in my mind I turned the whole slope horizontal to help me put these hazards into perspective and guess what I found?
The ledges were a mere 4 to 5 inch high bumps when I laid the slope flat in my mind. So, could I ride the slope and its ledges with confidence? Absolutely.-
Sure it was steep, but contrary to what I first thought, the ledges added no extra risk. Just because they were a feature on my chosen line, didn’t mean that they were going to give me trouble.
Step 3 – Mark Your Line
If you’re not 100% sure about your entry point, hop off your bike and mark your line.
Use your shoe to scrub a good, long line back from your chosen entry point. You’ll be starting a distance from the edge, so a long mark will ensure you’ll see it early and be on line before the slope starts. Once you’ve done that…
Step 4 – Get Ready
Getting ready means getting you and your bike ready for what’s coming next. It’s about putting your mind and body in a the right position to succeed.
Sure, you’re standing still atop a drop-off, but whether you’re about to do a climb, a bunny-hop or your slope, the rules are the same. You need to check that you’re all set to tackle what’s coming up in front of you. And that may mean some adjustments are necessary.
Practice a few run-ups to the edge if you need to. Check that you have…
- The confidence and genuine belief that you can do it
- the right entry speed
- the correct gear choice
- the right position
Once you’re comf
In a little more detail, getting ready is about…
- A Confident Mind-Set
Having confidence primes your mind. It gets you thinking positive ‘I can’ thoughts. These thoughts of success will help you make better decisions on your bike and you’ll ride better as a result.
- The Right Speed
Aids your balance and control down the slope. Too slow and your balance skills could be challenged. Too fast and you could get out of control. Practice a few run-ups to the edge to determine what your approach speed should be.
- The Correct Gear
Reduces the risk of a dropped chain, chain slap or suck. Choosing the middle chain ring will often eliminate these problems by giving the chain a bit more tension. The correct gear should also help you transition to the next thing after the slope. Don’t lose that momentum if the trail keeps going!
- The Right Position
As in the right body positions on the bike. That’s right. You’ll need to be familiar with two of them. And to shift from one to the next you’ll need to drop your seat. How far do you drop it? Far enough to easily be able to slip from the ready to the attack position with room to spare…
Your ready position:
- center your weight between both wheels with your bum off the seat
- relax your arms and use one finger braking
- pedals level to the ground, eyes forward
Your attack position on a mountain bike is what you’ll shift to as you ride over the edge. You’ll need this rearward position to maintain your center of gravity over the drop-off and to prevent you from falling over the handlebars.
To shift to the attack position on a mountain bike, keep yourself suspended off the seat in the ready position then:
- push the handlebar forward and straighten your arms
- shift your weight rearward behind the seat
- and down over the rear tire
Get it right!
Practice shifting from the ready to the attack position while rolling around on flat ground.
How close you need to drop your bum to the rear tire will depend on how steep the slope is. Practice on little drop-offs to get your attack position and center of gravity right before you tackle the bigger challenges.
Just One More Thing To Do…
Start Back From the Edge. Just like the run-up before bunny-hopping a log, you should also give yourself a run-up to the slope. So, start back from the edge. Allow yourself enough distance and time to get rolling in your ready position. This will ensure you’ll be ready to go over the edge at the right speed, in the right gear and in control.
It’s time to clear your thoughts and only think of…
1. entering the slope, 2. riding the mid point, 3. rolling out at the bottom
Visualize yourself doing just these 3 things well. Then do it for real. Take yourself…
Over The Edge
Believe that you can do it…-
- follow your line over the edge
- look where you want to go – your wheels will follow your eyes
- shift to attack position
- flow with your bike and don’t fight to stay on your line
- no abrupt braking, limit skidding
- look ahead to the roll-out and enjoy
What other challenges are out there waiting for you? Whether it be big or small your mind is the only limit. That drop-off you’ve been eye-balling for weeks is yours…..go do it!
1. Momentum is your friend – Find the speed that gives you the best control. Too slow and balance is more difficult. Too fast and you could speed out of control
2. Match your tires and pressures to the terrain – A 1.95 width tire with 50 psi just won’t cut the mustard on that 60 footer in the video. You’d be bouncing out of control or get sucked into a rut and crash.
3. Relax the rebound – Slow your fork and rear shock suspension rebound for the really steep stuff. Those fast rebound settings may work for normal trail riding, but they might just buck you off on your way down or at the bottom of the drop or the slope.
VIDEO – How to Ride Down Drops and Steep Hills