Here’s another speed tip that teaches you how to ride faster on a mountain bike. But this one is specifically about how to ride a bike faster through narrow gaps.
You know the ones. Those tight gaps between two boulders or trees out on the trail. The gap that always makes you stop your bike and inch your way through. You know that your handlebars will easily fit through the gap, but you don’t want to risk clipping those trees and crashing your bike. That could hurt.
A lot. But,
…what if you had the mountain bike skills and confidence to whip through that narrow gap as fast as you liked? Now, that would be a buzz. It would feel pretty awesome knowing you had the skills to put your bike exactly up the middle where you wanted it to go.
But Fear has Got You
Going fast through the gap is just too risky. Or is it? What if you could lessen the risk? What if you could learn the skills and have the confidence to know exactly how wide your bike is and what gaps you can fit through?
You Can and This Is How
And it starts with the two main skills you need to ride a mountain bike faster through gaps.
The first skill is being able to judge if you will fit through the gap. That is, being able to judge the gap, knowing how wide your handlebar is, and where to put your front wheel to miss the sides and ‘thread the needle’.
Secondly you need the skill to control your thoughts so that you only focus on what you need to. And this is where The Golden Rule of Mountain biking comes in once again. Your wheels will follow your eyes. You need the strength of mind to focus on your chosen line and what you do want to happen, rather than getting distracted by your fear of hitting the sides of the gap. So to build that focus let’s start…
Drilling for Comfort and Confidence
Here’s what you need to do. Three drills. A couple might seem really easy, but all three have there place. They all teach you in varying degrees how to judge gaps, the width of your handlebar, where your front wheel needs to go, and how to become comfortable with riding very close to obstacles.
Practice each of the drills for 10 minutes per week
- Drill number one – practice riding really close past a single tree or lampposts (and any other tall obstacle) in your street, on the way to work or school
- Drill number two – practice riding close alongside a wall or fence
- Drill number three – practice riding between two familiar narrow trees over and over
Now of course, practice safe. Don’t take unnecessary risks. During the early days of practice you’ll be going slower and you might not ride that close to the fence. You’ll probably also look at the trees or the fence a lot, and you might choose larger gaps to practice through. That’s okay, there’s no problem with that. But, as you continue to practice you need to…
Change Your Focus to Get Better
To go faster on your mountain bike through narrow gaps you need to force yourself to start looking at the obstacle less and focusing on your chosen line more. By doing this you will start pushing your mind to learn how wide your handlebar is and learn exactly where that front wheel needs to go to just miss the trees.
You’ll need to put yourself out on a limb a bit and force yourself to change your focus. But with practice your judgement will improve in leaps and bounds. You’ll get better and better at knowing on approach which gaps you and your bike can or can’t fit through.
And don’t forget the Golden Rule of Mountain Biking – your wheels will follow your eyes. Learn how to flow as one with your bike and focus more on where you want your wheels to go, and less on what you want to miss.
The Start is the Hardest Part
In the beginning it’s not easy to do. Your fear of getting hurt will still have a hold of your thoughts.
But, forcing yourself to change your focus and change your habit of how you look at gaps is the key. When you can do that, when you can start changing your focus away from hitting the trees, your fear will disappear and your world will open up. And you’ll start seeing more possibilities on the trail for speed and fun than ever before.
You’ll have the confidence to glance, rather than stare. And you’ll have the judgement and bike control to place your mountain bike on the right line through the gap, even when you’re on an angle and cornering.
And if you’ve judged that you can’t fit through the gap, just slow down. Use your bike balance and control skills and zig-zag or inch your way through the gap. Then get back on the gas!
Super Tip: Pretending for Success If you’ve got a narrow gap with a step, tree root, or some other obstacle between it that could make the pass slower or a bit tricky, employ this super technique: Pretend there’s only one tree.
You know you can ride through the gap, so you don’t need to get distracted by focusing on both trees. Only give attention to one tree and one end of the handlebar. Position your bike to miss that one tree by half the clear space you have and guess what? The other end of the handlebar will miss without you even looking.
Confidence is Speed
Don’t think you can’t do it. If you practice the drills and apply the technique then you will get faster. Trust the Golden Rule of Mountain Biking and lead your bike through the gap with your eyes.
Soon enough your judgement will become so good that you’ll know what you can and can’t fit through, and you’ll know exactly which line to ride. You’ll be fearless. And you’ll ride faster on a mountain bike because of it. Enjoy!