There are countless mountain bikers out there that have, surprisingly enough, NEVER ridden on singletrack. That's right...the only thing that keeps us alive and smiling and these guys AVOID it??? But don't be too quick to judge, they have their reasons. Let's look closer at why this may be you.
Riding on singletrack is pretty straightforward once you've learnt the flow of the trail. But for a new rider or a fire trail warrior, it can be far more daunting than perhaps we realise. Think of it as riding through trees, narrow gaps and steep descents on a path a foot wide with bends. Not so easy now, is it?
Once conquered, the fear of trail width goes out the window. Now there are obstacles to worry about! Does it ever end! Who built these things!?
If you want to tackle your trail demons, start small and work your way up. We've got this covered, with a list of very basic and fundamental skills for your future riding. Learn these skills in your own time, but learn them well - fundamental means you will use these skills in the future, over and over again.
Keep your head and eyes up
The worst thing you can do on singletrack is look just ahead of your front wheel. Things happen real fast when they're only a metre away, leaving you with no time to react. Riding like this will result in a very twitchy and swerving ride style which then makes it almost impossible to stay on the narrow singletrack. So look ahead, between 5 - 15 metres, in a scanning motion.
TIP: If you find yourself thinking "don't hit the tree, don't hit the tree" the chances are you will ride into the tree! All your brain is hearing is a panicked "Tree, tree, tree". The most effective way of negotiating obstacles on narrow singletrack is to teach yourself to become single minded with your concentration on the clearest path through.
Far too often you'll see a new rider barrelling through a rock garden - seated! If the trail is bucking you to the point of your bum leaving your seat, then it's very clearly time to stand up. Standing up allows the bike to move freely underneath you, without affecting your centre of gravity and subsequently your balance. Keep your knees bent, elbows bent, and head up. Stay relaxed, and let the bike roll at its own pace until you can sit and pedal again.
As terrified as you may be, you really have to loosen your grip and relax your body when riding! You can't expect to react and move on the trail if you're as stiff as a board. You won't be able to brake smoothly if your hand grip could strangle a bear. Just take a deep breath and chill. The only time you need to hold on tight is when you're going flat out over very rough terrain.
Make sure you have a thumb under each hand grip, with four fingers wrapped over the grips. When braking you can use two fingers on each lever, but if you have hydraulic brakes you only really need one finger covering the anchors. Doing this allows you to keep most of your fingers wrapped around the grips aiding control.
The last and possibly most fun technique to learn is body movement on the trail. A good way to learn this is to find a downhill section of trail and start from a stationary position. Pedal once to get the bike rolling, and then stand up and freewheel - no pedaling!
The aim of this exercise it to use your body movement to keep the bike rolling and to minimise loss of speed through bumps and cambers. The best way to learn is to move your body to match the contour of the trail. If the trail dips down, you squat down, if the trail goes up, you lean back and push the bike forwards. Instinct will take over so just roll and see what happens. Feel the trail pushing your bike upwards, and move your body to allow the bike freedom to move independently. Just feel the flow, and let it roll!
Next time you're out for a ride take a peep down that singletrack you've avoided for too long. Control your speed, and always look where you want to go. Relax your body, and move with the trail! It's as easy as that...