Words by: Quinn Campbell
Photo by: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
I went on my annual fat bike excursion last weekend and was reminded how wholeheartedly puckering it is to ride in slippery and unpredictable conditions. Kingdom Cycling Experiences owner, Collin Daulong and I met up for a quick loop on a particularly warm March day. Pedaling through patchy snow and ice, we left the office and rode to singletrack at the woods edge. The Kingdom Trails, which I’m used to seeing dry and sheltered under a canopy of leaves, were draped in snow and exposed to overcast winter skies.
Breaking into the forest and slipping our way downhill, I felt as if I’d been transported to a mid season muddy trail ride. The melting snow caved beneath my tires, mashing and sliding unpredictably. I might as well have been traversing an off camber hillside, laced by roots and coated in greasy Vermont mud. As Collin and I drifted, feet out, and back wheels loose, I was forced to use all my wet weather riding techniques in order to stay right side up and keep on rolling.
With spring rains and fresh trails just around the corner, or incase you too decide to venture out for a warm winter ride, I figured it would be a good time to offer up some tips to make slippery trails more manageable!
An aggressive stance will improve your bike control during any conditions, but it’s that much more important when riding on slimy or unpredictable trails. When it’s time to descend, change your body position in three ways. Lower your chest, bringing it closer to the top tube. This drops your center of gravity and makes you more stable. Bend your elbows and bring them out like you’re mimicking chicken wings, and then do the same with your knees, bending and opening towards the outside. This will allow your bike to move freely beneath you as it deflects off rocks and wet roots, without throwing your body off center. Your bike can wiggle and squirm as much as it wants, but with your shoulders and hips pointed in the direction you want to go, you’ll ride out on your bike rather than under it.
Proper brake control will dramatically change your wet weather riding experience. The most important thing to remember is to avoid pulling those levers while corning. I’m constantly reminding myself to stay of the brakes when turning, whether the trails are wet or dry, and it’s a lot harder to do than you might imagine. Grabbing the brakes fights your bikes natural ability to turn, and counteracts your already reduced traction. Practice doing all your braking before entering the corner, even if that means you enter the corner slower than you would normally. Once you begin to lean the bike completely release the levers and stay off them until you exit the corner. This will give you gobs more traction, and provide an overall increase in cornering speed. I also pay more attention to what surface I’m actually doing my braking on when riding slippery terrain. I try to look ahead and pick areas with the most traction to scrub speed. More traction while braking means less skidding. And believe me, I love a good long skid as much as the next guy, but it’s actually not the most effective way to slow yourself down. A powerful pull of the levers, without actually locking up your wheels, will slow you down much quicker and help to maintain traction.
3) Heads Up
Almost all of us could stand to look farther down the trail when picking our lines. Lifting your eyes to scope a few more feet of single track will give you extra time to prepare for the terrain ahead. When riding wet or slippery conditions the extra distance you look and the few more seconds it gives you will help to establish good braking areas and identify and avoid particularly slippery obstacles. In addition, having more time to plan your line let’s you relax on the bike and loosen up– making slipping and sliding a little more manageable.
I regularly try and implement these three techniques while riding in any conditions. However, dry conditions give a little more wiggle room for error, and these skills become essential on slippery trails. The next time you head out for a pedal and find yourself unexpectedly sideways in soft snow or greasy muck give one, or all of these pointers a go!
If you found this information helpful and want to sharpen your riding skills in all conditions checkout Conquer the Kingdom: a mountain bike skills clinic for all ages, genders and ability levels at Kingdom Trails
Use code MTBVT2018 at checkout to receive a MTBVT tee-shirt!
Kingdom Cycling & Experiences are purveyors of authentic mountain & gravel cycling experiences in New England for all ages and abilities! We also specialize in mountain bike kids camps, skills clinics and mechanical clinics.