Beginner Basics: Roots, Rocks, and Rain

One of my favourite obstacles to ride are roots and root-steps, followed closely by rock gardens and big flat sheets (I’ve spent way too much time riding a rigid bike to enjoy “babyheads“). Though I shouldn’t admit to it, one of my favourite things to hear on rides is the “Aaahh, #@*&!&$%# these roots!” coming from behind me (sorry, Max). However, for most of us, entertaining your riding group isn’t really high on the list of priorities while out riding! Can you see where this is going yet? That’s right, I’m going to explain how to deal with the roots and rocks that you will encounter over the course of your travels!Here, Jeremy learns that wet roots will deflect the front wheel!

So, as a new rider, how do you deal with them? There are two choices you can make here: either 1) ride over it, or 2) ride around it. Each option has its own benefits and its own detriments. Right now I will explain the proper way to go over them, and later I’ll talk about going around them (and why that usually isn’t a good idea).

The best thing to do with a root is to hit it at a completely perpendicular angle, or at least as close to one as you can get. If the root is a tall one, you will have to be particularly careful with your weight transfer – getting the front wheel over won’t be difficult, but if your weight isn’t far enough forward when the rear wheel hits, it will most likely catch and slide along the root. The wetter your ride, the more likely this is to happen, so be aware! It’s a terrifying feeling when you aren’t expecting it.

Sometimes, the terrain on the other side of the root will force you to keep your weight a bit farther back, making this sort of slip unavoidable – the best way to deal with these instances is to keep your weight in the centre and pop your back wheel up. If you have a sidewalk with a curb, you can practice pretty easily. Flat ground will work too, but with a big curb there will be way more feedback, and you can track how high you’re getting the wheel. Pretty much all you have to do is: 1) point your toes down, 2) brace your arms, and 3) push your legs backwards and up. Imagine you’re trying to kick someone behind you in the chest from a football lineman’s crouch, that’s pretty close to the leg action you need.

Terrible comparisons aside, roots are not hard! They may seem a bit daunting at first, but with a bit of practice they’re a lot of fun!

Rocks: Rocks are sort of a mixed bag when it comes to riding them. A lot depends on where you live and the current conditions. As with roots, the best option is generally to go straight over them, rather than trying to dodge around. The corollary to that is that if the rocks make a smallish canyon – you’re most likely going to wind up in it anyways, so you may as well aim for it.

If you’re in a volcanic area and riding on lava rock, you won’t have a lot of problems. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that your weight needs to be back. Lava rock is pretty sticky regardless of weather, but the sharp edges and random pits will do a number on you if you aren’t expecting them.

People who ride on smooth basalt, on the other hand, have a few extra things to watch out for. I grew up riding lava rock, and my first experience in BC riding basalt was a slippery, painful, would-have-been-harder-to-forget-if-I-hadn’t-hit-my-head-so-hard one. That stuff is slick when it gets wet. If it’s dry, watch out for dust (slippery) and keep your weight on the back wheel for climbs and descents. Watch your brakes, too, it’s easy to lock your wheels if you aren’t careful!

Riding wet basalt is a whole different animal. If you’re somewhere that gets a lot of rain, it would be wise to invest in a good pair of tires. Look for wide knobs and a softer rubber compound – I’m running Panaracer Fire XC Pros, because they’re $30 each and I’m living on a student budget. For descending, lower air pressure is usually better, and brakes are pretty close to useless, so put on a bit of pressure and shoot for the grooves.

Climbing rocks is a bit difficult – if it’s a short climb, ride it like a big root step and try to minimize the amount of time your tires will be on the rock. For longer climbs, you’ll need to experiment to find what works best for you. I find they work better in an uncomfortably high gear (less torque means less slippage, theoretically), but many of the people I ride with swear by uncomfortably low gears. Play with both, see which one works best for you. Either way, though, keep your weight back!

Now, sometimes it seems like the easiest route is the one that takes you around the roots or the rocks. Sometimes it does actually work like that, but more often than not trying to avoid an obstacle will either put you in a bad part of the trail, or you’ll wind up either clipping it or only dodging it with one wheel – neither one is a lot of fun, and you’ll probably fall more often trying to go around than you would trying to go over!

Did I miss anything? Drop me a comment if you have any questions or suggestions!

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