Frustrated by switchbacks


Super bummed you are not heading to NorCal, but I am hoping I can ask you one question though. My Kryptonite is switchbacks, I have the absolute worst time on them. I have read your book, taken a few skills clinics (other companies) just plain tried to ride them, and I have the hardest fricken time with them. I don’t know if it is a mental block or something either. Are there any tips and maybe a drill or two I can practice in my driveway or something? I am tired of dismounting when I know that is something my skill level should totally be able to ride with no problems. Thank you!!

Frustrated by switchbacks, -Brandy

Hey Brandy,

Thanks for the note. I was expecting to train SoCal high school coaches on Oct. 20 then NorCal coaches on Oct. 21, with bonus private clinics in both locations, but this year I’m working the entire weekend in SoCal so I can certify some more trainers.

It’s pretty cool: The NICA high school leagues are growing so fast I’m now certifying coaches to teach coaches how to teach riders. I know I’m creating competitors by training other coaches, but I feel it’s more important to get kids stoked on riding.


Um, yikes! This would have been even scarier without a solid base of figure eights and straight-line drops.


A switchback is generally a tight, steep 180-degree turn, often with a ledge in the middle. In my teaching method, all skills are broken down into sub-skills, then individual movements that are easily learned. For a switchback, the fundamental sub-skills are:

• Tight 180-degree turns

• Steep downslopes and upslopes

• Ledges, up and down

Before you can rock a tricky switchback, you better get really good at tight turns, steep slopes and ledges. Only after you can rip them individually can you do them all at the same time.


Not exactly a switchback, but a fun combination of rockfu and cornerfu.

When I teach switchbacks, I encourage my clients (beginners and pros) to master these drills:

• Figure eights. Make them ever tighter. Practice late apex lines.

• Maintaining balance on steep ups and downs.

• Riding up and down ledges (with perfect balance, of course).

As these drills get dialed, we combine them. Do figure eights across a sideslope. Put a curb in the middle of a turn. Do both at the same time. Try everything on a loose surface. You can learn a whole lot around your neighborhood.

When you can execute all these skills in a sterile environment, you’re ready for the real world. As always, start mellow and introduce mayhem as your skills and confidence grow.

To learn more

The book TEACHING MOUNTAIN BIKE SKILLS: The Skills Training Manual for NICA Coaches boils my teaching method to its simplest form. It contains very detailed drills and cues for mastering the fundamental riding skills (including those needed for switchbacks).

The book has trained hundreds of high school mountain bike coaches and thousands of high school mountain bike riders — and it can help you too.

$29.95 plus shipping. Check out TEACHING MOUNTAIN BIKE SKILLS: The Skills Training Manual for NICA Coaches.

To get it dialed

Stop messing with those other companies’ clinics. Come to Boulder and rock a skills clinic with me.



Know more. Have more fun!

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8 replies
  1. Brandy says:

    So…looks like I am vacationing in Boulder in the spring. 🙂
    thanks Lee. I hope to be getting my Cornerfu on soon! Figure 8’s here I come. -Brandy

  2. Chris says:

    One thing I would add is that many switchbacks have water bars to prevent erosion, especially here in CO. . If you’re riding a downhill switchback with a water bar, hold on tight with stiff arms on the bars to prevent them from being pulled from your hands.

  3. Gille says:

    What helped me the most with switchbacks is to enter them as wide as possible with the front wheel. Use every inches of the trail to set up for the corner.

    It’s a little bit like if you were trying to carve a full circle with the front wheel while the back wheel is stationary. You can practice this in a parking lot. From a stop, turn the bars as much as you can without stalling or falling over and roll nice circles with the rear wheel as the pivot point.

    This was the best drill for me.

  4. Brandy says:

    OK I got the book. And after reading…I am doing many things wrong. My hands, y feet, and my attack position are off. I need to get lower, and by doing that, I should be able to move and lean the bike more. The book is great, very informational. Thank you Lee, I think I am headed in the right direction.


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