Learning how to ride gnarly uphill switchbacks


We’ve just completed another track here in Toowoomba — and it has heaps of steep switchbacks on loose material. Now, your book had a fair chunk of detail on descending these types of things, and I’m achieving moderate success.

Climbing them — I leave much to be desired. Can you give a few additional recommendations on how to be more successful climbing steep, loose (dare I say hastily constructed, with no turning platform) switchbacks?

This (Toowoomba) is Jared Grave’s home town — and he has been out there the last couple of months using the tracks we’ve just revamped and the new ones we’ve constructed since the flood damage we had at the beginning of the year. I don’t actually know him, but quite a few guys in the club do.

Anyway, hope all is well with you, and thanks for your advice.

Kind regards,


Hey Matt,

Thanks for writing.

Steep, loose switchbacks require an advanced combination of basic skills, and they’re even harder up than down. That’s a whole other book: Mastering Mountain Bike Climbing Skills.

When I teach people how to climb switchbacks, here are the sub-skills we address:

If you can’t climb over this rock in a straight line, you sure ain’t gonna do it in a turn.

Balance. Are you balanced over your pedals? If the pitch is really steep, you’ll have to scoot forward on the saddle and possibly stand. If you’re not rocking light hands and heavy feet, everything will suck more than necessary.

Smooth power. In and out of the saddle, over a wide rpm range, while maintaining balance.

Vision. Where are you looking? Hopefully not off the cliff. Scan from your initiation point, through the turn and toward the next turn. The sooner you find the next turn, the better.

Line choice. Line up as wide as you can, even if that means riding over rocks. I’d rather attack a wide line that happens to be rough than wimp out and try a tighter line just because it’s smoother.

Bike lean. We stopped steering when we got off tricycles. Lean your bike. This comes down to solid fundamental cornering technique. Lots of that in Mastering Mountain Bike Skills. Even more in Pro BMX Skills.

If you can’t ride straight up an equally steep/loose/rough section, and you can’t make an equally tight but smooth corner, you have no hope of climbing this switchback.

Master the basic skills, then combine them to make own special kind of braaap!


PS: Graves is a good guy, and following his wheel — even for a microsecond — is a clinic in how to corner. I remember chasing him down a blue run at Keystone in Colorado. Perfect form, perfect turns: every time. Say hi.

Melinda shows us a perfect approach during a private clinic in 2006. She’d look the same coming up the hill.

Know more. Have more fun!

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