Riding down gravel roads at speed
I wasn’t sure how to post a question to your website and thought you might filter them through your own inbox? I had a question for you about gaining some confidence on riding down gravel fire roads I feel like a pretty confident rider on fairly technical terrain, but loose gravel just freaks me out. I feel like the ground is moving down the hill with me as I descend, and I’m just a moments away from washout and total disaster I have gotten better on straight tracks getting into my attack position and adjusting my position to react to traction (or lack thereof) on my front and rear wheels. But then adding a curve to the road and steering in this stuff really throws me for a loop! Do you have any tips on riding loose gravel on a downhill?
Thanks so much for your continued dedication to this sport! We preach the Gospel of Lee at all of our High School team practices with attack position and cornering being our primary focus with the kids. They’re really getting the hang of it even the “tried and true” racers that have been riding for years are breaking their bad habits!
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
Coach Austin High School Mountain Bike Team
Thanks for writing.
In a lot of ways, singletracks are easy because the lines are so obvious. Dirt roads require more thought.
How to ride down gravel roads at speed?
Step 1: Slow down! If you’re going so fast you’re freaking out, that’s too fast. Rip it down the straights. When it’s time to turn, slow way down. Slower! So slow there’s no nervousness. If you’re on a downhill, you’ll get the speed right back.
Step 2: Dial in your core cornering techniques. You know these from NICA coach training. They are shown in Mastering Mountain Bike Skills and more fully revealed in Teaching Mountain Bike Skills.
Step 3: Choose your spots. Just because the road follows a certain shape does not mean you need to follow that shape. Look for solid ground and any sort of bank on which to initiate your turn. Late-apex lines are seldom a bad idea.
Step 4: Learn to load the bike in turns. This cousin of pump improves traction — especially when you want to initiate a pretty tight turn (late apex!). Show this video to your student riders. Have them write essays.
Step 5: Explore weight-forward and foot-out cornering techniques. Do this carefully. Read this and follow the links.
Step 6: Get used to some drift. When you ride on gravel, your wheels are going to get loose. This is to be expected. Start slow and work your way up to some Kovarikian slides (impressive but profane video; note that Kovarik DOES NOT slow down for turns!). As long as you maintain great balance and form, you’ll be amazed at how easy and sweet some Austin Drift can be.
As with all things, start slow and build skills and confidence gradually.
You better get to work: Some of these high school racers are fast!
Know more. Have more fun!
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Just did a 50 mile ultracross race last weekend, out of 360-ish racers about 160 were on cx bikes, the rest on mtbs. About 43 miles of gravel forest service roads or doubletrack, the rest linking pavement. MTBs had the advantage in cornering and when things got rough, but I was glad to be on a cx bike if only for the fact that I was able to climb faster due to having a higher “low-gear” ratio (and a much lighter bike).
Pretty much every corner I had to use to the whole width of the track to make it, and felt the wheels sliding every turn. Off camber straight downhills I let go of the brakes and just rode the drifting. I overcooked many a corner trying to stay on the wheel of a mtb, only went off road a handful of times but didn’t crash or need to stop. I had many opportunities to try different ways of shifting weight around to keep traction. I was pretty stoked to be passing mtbs on some of the longer/faster downhills and keep up with them in the less than smooth sections.