Tricks for tight switchbacks

Lee,
I have an interesting question for you.
You are coming down a single track on the side of the mountain, and there is a typical tight switchback, narrow and 330 degree turn.
How do you tackle this without loosing too much speed and not going down the hill 🙂


Alexis,

Switchbacks are some of the most challenging features to ride because they force the rider to 1) handle a steep downslope, 2) manage speed and 3) make a tight turn all at the same time. If you add a root, rock or ledge, you can add #4 to that list.

That’s a lot of things to do at once!

The most effective way to begin mastery of these skills, short of a class with an LLB teacher, is in the Lee Likes Bikes MTB School. Get the full curriculum I teach in person (at a median rate of $150/hour), for $19/month or $199 a year.

Check out the Lee Likes Bikes MTB School >>>

Some other notions:

The better you get at each individual skill, the better you’ll be at the combined skill. Honestly, very few people ride downslopes, brake or turn well enough to do all three at once. Wax the car, paint the fence, sand the floor and *then* do karate.

As you approach the turn, peek all the way through it, to the exit and beyond. This only takes a moment, but it loads that scenery into your guidance system. While you’re making the turn, try to look ahead but let yourself look wherever you have to. When you get there, it won’t be such a shock. You’ve seen it before!

Slow way down. More than you think you need to. You *will* lose speed as you enter the turn, but if you corner well you’ll exit with plenty of speed.

Enter the turn as wide as possible. Most riders are sheep who follow the median line. Be a wolf. Go wider.

EXCEPTION to the wide entrance! If there’s a usable rut, use it as a berm.


Using a rut to stick into a loose, off camber switchback.

Get into your lowest, most deeply hinged Wolf Attack Position. This is the only way you’ll have the arm range you need.

Most of the time the exit of a switchback is off camber for drainage. Most of the time, the entrance is banked against the hill. Use this “berm” to initiate a late-apex line. The more turning you do before you point downhill, the better.

Ideally you lay off the brakes and accelerate through the turn. If that’s too much, you can drag (not skid) the rear brake to maintain your current speed.

I hope that helps!

Lee


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6 replies
  1. Leonard says:

    Back in my local trails, most if not all xc riders do not use a dropper post. In other words, they ‘corner’ these tight switchbacks with a high seatpost. What changes in body position does one need to perform in order to navigate this turn with a high post?

    Reply
  2. Lee McCormack says:

    Leonard, this is such a great question.

    If you insist on riding with a high post (which usually coincides with a long stem), you need an excellent hip hinge – -most specifically a “high hinge,” which keeps your hips above a tall seat but folds your torso flat so you can control your handlebars.

    Tons more detail at the http://www.llbmtb.com Lee Likes Bikes MTB School, but this image shows a high hinge in context with standing upright and a low hinge (which is only available with a low seat) :

    http://www.llbmtb.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/020316threepositions.png

    Make sense?

    Lee

    Reply
  3. Leonard says:

    Hi Lee, appreciate the quick feedback. Yes, I get the picture. It seems that apart from a good hip hinge one has to ‘get used to’ the feeling of it (ie b*tt and hamstring stretch). It’s easy to get into the position while riding in a dead straight manner, but when one has to assume the cornering position, which includes a bit of twisting (ie bike leaning), it gets a bit different (if not weird). But yea, it’s doable, just need to get used to. Cheers! 🙂

    Reply
  4. Lee McCormack says:

    Leonard,

    Yes! You get it!

    Step 1 is making your body reach these positions.

    Step 2 is making it automatic.

    Steps 3 through infinity are making the positions seamless in crazy moments!

    Reply
  5. Kaj says:

    Great to see the weight behind the saddle tip. I read this once in a mag way back in the early 90’s, and have been using it since. It’s not a natural thing to do, at least to me it wasn’t. And it’s very rare to you see this tip on “how to ride switchbacks” downhill.

    For me it’s the most effective tool to keep me in control and never feel like I’m about to high side the turn, or is it low side the turn, anyway, keeps me from ever feeling like I’m going to tip over.

    Reply
  6. Lee McCormack says:

    Kaj,

    It’s super important to hinge your butt behind the saddle, but you must stay balanced on your feet. That’s critical.

    If your turns feel good, you are balanced.

    Rip it up,

    Lee

    Reply

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