Technique/Tips/Skills for Aspiring Freeriders

Techniques for riding mountain bikes.
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Technique/Tips/Skills for Aspiring Freeriders

Postby ChiliPepper » Thu Jan 02, 2014 6:26 pm

To better understand freeriding, freeriding is a state of mind... a passion for discovering one's limits, and then pushing those limits to take you to new heights (literally!). Freeriding can free you, at least for a while, from whatever balls you up during the day.


In general, there is no concrete definition for freeriding besides what is mentioned above (shortened to “FR”); it can be pretty much anything you want it to be. But it is generally accepted that freeriding includes foreboding terrain that may or may not have been spiced up with man-made stunts or features. These can include ladder bridges, teeter-totters, jumps, and drops (also known as “hucks”), but also might simply be downed trees or natural faces.

In short, freeriding is mountain biking at the fringe or sometimes on the edge of insanity, and as such, it demands cutting-edge equipment and skills.


Most FR bikes boast 5” to 7” of suspension travel, powerful disc brakes,
and hugely fat (as wide as 2.6” tires) tires with monstrous,
dirt-munching knobs. A handful of die hard’s swing their legs over
hartail (also known “HT”) frames equipped with long travel suspension
forks, but most rely on the increased margin of error, control, and
comfort afforded by a rear shock. There are literally dozens of FR
bikes on the market; choosing the right one for you is simply a matter
of riding, riding, and some more riding. Most bike shops (well, the
smart ones anyway) are not going to let you take a new FR bike on a test
spin over terrain it’s designed for…..there is simply too great of risk
of damage. Some bike shops do rent FR bikes, and if you hook up with a
group of local riders, there should be plenty of opinionated advice.

Another option is to modify your existing bike. Even if you have an old
cross country (also known as “XC”) HT, you can realize dramatic changes
in its handling over gnarly terrain simply by swapping out some key


If your bike is currently equipped with flat handlebar (also known as
“bar”), pull it off, and replace it with a riser bar that has at least
1” of upward sweep. This will effectively reduce the height difference
between your saddle and your bar, making it much easier to get your butt
behind the seat on hyper steep descents. It will also give you more
leverage on the front end in tight, technical terrain. Oh, and it might
just eliminate that nagging soreness in the lower back like the XC
riders commonly get.

Another thing to consider when replacing your old handlebar is the
width, because the width does affect your ride considerable. For
freeriding or DH purposes, a wider 26” to 27” width bar works great and
offers more stability and control, but not so much for XC riding. These
wider bars slow down the input from hitting rocks, ruts, and roots at
speed, but also for hard hits from jumps and drops as well. The wide
bar seems to soften the hits because, while it is not something you
would classify as flexy, the wider bar offers more give with the riders
weight farther away from the handlebar. The biggest downfall to wider
bars is that you scrape your hands on every bush, tree or rock face that
may line a tight section of trail. As per climbing, usually a rider
feels like they magically gain two horsepower when grabbing those wider
bars and while powering up a climb out of the saddle.


Your choice of stem on a mountain bike determines you’re riding
position, and that in turn has a big effect on the bike's handling. If
your bike is equipped with a long stem (90mm or more), pull it off and
replace it with a shorter stem. FR, DH, DJ’s and 4X riders use short
stems (80mm or less) to quicken steering, and to shorten the distance
between saddle and handlebar, making it easier to get off the back of
the bike. This makes them great for snap direction changes or
controlling a sliding front wheel mid-race, but it can make the bike
more of a hyperactive handful at high speed. Cross-country (also known
as “XC”) racers tend to use longer stems (around 120mm) to increase the
stretch in their position. Long stems also stabilize the steering of a
bike, making it less keen to turn suddenly on tight singletrack but less
nervous at high speed. It is recommended that you use a four-bolt stem
though, but this is a controversial thing, as Easton makes some
exceptional two-bolt stems.


Outfit your ride with the fattest set of tires (usually between 2.35” to
3” wide tires) that will fit, while still leaving enough space for mud
clearance. On older XC bikes, you might not be able to go much wider
than your current rubber. If you can fit 2.1” to 2.3” wide tires, do
it. You’ll be amazed at the increase in traction, bump absorption, and
overall stability and control with the fatter tires.


Many older frames are devoid of rear disc mounts. The secret is, that’s
okay. That’s because almost all modern suspension forks are disc
compatible, and since 80% of your braking power originates at the front
brake, you can still realize huge benefits by replacing your front rim
brake with a disc. Hydraulic (also known as “fluid”) models are best,
but they are also the most expensive. If you’re just getting started
and don’t want to spend a ton of money, mount on an inexpensive
cable-actuated disc. You’ll still be blown away by the increase in
braking power and modulation.


If your suspension fork has less than 4” of travel and you’re not
racing, then now’s the time to upgrade. A good 4” to 5” travel fork
will dramatically change the way you ride. Don’t go more than 5” of
travel, though, unless your bike is designed for it. That’s because
while the fork is built for big hits, your frame might not be. With the
extra travel, you might be goaded into writing checks your frame cannot
cash. So, the end results?? You’ll end up writing a real check…..for a
new frame. Also, the tall legs of a long travel-travel fork will raise
the front end of your bike, which reduces the head angle and makes the
steering less responsive. To a point, this is good thing (especially on
fast DH runs), but you don’t want to take it too far, or you’ll end up
with slow, floppy steering that will make your bike hard to manage in
technical terrain. In two words…..Not good!


If you’ve been riding with clipless pedals, consider swapping them for
old-school, large-platform flat pedals without the toe clips. Sure,
you’ll lose some pedaling power, but you’ll also gain the ability to
instantly dab a foot on the ground should your freeriding antics go
awry. Simply knowing you have this option will lend more confidence to
your riding.


Most FR bikes incorporate some kind of single chainring with a
chainguide and bashguard set-up even though some also incorporate a two
chainring with a bashguard and quite possibly a chain tension set-up.
For a single chainring set up, you could use either a 32T, 34T, or a 36T
chainring for freeriding purposes, the 34T and 36T being the most
popular of the three. Along with one of these chainrings, you will need
to use a chainguide to keep enough tension and also keep your chain
inline with your chainring. A chainguide eliminates the chain from
jumping off and from chain slap. You will need to install a bashguard
to protect your chainring as well. Now, for a two chainring set-up,
either a 32T, 34T, or 36T chainring for the larger chainring and either a
22T, 24T, or a 26T smaller chainring combination works great. You will
also need to install a bashguard for this set-up as well, so you will
have solid chainring protection.

There you have it…..Your budget FR machine. Of course, there’s only so
much you can do slapping parts on a bike that simply was not designed
for the rigors of freeriding in the first place. It’s a bit like
putting race fuel in a moped. But you might be surprised by just how
much difference it makes (the bike tweaks, not the race fuel)….it’s
certainly enough to let you know what all the hype is all about. And
given that good FR bikes start out at almost two grand, it’s downright
fiscally responsible!

Hold on. Think about it for a moment…..What’s the most important part
of any ride?? Hint…..It’s not on your bike. That’s right, were talking
about you, about your flesh, bones, blood, and the grey matter. Of
course, you already wear a helmet (well, I hope so anyways) every time
you hop on you bike, but freeriding demands something more
than an ultra-light XC helmet and a pair of spandex shorts, which offer
a descent level of protection for buff singletrack but simply aren’t
going to cut it when you are nosing your front wheel off a 10-foot

Here’s what you will need:
Full-face helmet
Motocross-style chest and back protector
Elbow/forearm pads
Knee/shin pads
Full-finger gloves


Now that you’re geared up, its time to have some serious fun and throw
yourself off the nearest cliff, right?? Uh, sure! Just be certain your
health insurance is paid up. It also might be a good idea to park a
few paramedics at the bottom of the cliff. You know, for safety’s sake.
Actually there’s a better idea…..Below is five great tips for
achieving freeriding greatness or at least competence.


Whether you’re dropping (also known as “hucking”) off a 6” curb or a 6’
rock, the technique is the same. In fact, I encourage new freeriders to
think of all drops as simply a big curb. The technique for riding
drops is pretty simple. The problem is that people get freaked out by
the height. So the best thing to do is to just think you are riding off
a curb. Keep your speed steady, lean back, and let gravity do its
thing. You don’t want to pull up on the bar too much, instead just lean
back enough that your arms are nearly straight, but be sure to keep
some bend in your elbows to help absorb landing shock. The other key is
to land on the rear wheel first. “The flatter the landing, the sooner
your rear wheel should touch down. If it’s a steep DH landing, your
rear wheel should land just a moment before your front wheel.” Remember,
have your shoulders squared off with the landing as you are getting ready


The allure of jumping is universal and timeless, and that’s why you
should add this skill to your freeriding repertoire/game. Jumping is
more complicated than dropping (even though people do think otherwise),
simply because you have the uphill transition of the jump to consider.
Many new riders on long-travel suspension bikes get themselves in
trouble by approaching with too much speed, getting nervous, and then
slamming on the brakes just as they reach the jump. This causes their
suspension to compress and then release as they leave the ground,
turning their bike into a big spring and tossing them high into the air.
The end results can be carnage!! Instead, start on small jumps that
don’t cause undue emotional distress. Start slow enough that you won’t
feel nervous. Approach the jump with your arms loose and you eyes
looking over the stem. As you leave the ground, gently pull the bike up
toward your body and keep your eyes on your landing. Try to keep your
weight centered over the bike. As with drops, you want your rear wheel
to touch down first. If you don’t believe this, try landing on your
front wheel. On second thought, lets not! As mentioned in the drops,
always have your shoulders squared off with the landing when landing.


OK, this is not my strongest skill when it comes to skinnies, but I do
love ladder bridges, so I borrowed this from freeriding great Richie
Schly. Schley, who lives in Whistler, BC, and runs FR camps for all
ages, is one of the original freeriders. Even as younger riders emerge,
Schley remains relevant and often shows up the youngsters at
competitions and exhibitions around the world. He is, in short, the
Michael Jordan of mountain biking.

Nothing says “freerider” louder and clearer than the ladder bridge. In
the forest of British Columbia, some ladder bridges run for hundreds of
feet, twisting and turning and even incorporating other stunts, such as
drops and teeter-totters. Still, for the most part, ladder bridges
demand more courage than skill. Think about it…..If someone asked you
to ride on flat ground within two lines a foot apart, you’d have no
trouble. Heck, you might even throw in a wheelie or two. But when
those lines are elevated 10’ above the ground, it’s a whole new
ballgame. It’s all about conquering the fear and not looking over the
edge. Schley recommends starting on flat ground, either riding along
the painted stripe at the edge of the road or along the yellow painted
portion of the curb. “The key to learning ladder bridges is to ride the
low stuff as if it were high and the high stuff as if it were low.”
says Schley. In other words, when you’re on the ground (or close to
it), try to pretend you’re 10 feet in the air and imagine that wavering
from your chosen path will have serious repercussions. To keep from
wavering, “always look at where you want to go, not where you don’t want
to go,” says Schley. Try to block everything from your mind and vision
but the terrain that’s immediately in front of your front wheel. As
you work your way onto higher bridges, maintain the same focus and
remember that the actual riding doesn’t demand great skill. The only
real skill is to fool yourself into believing you’re on the ground. If
you can do that, you’ll soon be a ladder bridge master.


Like ladder bridges, steep slopes, whether they’re made of rock or dirt,
typically bark worse than they bite. In other words, they just aren’t
that difficult once you get your head around them. The trick is to drop
in slowly, keeping your pedals level, maneuvering your butt well behind
the saddle (Warning: You may get a bit of butt burn on the rear tire.
Consider it a rite of passage), and feathering the brakes. If the
transition out of the steep face is gradual, you can carry some speed,
but if it ends abruptly, you need to proceed very slowly, or you’ll do a
nosedive when your front end hits the compression. Proper braking
technique is absolutely critical on steeps. Too many riders shy away
from the front brake, afraid that it will send them hurtling over the
handlebar. That will not happen, so long as you apply it slowly and do
not do a “panic grab” on the brake lever. In fact, in many cases, it’s
the rear brake you should be cautious with because of its tendency to
lock the rear wheel, which can send you into an out-of-control skid.
Again, your best and safest bet is to practice on shorter, less-steep
slopes, getting a feel for the body position and braking technique.


Watching a top FR flow through a corner is like watching poetry in
motion. It seems as if they hardly touch the brakes, and while most of
us have to sprint like a bloodhound to regain the speed we lost. They
rocket out of the turn. How do they do it?? It’s all about body
language. First, you’ve got to look ahead. “The slower and sharper
the corner, the more important it is to lead with your head.” Stick it
out in front of your body a bit and keep your eyes locked on the exit of
the corner. Everything your body and bike do will follow what you do
with your head. Another critical piece of instructions…..keep your
pedals level. This is harder than it sounds, as most riders tend to
drop the outside pedal in fast corners. Keeping your pedals leveled at
three and nine o’clock, respectively, provide better traction and
improve reaction time. “When all your weight is on your outside pedal,
it’s almost impossible to keep your body in line with your lean angle.”
Although it feels more stable at first, you’re actually putting
yourself at greater risk of losing traction and sliding your tires. If
you keep your pedals level, your weight will automatically be centered
over your bike side-to-side, and you’ll have much more traction and
control. Plus, you’ll be able to pick up speed much more quickly coming
out of the corner.

There you have it. The basics of freeriding, but please understand that
freeriding demands more than solid technique. Read on and for some
great off-the-bike tips and you might find a surprise or two:

Get Tough:

“You are going to feel like everyone on the mountain is better and
cooler than you. Heck, some of them might even tell you they are. Do
not let them get you down, just concentrate on your own game and pretty
soon you’ll be doing the same stuff as they are.”

Gear Up:

“If you do not pad up and protect yourself, you won’t get far. Unless
it’s by ambulance.”

Have Faith in your Equipment (of great importance):

“If you have a sick bike with 6 to 8 inches of travel, you should be
able to land almost anything. Do not blame your equipment; instead,
spend your energy working on your skills.”

Embrace the Shuttle:

“If you shuttle, you’ll get way more descending and your skills will
soar. Do not stop riding uphill, though…..You’ll get to chubby to put
your armor on.”

Take a Riding Clinic:

“Do you really think you know everything?? Of course not, so take a
riding clinic and your skills will progress immensely.”

Ride with people who are better than you:

“It’s the best way to learn, but make sure to be the best on the ride
sometimes, because you will need the confidence boost.”

Don’t die wondering (this one is my favorite):

“If you do not take chances, you will not know the outcome.” My motto per say..."I don't tip toe through life to just meet death safely."

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