Rock 'n' Roll
The ‘art’ of riding a rocky trail is indeed a fine art. Steve Thomas shows us the skills and tricks required to master it.
It always seems a little strange when you watch different riders tackling the same rocky section of trail; there are those who seem to effortlessly glide over the rocks as if they weren’t there, making the trail look as though it was perfectly smooth, not losing an ounce of speed in the process. Then of course there are those at the other end of the scale, who grind to a halt at the mere thought of tackling those evil boulders, and try in vein to thread their way at virtually zero speed through the rocks, dabbing and floundering every few metres—it can be painful to watch at times. Most of us linger somewhere in between these two extremes, which means there’s plenty of room for improvement, and mastering the rocks can greatly benefit your everyday trail riding. Not only will it make you faster, it will make you a whole lot safer, reduce punctures and other potential bike damage, and make the whole experience a lot more fun.
There are numerous factors to be worked on when it comes to mastering rocky rides, and when broken down and dealt with individually they become easier to improve on, and then combine them all together until the whole thing becomes second nature. Job done!
If you are heading out on a particularly rocky ride then there’s no doubting that a full suspension bike could save you a whole heap of energy and iron out a multitude of errors, although many a purist would still prefer a hard tail for its razor sharp handling. Your suspension shouldn’t be too soft for normal rocky trail riding, and your position should be fairly upright to help in keeping your weight off the front wheel. It’s also a good idea to make sure your pedals aren’t adjusted too tightly, as you may well need to get your foot out in a hurry. Fatter tyres are a definite plus on rocky ground. Not only do they take more rock impact without puncturing, they also take a lot of the jarring out of the trail, saving your wrists from extra pounding; 2.1 to 2.4 inch wide tyres are ideal. Selecting tyre pressures is a real balancing act. Lower pressures will help to smooth the ride and improve traction but will also substantially increase the risk of pinch flat punctures and rim damage. For this reason it usually best to increase your tyre pressures when riding rocky terrain. Skilled riders (the ones who finesse their way effortlessly through the boulder fields) can get away with standard or lower air pressure—as long as they don’t make any mistakes. Tubeless tyre systems will allow you to use lower pressures but you still run the risk of rim damage. If in doubt, put an extra 5psi in your tyres for particularly rocky terrain.