Steep switchbacks can be some of the most challenging mountain bike riding. They can also be some of the most fun and hold the potential to be an area for riders to make huge gains in speed and efficiency. If you come upon a tight switchback section with hairpin turns that you’re not ready for, chances are you’re going to find yourself white-knuckling and riding the brakes for dear life until things straighten out. Nailing a single turn is one thing, but one after the other when you’re headed down hill? Take a deep breath. By focusing on a few straightforward techniques, you (yes, you!) can master riding downhill switchbacks, go from fear to fun, and ride a helluva lot faster in the process.
A few key things for most turns, I call it the “ides” of mountain biking:
- Start wide
- Take the inside
- Finish wide
There are situations where obstacles or specific terrain might prevent you from executing the above, but the vast majority of the time “the ’ides” are the way to ride smarter, safer, and faster.
Let’s break it down:
- As you approach a turn, set yourself up wide, aiming for the outside edge of the trail or berm
- Scrub off some speed with light braking as needed at this point
- Look where you want to go, not directly in front of you.
Take The Inside (or Apex):
- Cut smoothly into the inside portion of the turn or singletrack
- To take a tight turn, position your inside foot up and outside foot down with your weight into the outside leg. Lean the bike inside with the turn, while keeping your body neutral
- Carry your speed through the turn. Only lightly feather your brakes if the terrain necessitates it.
- Ride the turn out and carry your speed as you move back into the middle of the trail
As your cornering improves, you’ll find you need less and less braking to feel comfortable and in control when riding challenging switchbacks. Maintaining control without losing momentum can be a delicate balance, but it’s all part of the artistry of mountain biking. Once you dedicate enough time to practicing switchbacks, your riding will improve dramatically.
Adam Pulford, CSCS
CTS Pro Level Coach
USA Cycling Level 1 Coach
USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach