Another Lesson In Mountain Biking: Really Steep Hills

East Cedar Street Trail

East Cedar Street Trail

This blog entry is a continuation of my personal mountain bicycling learning journey that I started recently.  I am a road cyclist who is learning the art of mountain biking with a little help from my friends.  :-)

Last fall, Jeff Selfa was kind enough to take me, and some other mountain bikers who were looking to improve their skills, out to the East Cedar Street trail system to do a bit of practicing and to learn a thing or two.  This turned out to be highly educational for me as I learned and practiced some important techniques pertaining to traversing steep, rocky grades.  The trails in this area are pretty nice.  They’re close to town and they’ve got quite a bit of variety:  jeep style trails, deeply rutted trails with some crevasses, moderately steep stuff, very steep stuff, rocky sections, loose dirt sections, easy sections, etc.  So it’s a great place to get out and try a few things.

There is one particularly steep hill section (marked as “Steep Hillclimb!” on the map to the left) that I affectionately refer to as Nasty Hill (or whatever other profane thing I feel like calling it at the moment) that is great for practicing steep hill-climbing and descending techniques.  I was fairly familiar with these techniques, but Jeff and Nasty Hill emphasized them for me quite well.  The most important of these techniques is to use your body to move the center of gravity backwards or forwards on the bike as necessary, and make this a lot more exaggerated on really steep hills.  This means that you are hunching way up on your handlebars for steep hill-climbing.  And your butt is hanging over the rear of your saddle for steep descents.  Other than that, you just have to practice your balance, braking, pedaling, and practice a lot.  I don’t know about all you other folks, but I require a lot of practice to get some of these techniques down pat.  I’ve watched a ton of technique videos on YouTube, but I never really “get it” until I learn it for myself out on the trail and get some “muscle memory” put in place.

So, descending Nasty Hill isn’t too bad.  I do it at a snail’s pace because I’m a wuss, but I can do it without any mishaps.  Jeff and Dan Lloyd do it at a much faster rate.  And they were also able to climb the hill without losing their balance.  The rest of us, however, were not.  Maintaining your center of gravity, balancing while moving slowly in your lowest gear, trying to maintain smooth-as-possible pedaling, trying to avoid loose stuff, and spinning out on loose stuff is difficult to do all at the same time.  You’ll fall over unless you’re totally prepared for it.  Having your center of gravity somewhere other than the soles of your feet is not a feeling humans are accustomed to.  :-)

Over the next few months, I cycled back to Nasty Hill and kept trying.  I was getting better, but still was not able to climb the hill without falling over.

But I am going to remember Sunday, March 23, 2014 as a day of great success.  For it was on this day that I scaled the mighty Nasty Hill, not once, but thrice without losing my balance!  Staying on the far right side of the trail away from the loose stuff, relaxing, and concentrating on good form was the keys to my success, I think.  I am excited to go back and give some other areas of the section a try.   I am also  going to pick up my downhill speed a bit and see how I do with that.  Yeehaw!

Bonus video!  This is a video I shot of Jeff Selfa and Travis Poppe riding fat bikes on Nasty Hill in December 2013.

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