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Master Your Trail Skills: Tips for Riding Over Roots with Confidence

By Christopher Ashley

“Forest-bathing” is increasingly recognised as being good for your health. So why not combine that with the health benefits of going fast on your bike? Let’s get to the root of the problem – here are our top tips for navigating the forest at speed…

Shift your centre of gravity

Mountain bike wheels are close together which raises your centre of gravity and makes the bike inherently less stable. Instability is a bonus when navigating tree roots and trails because an unstable centre of gravity is much easier to manoeuvre.

Get your weight out of the saddle and onto your legs. Cycling up over a root? Shift your weight forward. Coming down the other side? Shift your weight back. Simple. Let your bike roll left or right depending on the terrain, as your arms and legs will instinctively shift your body weight to compensate.

Get to know the trees

This may sound obvious, but when you watch time-trial riders bombing through forests on YouTube, this isn’t the first time they’ve ridden that trail. They’ve been up and down that trail many times, and watched other riders going up and down that trail many times.

The first time you’re out on the bike, go real slow and look at the roots. Each time you pass look a little higher. You’ll soon learn tree root systems by the trunks of the tree. The faster you go, the further ahead you’ll need to look. The professionals learn to recognise where the roots are.

The best suspension is the cheapest

Extravagant forks like the RockShox Lyrik RCT3 Solo Air offer a decent amount of “travel” for around £700. Even tyres will take a lot of the sting out of riding over roots, even on a bike with no suspension. But only your knees will allow enough travel to take the knock out of a 12cm high root sticking out the mud.

It doesn’t matter how expensive your bike is – your elbows, knees, and wrists provide the best suspension. Use them. Keep your muscles and joints relaxed over rough ground, and when the ground firms up under your wheels, you can stiffen your body to put more power into your pedalling.

Road rules apply x10

Even in slicks on tarmac, you need to brake before a corner to ensure you traverse the apex safely. When you’re dealing with uneven tree roots, the same rule applies but the margin for error is much wider.

Brake before you reach corners, and more so when there are roots. Wherever possible, approach a big root vertically to avoid wiping out. If you want to be a hero, put your energy into accelerating away from the root, not into it.

Subconscious learning

There’s no way to sweeten this pill – you are going to fall off your bike a lot. Even at speed, most falls don’t really hurt, but a bad fall will hurt whether you’re going fast or not. But remember that a bad fall at speed could break some bones.

So, man up and be prepared to have some falls. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your subconscious brain adapts to avoid pain. The longer you avoid the temptation to bomb it along a trail, the sooner you’ll learn to go fast without falling. And remember – the fun is in the trying.