Trail Riding Tip: When The Going Gets Tough

Dan Milner attacks a tough uphill at the 2012 ISDE

We take a look at the best ways to handle an unexpected difficult section of trail


One of the most enticing aspects of hitting the trail is the fact that you never really know what’s waiting for you around the next turn. It could be the most pristine section of moist, loamy single track that you’d be happy to ride for hours; or just as easily it could be a snotty hill that’s rough, rutted and stretches your riding ability to the limit. Either way you need to deal with it or turn around and ride home, which I’m guessing isn’t an option.


The first step is not to panic! Don’t look at the section and write yourself off in an instant. More often than not, it looks tougher than it really is and the major battle is keeping your confidence. If you can, it will make a huge difference to the way you attack the section. Stay positive and back yourself and your riding ability.


If the section of trail allows for it, stop and have a quick look at the best way to deal with it. In this shot from the ISDE, Matt Phillips wouldn’t have had that luxury. He does however have hundreds of hours of trail time under his belt and can make on-the-fly observations and decisions quicker than the average trailrider. That all comes with ride time and experience, though, and you’ll find you start making better decisions every time you ride. If you do stop to make a plan of attack, keep it short and sweet. Don’t sit for too long and stew over it — you’ll do your head in.


This is how you can make a tough section easy: get creative, especially if you aren’t restricted by track markings like Phillips is in this shot. Out on the trail you can sometimes head off the beaten track to make life easier; after all, most of the time a section is difficult due to the amount of traffic that has passed over it. If there’s a huge rut that’s trying to suck you in, look for ways to cross over and stay out of it, just as Phillips has done here. He’s avoided the deep muddy centre line up the hill and stayed on the high and dry section of trail.


Traction is always important, but in a tricky section or on a hill it’s even more so. Avoid hard surfaces if possible; wet or dry they will offer very little traction. Look for a surface that will give your tyres something to bite into — that’s where you’ll find the best grip. Sometimes all you need to do is move over half a metre or so off the main line and you’ll find it. Once again, don’t be scared to get creative. There’s no limit to how many times you can criss-cross the trail looking for better traction.


One of the best ways to get through a tough section once you have your line selected is to look as far ahead as possible. Don’t fix your eyes on a big ledge or deep section in a rut; if you do you’ll ride to that point and then probably make a mistake and stop. You want to get past those sections, so look past them and keep going.


Now this technique can work for you but it can also make it look scarier than it really is. If you’re riding with some mates, sit back and watch a few other riders attack the section. The key to this is picking very carefully who you watch — an average rider can make things look way harder than they really are and in turn freak you out even more. Watch an experienced rider if you can and it may help make your attempt a successful one.