Bike Skills: How To Absorb Obstacles On The Trail

May people struggle to absorb obstacles, keep control over their bike, and see clearly ahead the riding through rough terrain. In a previous article about getting the most out of your dropper post, we touched on the concept of allowing the bike to move up and down underneath you to keep control in rough terrain and we will go into it on more detail in this article. This is a valuable skill no matter what type bike you are riding, from downhill to gravel! As soon as the terrain gets a bit rough, applying this technique will be of benefit to you. Watch our skills video or read the article below for some advice on keeping better control over your bike (gravel to downhill) in rough terrain!

Bike Skills: How to absorb obstacles on the trail.

The principle of the skill is fairly simple. As you encounter an obstacle on the trail, you use the travel in your arms and legs to bring the bike up towards you and then away away from you while keeping your head and hips as stable as possible. Timing this right means that you’re reducing the impact between bike and obstacle and keeping control over the bike rather than being jarred by the terrain.

The benefit of this is that you will maintain traction as you are keeping your wheels on the ground. Your stable body and head will allow for good vision and better balance and control over the bike. You may find that you do this instinctively to some extent but it a skill that you can always take time to fine tune. If you’re not getting this right, you’re going to be getting bucked by the terrain making it very difficult to control your bike. Traction will also be limited and you’ll likely struggle to see effectively down the trail.

Bike Skills Absorb Obstacles Pic 1
Technical trails require you to move your bike up and down over features to maintain control.

What is required to perform this technique? Well you essentially have your levers which are your arms and legs that will allow the bike to move up and down underneath you. The lower your saddle, the more room you have to do this and the larger the obstacle you can absorb.

Here is the breakdown:
As you are coming into contact with the obstacle in the trail you’ll lift up / allow the front wheel to move up towards your body and over the obstacles. As you rear wheel is coming into contact with the obstacle, the same principle is applied. Pull up on pedals to allow the rear wheel to follow the same path over the obstacle. This can be done with clips or flat pedals but is naturally easier with clips. 

As each wheel has crested the obstacle, push them down the back side of the obstacle with the goal of keeping the wheel in contact with the ground. Remember that the objective is to allow the bike to come up towards you and reduce the impact so as to keep your head and hips stable.

The same principle is applied to holes in the trail. As your wheels want to drop down away from you, push down into the hole and pull back up on the exit to keep traction and manage the process rather than letting your wheels drop and then slamming into the other side of the dip, making a harsh impact to control. This is within reason of course. Some holes are too big, deep, or awkward to absorb in this way.

Some common errors include being too stiff and not fluid enough to let the bike move up and down efficiently, especially when there are lots of obstacles to absorb. Leaning too far back in the rough terrain is also a classic error. This feels like a safe position but it limits your movements and bike control. If you’re absorbing the terrain effectively, harsh impacts will be reduced and the likelihood of you being thrown over the bars will decrease. Finally, avoid moving your head too much. The goal, remember, is to keep your head as stable as possible. This example of a gyroscopic chicken is very helpful!

As with all these good skills, practice is essential! Grab your bike, find some rough terrain, and get out there to give this a try or just fine tune your technique! Watching the video at the top of the page can help with a visual representation. If you want to go deeper into this skill, which we highly recommend, have a look at Pinkbike’s “How To Bike” episode 4 with Ben Cathro below. It is really well thought out and thoroughly explained! Alright, have good time on your bike!

How To Bike EP 4 – Absorbing trail features

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