Roots are notorious for grabbing wheels and throwing mountain bikers to the ground. When those irregular-size bumps run perpendicular to the trail, they can send tires sliding sideways, especially if it is wet out. Riding over roots better is a goal for all mountain bikers. Novices need to gain confidence and control. Advanced riders want to keep pushing their speed and keep expanding the range of conditions they can ride. While roots can be intimidating, they provide great feedback on how well you are able to control your bike and whether you understand the forces applied to each tire in variable conditions. As with any skill, the best way to start is with the basics.
Work on your foundation
Before you tackle an advanced challenge such as roots, you need to make sure you have the essentials covered. Are you balanced and efficient out of the saddle? Can you maintain a centred, low position on the bike? Are you capable of moving the bike side to side and fore and aft? By drilling these foundational skills, regardless of your level of expertise, you will improve quicker and avoid injuries that might come from taking on too much too soon. If a pump track or trail with lots of whoops and corners is available, then that’s a great place to work on wheel unweighting and a balanced, centred position. It’s the perfect warm-up ahead of tackling a rooty trail. During this warm-up time, ensure that your tire pressure is low – less than 25 p.s.i. for most riders. You should be running knobby tires with a softer compound to get the best traction.
Getting to your roots
Once you have warmed up, your next challenge is finding roots for practice. Look off the beaten trail at the original, older and less optimal lines for bumpy riding. You can use wet conditions, different speeds, different entry angles, varied riding directions and even logs to create challenges appropriate to your ability. If you do not have many roots around you, any riding you can do in the wet on bridges, crooked logs, stairs and general mud riding will still help you learn how to maintain traction with good position and smooth braking and acceleration.
Tips for clearing roots
Once you have a trail or line to challenge your root-riding skills, focus on the following tips. First, straighten up before you get to the roots to avoid turning or leaning on roots, which generally requires more traction than is available on wet roots. Often, you need to set up by doing a big cut before the corner. You might also need to brake or pedal hard before you hit the roots to help reduce the need to do either on the roots. Once again, you don’t want to need more traction than you can actually get. Also, weight the pedals before going onto the roots so you can unweight as you roll over the roots – just like on a pump track – to reduce the traction needed. Finally, once you are on-line and the bike is rolling over the roots, stay focused on where you are going, not the little – or giant – holes between the roots. It is important to avoid, or at least reduce, any pedaling, leaning, or turning while on the roots.
These tips, coupled with continual practice of foundational skills, will help you appreciate the forces you need to balance. Working to minimize the traction you need and maximize the traction your tires can provide will help you enjoy even the most root-strewn trails