The weekend of 6/9/11 – 6/11/11 Bikes n Beers took a kick-ass trip to Snowshoe WV to enjoy some downhill/freeride riding. Snowshoe WV mountain resort sits in east central WV in the Monongahela National Forest. It has long been a Mecca for winter sports enthusiast and now for a number of years been developing a network of world class downhill and freeride runs that are sure to thrill even the most avid riders. Being virtual beginners at downhill we decided it would prudent to take some instruction to avoid the arterial squirting and compound fractures. This turned out to be a wise decision. The terrain is much more technical that any YouTube video can express and some downhill specific skills training made the weekend enjoyable and more importantly, injury free. This will be the first of a 3-part blog to include our Training, Western Territory riding, and Basin riding.
We decided to take 2 half day lessons that encompassed beginner and advanced skills. We started our first day with an intro course on basic skills; balance, body position, cornering, braking, and bike control. Our instructor was Trevyn Newpher, a professional downhiller and lead of the Mountain Adventure bike shop in Snowshoe Village. We spent the first hour or so working in the skills training area before heading out to the trails. Trevyn worked with us on some basic skills that would later serve to save our asses from certain injury.
Balance and Body Position:
Our first task was to find the “Neutral” position on the bike. Trevyn had us slow roll the skills area while trying to compress our suspension evenly. This drill served to find that balance point on the bike which would later be key in navigating the challenging terrain to come. Foot position was another important aspect of body position since it is distinctly different from x-country. Commonly when you ride clipless pedals the pedal is positioned over the ball of you foot. When riding downhill platform pedals the foot is moved forward on the pedal so the spindle is in-line with your skeletal system. This became important when absorbing the impacts and hits associated with downhilling. Additionally, understanding which foot is dominant in order to keep that foot forward in a even stance on the bike. I discovered that I prefer to use my right foot to initiate pedaling, but my left foot was my dominant foot and hence was the foot I preferred to keep forward when rolling. Trevyn explained that this was fairly common for right handed people. In fact, depending on the dominant hand people commonly use the opposite foot as their dominant. Next was a discussion of keeping connected to the bike, specifically when using platform pedals. The technique was to slightly angle your dominant foot backwards and your other foot forward. This creates an opposing force between the two pedals and better connection with the bike.
The balance and body position skill fed right into cornering skills. The variables included a neutral position, even weight distribution on the pedals, leaning the seat horn into the inside thigh, and turning the head and upper body in the direction of the turn. At first there seemed to be a lot of variables to coordinate, and keeping traction while in a standing position seemed a little daunting at first. But with proper pressure on the pedals it soon became evident that coordinating the variables provided plenty of traction, even in off-camber turns. Similar to motorcycling, looking through the turn was also important. However, turning your upper body in the direction of the turn was a new skill to me and took a bit of getting use to. As the weekend progressed we would soon learn how important that is to flow through turns and maintain traction.
As with any vehicle, the front brake provides the lion share of stopping power, up to 70%. We spent a few moments understanding how a little front brake feathering makes a huge difference in speed and control. Downhilling on machine groomed trails with high berms requires frequent brake feathering to provide the optimal control throughout the run. The majority of your braking occurs before you enter the turn. This was dissimilar to my experiences with motocross since I would commonly brake until the apex of the turn and then power out. In the end the lesson was this: Control requires the wheels to be turning, not skidding. Locking up your wheels = out of control.
The final last skill we worked on was a little bit on bike control. We worked on lifting our rear wheels without engaging the front brake and keep our feet gripped to the pedals. This maneuver was executed by rotating your toes down, putting pressure on the rear of the bike and lifting. This seemed similar to endo but without applying the brake or attempting to do a stoppie. This helped reinforce the importance of keep your feet connected to the pedals in rough terrain when you don’t have the benefit of clipless pedals.
This concluded the skills section of day one. We next traveled to the Western Territory for some on the slope instruction (See Part II)