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How To: Ride Rock Gardens

Here's some tips to help you confidently roll those rock gardens

There are a variety of features that you’ll encounter on any given trail, conquering some may come naturally to you, and others may stop you in your tracks… literally.

One of the best things about mountain biking is the challenge of navigating varying terrain, feeling the bumps, lumps and jumps as you hurtle your way down the trail. It’s exciting, and sometimes you never know what you’re going to come up against.

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However, there’s nothing worse than getting stuck on a feature and having to push around an obstacle that disrupts your flow and has you kicking yourself. Everyone will have their problem areas as well. For some it’s drops, for other it’s roots, but for today, it’s rock gardens we’re looking at.

Rock gardens can be the ultimate challenge, no two are alike and they look pretty intimidating if you’re not familiar with them. They’re scattered, jagged, hard and taking them slow is often a big no no.

So how can you safely conquer these rocky features?

Be One with the Rock

The Rock
Can you conquer the Rock?

Rock gardens are a test in skill and bike confidence.

To overcome your opponent, you have to study them. What does that mean for rock gardens? Well, there are a number of different surfaces, and they’re varied – you’ll find rocky, smooth, flat, steep, loose, texture and clustered sections. Considering these elements, we need to work out what the best line is from top to bottom.

If you know of a rock garden in your local trails, or one particularly nasty one, then spend some time there walking it through. There’s no harm popping the bike to one side and walking the feature to study it better.

Watching other people is a great learning tool as well, study the line they take, their body position and even speed. Dissect the rock garden into pieces to better understand it, and tackle each bit at a time.

Bike Set-Up

Photo: Saskia Dugon Photography
Photo: Saskia Dugon Photography

Before you set off down the rocky road, you need to ensure your bike is set-up correctly to help sail you through the garden.

Because of the heavy impact your bike will endure from slamming over the rocks, it’s best to run a slightly lower tyre pressure to give you a little more comfort on the bike. Get to know your tyres to find out what they best run at, but a rough measure would be 25 – 35psi. However, be careful not to run them too low otherwise you’ll be prone to pinch flats!

How To: Find the Right MTB Tyre Pressure

If the rock garden your tackling has a downhill gradient, then before setting off, drop your saddle well out of the way. This will give you a lot more clearance and freedom of movement around the bike if you have to make quick a quick change in direction on the bike.

If you have adjustable forks and shock on your mountain bike, make sure they are on a softer setting. This will allow more impact to be absorbed by the bike, rather than your body.

How To: Set-up your MTB Suspension

Upon approach to the rock garden, set your speed and your gear. Although mountain bikers generally say that speed is your friend, you need to control it for rock gardens. Hitting it too quick means you risk getting kicked around like a mechanical bull, and too slow can lead you into a rut which may result in you coming off the bike altogether.

Look Ahead

Emmeline Ragot (LAPIERRE GRAVITY REPUBLIC), last years winner at Fort William, during her race run on Sunday. PHOTO: ALASTAIR JOHNSTONE
PHOTO: ALASTAIR JOHNSTONE

This goes for all areas of cycling, but nonetheless it’s vital. Keep your head and eye-line forward. Focus on where you want you to go, and your bike will follow it.

Glance over the trail for obvious risks and obstacles, but don’t get fixated on them or that’s where you’ll head!

Relax

The eagle arms helps stretch and loosen your shoulders.

It’s easier said than done, especially when taking on a new obstacle, but relaxing your mind and body is really a great ally.

Drop your shoulders, and relax the body enough to take on some of that impact, but also stay agile enough to manoeuvre your body around the bike for balance.

Push your weight through the pedals for stability, and shift your body towards the rear of the bike, keeping the front end light enough to roll over rocks.

Level Feet

Hope F20 flat pedals

The speed you begin the rock section with is the speed you need to carry yourself through to the end. Try an avoid pedalling down as you’ll likely clip rocks close by.

Keep your feet as level and flat as possible, and if you need a little more of a push, pedal quickly at times when you can see there are no obscacles close to your feet.

Pumping Through

The pump track in Bristol is located conveniently between the town and the MTB trails of Ashton Court. Image copyright NakedRacing
Image copyright NakedRacing

A great way to get a little more momentum through the wheels without pedalling, is pumping.

Pumping allows us to save a little energy on the bike, but also allows us to lift and pull the bars to get that extra bit of clearance over features.

You may find that additional clearance can be useful when scooping up the back wheel also.

Although there’s a lot of things to consider when conquering a rock garden, like most things, it comes with practice. The more you practice and study your feature, the better you’ll get at overcoming it.

Learning a new skill, or battling a technical feature is a great reward in mountain biking. The sense of progress and improvement is addictive, so make sure rock gardens are ticked of your skills list this year.

You may also enjoy:

How To: Tackle Roots and Steps Uphill

How To: Conquer Rocky Climbs

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