5 Tips to Help You Shred Through the Trees

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Few motions on a mountain bike evoke a more powerful feeling of flow than winding through the trees.

Santa Cruz redwoods, Crested Butte aspens, Phoenix saguaros (hey, cacti count); it doesn’t matter. Trees spur a sinuous rhythm that’s as sweet as powder skiing–but they sure hurt when you smash into them! Here are some tips to help you shred through the trees.

1. Learn to Turn

Duh. The better your fundamental cornering skills, the more easily and automatically you’ll be able to change direction. The basic, universal tips are:

  • Balance on your feet
  • Hinge low so your shoulders are close to your bars
  • Lean the bike to initiate the turn. Don’t steer
  • Load the outside foot for maximum edging hold. (Feet level for maximum pumping power)
  • Drive your head and torso where you want to go.

World XTERRA champion Lesley Paterson dials in her tree slalom at Lee’s Boulder, CO dojo. If a world champion can improve massively in one class, imagine what you can learn.

2. Two Words: Late Apex

Most riders follow the sheep line, which dives past Tree 1 early then aims directly at Tree 2. Yikes! No wonder the sheep are afraid. This approach is considered: 1) lazy, and 2) an “early apex” line. The wolves prefer late apexes. We line up as wide as possible … and … wait for it … dive behind the tree. This aims us at the next late-apex entrance, which makes the next turn even better. A couple weeks ago I tore a rain jacket — on the back of my shoulder. Talk about late apex lines.

3. Look Through Trees, Not at Them

If you look at a big tree that you’re afraid to run into, what happens? You run into it!

Scan as far ahead as you can and look for the next turn. More specifically, find your next turn initiation point: that moist, loamy bank where you plan to lean, load and drive. As soon as you commit to that patch of sweetness, find the next one, and the next one.

4. Learn How to Pump Corners

When you pump a corner, you actively generate traction and speed, and you can change direction much more quickly and precisely than when you wait for geometry to turn your bike.

Check out these drills. When you can execute like this on flat ground, you will absolutely rip on woodsy singletrack.


5. Dial in Your Handlebar Width

Everyone who’s punched a tree knows that wide bars aren’t so great in tightly spaced woods. When I teach at Farmington Reservoir in Peoria, Ill., there are a few tree gates that my bars simply won’t fit through. Don’t ask how I know this.

We can agree narrower tends to be better when tight trees are involved, but how wide is optimal from a cornering and handling standpoint? Well, I’ve devised an equation and an online calculator.

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