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Pushing yourself to improve is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of mountain biking - there’s no better feeling than cleaning a new technical feature or taking your speed to the next level. With this in mind, we reached out to longtime professional mountain biker and coach Simon Lawton with Fluidride to get some mountain biking tips to help you improve your skills and have more fun out there on the trails. 

How to Ride Switchbacks on a Mountain Bike

One of the scariest parts of mountain biking for new riders is often tight, downhill switchbacks. While most riders can make a simple flat turn on the road, these tight-radius turns on the trail can be tricky to master. The proper technique for these turns offers a counterintuitive solution - setting up on the inside of the turn to give yourself the most room to get around the outside. Confused? Don’t worry, we’ll break it down step-by-step and get you cornering like a pro. 

One of the most surprising things about riding switchbacks on a mountain bike is that you should enter on the inside of the turn. As a matter of fact, the tighter the switchback the more inside I’ll try to approach it. My goal will be to leave my back wheel as close to the inside of the turn as I can. The definition of a switchback turn is a turn that’s too tight for the front and rear wheel to take the same line. By leaving my back wheel low on the trail and taking my front wheel high, I’m able to get this outcome.

In this image, I’m making my pre-turn. I’m using footwork to make this happen - notice that my right foot has gone down and back. Being a left foot forward rider, my left-hand turn is accessed by my back foot. As I get into the actual turn, I’ll be making a front foot (right-hand) turn.

With my pre-turn, I’m riding high into the outside bank, buying space. Pretty much every switchback you encounter will have some sort of berm on the outside. This is because switchback turns are by nature built into steep hills. I can use this to lend support to the front wheel.

In this image, I’m just starting my actual turn, which is a front foot turn. Notice that my feet are now level. In the next image, we’ll see my front foot moving forward and down for the actual turn. Notice that my rear wheel is way inside of where my front wheel is. This is what allows me to make a switchback turn quickly and easily.

In my actual turn, looking where I want to go. Notice the compression in my fork which has been created by driving the left knee forward over the toe.

If you look back through the last few frames, you might notice that my back wheel hasn’t moved all that much. My front wheel has effectively arced around the rear wheel. You might see tire marks on the banks of switchback turns and a very tight rut on the actual trail. The tire marks on the banks are from the front tires of experienced riders and the rut is from their rear wheel. Note that my outside elbow is high, which is helping to turn my shoulders.

On my way around. The wheel path of my front and rear wheel are about to meet up at this point. The double-footwork I used here takes a bit of practice, but once you have the skill dialed, riding switchback turns on your mountain bike becomes easy, flowy and fun!

Simon Lawton is the founder and owner of Seattle based Fluidride, and the creator of The Fluidride Method. Simon has been teaching riders for over 20 years. He raced pro Downhill and Enduro for 15 years. During his racing career, Simon amassed over 50 pro podium finishes at regional events, and two Medals (Silver and Bronze) at the UCI Masters World Downhill Championships. Simon created The Fluidride Method by watching the world’s best riders, and mimicking their movements on the bike to sharpen his own skills. He then created terms and vocabulary based on these movements to help transform the riding of his students. Simon has taught in a dozen countries on three continents, teaching over 1,000 riders per year in person. His teachings reach many more via his free online content and 3 feature-length films which are currently on iTunes. Simon’s latest venture, soon to be launched, is SNAPMTB, an online learning platform created to reach and benefit riders around the world.

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