The author knows a thing or two about riding skinny. Photo by Matthew DeLorme
Balance can be a tricky thing on your bike. Speed adds stability, but on technical features or portions of trail sometimes you can’t or just don’t feel comfortable going fast. For some people balance comes naturally and for others it requires some work. Riding “skinnies” such as a ladder bridge or fallen log across a stream will make it pretty obvious where your level of skill is. Regardless of which category you fall into, this month’s “how to” is really just a collection of tips that will help you improve your balance and give you some things to work on next time you’re out on the trail.
TIP: Practice and get proficient at riding skinnies on a curb, painted parking lot lines or 2 x 6 pieces of lumber placed on the ground before attempting on any obstacles with potential consequences.
When you approach the balance line you intend to ride over, keep your shoulders square and eyes focused on a point in beyond your front tire. You need to be conscious of where your wheel is so you don’t ride off the obstacle, but looking as far ahead while still keeping your tire in your lower periphery will give you the most stable ride.
If the feature is flat try to enter it with enough speed so that you don’t need to pedal, if it’s uphill choose a gear easy enough so that you don’t need to pedal too hard. If you really need to stomp on your pedals to turn the cranks it will throw your balance off and make it more difficult to stay on track.
This picture shows my fingers on the brake levers. When you’re riding on skinny obstacles having your fingers on the brakes can save you from riding off the edge of something, but what most people don’t realize is the effect they can have on your balance. A drag of the brakes while rolling can help make small corrections and re-center yourself over your bike while keeping your bars pointed where you need to go. This technique is best perfected on something low like a curb and requires a bunch of experimentation—try different pressures and see how your brakes effect you.
The most valuable tip I can give for flat or slightly downhill lines is lowering your hips. Even if you can only dip them a little amount like the photo above it will drastically increase your balance by lowering your center of gravity. If the obstacle is really skinny and I don’t need to pedal, often times I’ll drop my front pedal so it’s at the 6 o’clock position. If my crank is all the way down I lean the bike way from my pedal putting my body weight below my axles. In the photo above I’m doing it slightly since the lower you can keep your center of gravity the better.
This photo shows me finishing out the line. If you’re riding something straight you shouldn’t need to pay too much attention to your back wheel because it will follow your front. My last piece of advice is to visualize your self pulling the line and look beyond the end of the obstacle. If you only look to the end the more likely you are to fall off just inches from victory! Good lunch and have fun practicing, you can never perfect this move because the better you get, the more difficult lines you’ll seek out. With a little practice you’ll surprise yourself and impress your friends.
For more of Jeff Lenosky’s monthly how-to tips, click here.
Lenosky used the photo burst mode on his GoPro to help break down this riding technique.