Riding Steeper Trails

‘Steep’ just like big, small, fast and slow is really a personal thing. What one rider thinks is a really ‘fun’ decent can be terrifying to another depending on each persons experience, equipment and confidence. With a bit of knowledge, practice and coaching you can improve your riding skills on your steeper trails and feel more confident and actually start to enjoy them rather than dreading them coming up all the way round the ride.


Women have a tendency to fear steeper ground more than men just because they instinctively think about it more so its even more important for most female riders to know what to do and also to have built up their confidence and experience progressively.

Check out the video below:

Lets take a look at some key elements to help you riding those steeper sections of trail then.

The bike:

Recognising the capabilities and limitations of your equipment is important when your looking at developing your skills further. You need to be working with the bike not against it. Obviously at each end we will have a Downhill bike with long travel and short stem with a geometry that make it feel comfortable on a 50’ slope and a lightweight XC bike with a long stem and geometry that will feel more vulnerable on the same slope however they can both get down that 50’ trail with the same rider just with a different feel and probably speed. if your running a long stem and XC set up no drama just be willing to take it a touch slower and really get your body position right. (More on that in a bit)

Set the bike up with full travel, make sure any Pro pedal is off and also drop the seat, were going to be hanging out over the rear wheel quite a bit on the real steeper stuff if that’s where your at.

As you would on any ride set your suspension up. To simplify it a bit there are basically two types of bumps were going to encounter, small ones and big ones! If the trail has lots of little rocks, drops bumps and holes in it then we want to get the rebound set so it’s running quite fast so we recover full travel before the wheel hits the next one. If the trail has bigger features, say there is three bigger drops on it you might want to run with lots of rebound dampening so that you get a ‘plush‘ landing and reduce the bucking that a quick rebound above will give you especial on a 6‘ + bike. If your chosen trail has all of these, well set it on the middle or for the one that frightens you the most! 

Tyres: Run whatever pressure you would for the trail conditions on the day however generally we want lots of grip and efficiency is not that important, gravity is your engine here! You might be down around 20psi with double ply tyres in wet and greasy conditions. If the steeper section is part way round the trail you are either going to put up with the lower pressure and work harder, run your normal pressure for the trail and deal with it on the steeper section or cary a pump and be willing to change it!

Brake levers: You are going to need these set in the right place for all riding however its super important on the steeper ground. Just see the video, it will take ages for me to write it here and it will make more sense to you! You need to et them up so that you drop your wrist below the centre of the bars to help under rotate the energy in the bike.

You: We have all been there, hearts beating out of our chest, looking down at our first real steep bit of trail thinking how the hell am I going to get down there? Annoyingly your friend’s are probably at the bottom shouting “come on its easy” Yeh right, fine saying that at the bottom you think! if you ride with your wife or girlfriend you are probably feeling a bit silly now, sorry but you were not helping them!

You need to progress your riding skills progressively so you know that you will do the right thing on the steeper ground, then you can develop the confidence to tackle the steep bit. Trying to learn the skills and develop confidence at the same time is going to be really hard so just take it nice and progressively. 


Body position: People often say “get your weight over the back of the bike” which is kind’a right however what we want you to do is think about keeping your weight (think hip’s) over the bottom bracket on the bike no matter what angle the frame is at. That way you will be putting weight on both wheels which is really important. Often on steep ground people go too far over the back of the bike and un-wight the front wheel too much, then there is no grip for the front tyre and it often slides away from you when you try to turn or when you try to brake on that looser surface you often find on steep ground.

To move your weight (hips) about the bike drop your heels to move it towards the rear of the bike and dip the toes slightly to move it forwards. (You can move along way back with the heels dropped and legs straight but not ‘locked’ but only move a short way forwards when dipping the toe’s. As a general rule don’t let your head and shoulders go past the bars) Again the video will make more sense. We probably unlikely to be shifting the weight over the front wheel much on steeper ground but you might to ‘pump’

Dropping the heels and wrists promotes the all important ‘under rotation’ of the energy in the bike.

Looking: You should be ‘looking’ along the trail at any time however on the steeper ground it’s going to be more important. Don’t let your human instincts creep in and start to look down at that rock right in front of your front wheel, as soon as do this you will roll your shoulders forward and start an over rotation on the bike, hopefully you can see where this will end up! look along the trail to the next feature too not down the hill!

Braking and speed control: Going downhill is fun, most people really enjoy it however on steeper ground allot of people go either too fast or too slow! Too fast for your skills and bike and you end up crashing, too slow you get nervous and end up stopping. With just the right amount of momentum you can keep the bike moving over rocks, bumps and other trail obstacles and stay in control of it, nice eh!

A common cause of real trouble for allot of riders are really loose, rocky sections, again keep the bike moving, loose ground will slow it down quite a bit so carry some momentum in to it and try to keep it moving. Don’t get too far over the back of the bike either just try to keep some weight on the front wheel but with the heels and wrists dropped. Don’t focus on that one bigger rock 20m in front of you, you know what will happen next! Expect the bike to move about underneath you and let it don’t fight it, just keep balanced by shifting you’re weight from side to side.

As you drop in to the steeper section already have the brakes on so that your not accelerating and then deciding that your going too fast and trying to slow down. Just control the momentum from the start. Balance the brakes and actually use the front one, it provides about 70% of the stopping force! However you also need to try and keep the wheels turning for traction, again lots of people just jam on the back brake and slide down the section pretty much of control. If your skidding the back wheel down the trail your not really slowing down much and you will have no traction to turn or change your line. Anyway it’s always much easier to go faster than to slow down!

Pump it;  You still need to work with the trail and pump dips and hollows as you would on any trail. It can be harder on steeper ground but its still good for keeping you active with the trail. You won’t be able to pump if your too far over the back of the bike, again remember to try and keep the hips over the bottom bracket.

Cornering: The basic skills of cornering are not going to change, control the speed early, get that outside foot down to weight the inside of the tyre and look through to the exit. The one thing that might change is that you could still be braking a touch on really steep trails going round the corner g but again try to control the speed early and be releasing the brakes from the apex of the corner if you can.

Pick a suitable line: If you're just practicing for the first couple of times pick a good easy line. Were after a line that will allow is to keep the bike moving and try to avoid the bigger obstacles on the trail if we can and try to take the corners nice and smooth. Also start back up the trail too so you have time to get up on the bike, clip in if you need too and be nice and relaxed as you roll in to the section. Once you have had a couple of go’s and you are happy with what you need to be doing then you can look at playing with different lines and perhaps trying the obstacles if you are happy with them but be careful, just because you can do a 2ft drop off on a relatively flat trail don’t assume that it will be that easy on the steeper ground, the skills is the same with some ‘tweaks’ however the psychology of it all is a bit harder and many people ‘freeze’ up just on the lip.


Try to get all the skills sorted on a short relatively steep (for you) bit of ground that is featureless and gives you plenty of run out a few times (grassy hills or slopes are great for this and they also let you play about with that brake balance if it’s all new to to you) before you roll in to that loose rocky, knarley steep section littered with steps with a 90’ corner at the bottom!

If you have done a few steeper sections and are happy with the skills then go out and try to keep it all smooth, try keeping the bike at a constant speed and try to not lock up that rear wheel.

Develop both the skills and you're confidence progressively and you will often impress yourself at the sections of trail you can roll down and pretty soon you will be seeking out steeper or more technical challenges. If you would like more help with any of the skills we have talked about here and on the video just get in touch with us.


e- campbellcoaching@me.com Tel: 01639 897945 Mob: 07855 094570  © Campbell Coaching