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Loading and unloading

By Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack

Have you ever seen a really smooth rider just floating along a rough trail? He passes over rocks like water over porcelain, bounds over logs like a porpoise over a skiff, and gains speed without even pedaling. He might have a deal with the devil, but chances are he accomplishes these feats by strategically weighting and unweighting his bike.


Try this experiment:


  • Stand on a spring-loaded bathroom scale. Let’s say you weigh 150 pounds (68 kg).
  • Suddenly crouch down (unload the scale). Depending on how fast you drop, the scale might go down to 50 pounds (23 kg) or even to 0 pounds.
  • Pause at the bottom. The scale reads 150 pounds again.
  • Stand up quickly (load the scale). Depending on your explosive power, the scale might tip 300 pounds (136 kg) or more.
  • Rapidly crouch down; then immediately spring back up (preload the scale). By loading your moving mass against the scale, you generate even more force. With good timing, you can hit 400 pounds (181 kg) plus.
  • Imagine the scale has a handle attached to it. If you pull upward as you leap upward, you can lift the scale off the ground and read a negative weight. This is a massive unload, like when you hop and jump.

Weighting and unweighting your bike works the same way. When you learn to control the pressure between your bike and the ground, a whole new level of riding opens to you. You can pump terrain, find traction in corners, hop across logs, hover over rocks, and soar over jumps.


Here are the keys to that new world:


Always be light or heavy. Say you weigh 150 pounds (68 kg). When you ride over rocks, try to weigh 0 pounds. When you carve corners, try to weigh 300 pounds (136 kg).





You are a sine wave. Rather than just sitting or standing on your bike, you should cultivate an oscillation—heavy, light, heavy, light. Not only does this feel playful, but it also leads to awesome rippage.


Match the terrain. You are a wave, and so is the trail. Even the roughest, most random-seeming sections have an overall up-and-down and side-to-side flow. Ignore the details. Time your wave so you’re heavy in the (relatively) smooth spots and light in the rough spots.


Accelerate! When you fall or rise at a constant speed, you weigh however much you weigh. Sorry. To change the scale, you have to gain speed the whole way. Let your body fall unfettered. Drive upward with gusto.


Spread it out. The preceding tips work only as long as you can push or pull. Because you only have so much arm and leg range, you have to decide how you’ll spend it. Push hard and fast to hop a big rock; push slow and easy to create traction in a sweeping turn.


Be decisive. Most riders are way too static on their bikes. Change direction rapidly. Moves like jumps and hops require rapid, massive loads with sudden releases and drastic unloads. Make it count. You are a Super Ball. Boing!


Time your suspension. Suspension makes preloading absolutely necessary. When you press down to make a hop, you want your power to drive into the ground, not into a spring and shock. Preload so your suspension is completely compressed when you begin your takeoff. The more travel your bike has, the longer this takes. When you first try a diving board or trampoline, you bounce up and down to get a feel for the amount of flex, and then you time your jumps so you sink all the way down and spring all the way up. It’s the same on your freeride bike.


Think three-dimensionally. Once you learn to load and unload over trail features, two-dimensional riding will no longer suffice. Don’t just roll along a flat ribbon. Bounce up, drive down, and throw your weight all around.


Apply it. Check out the chapters on braking (chapter 4), cornering (chapter 5), hopping (chapter 6), pumping (chapter 7), and jumping (chapter 9). The following table also shows what happens when you use different weight in different situations. When you learn to control your weight, you’ll enjoy these skills at an even higher level.




This is an excerpt from Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, Second Edition.

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