How to improve your speed on singletrack

Let’s face it, singletrack is the reason you own a mountain bike. Landrover track beats tarmac (of course) and walking trails trump the rover routes. But, Singletrack is where it’s at, the king of all. With miles and miles of it already wrapping around the country, it’s something you’ll likely want to get better at riding.

There are a few steps and a couple of changes you can make to improve your singletrack speed. Here are a few of our top tips to make you faster and smoother.

How to improve your speed on singletrack

Look ahead down the trail

A common mistake made by mountain bikers is not looking far enough ahead when riding fast singletrack. Instead, riders will tend to look at their front wheel and at immediate obstacles on the trail.

Lifting your eyes and focusing your vision farther down the trail can really help. You’ll be able to spot obstacles well in advance and make a decision on which line to take much earlier. This foresight will also allow you to ride much faster and with more confidence. This is because you won’t be slamming on the brakes as you come across sudden difficulties. Instead, you’ll be able to feather the brakes and maintain your momentum.

Choose wider handlebars

If you use a mountain bike with a particularly narrow handlebar, you might benefit from something a little wider. Bigger width handlebars give you more control when steering, especially at higher speeds. Also, they allow the chest to open up, improving breathing and oxygen consumption. It’s surprising how tiring riding singletrack can be, so easier breathing will always help when it comes to riding faster!

If you come across small jumps and other tricky obstacles, wider bars will also give you that extra level of confidence too. This means you’ll be on the brakes less and maintain your speed better.

Fit tyres with high outer knobs

Singletrack often features a lot of adverse cambers and corners which require you to lean over at speed. It’s really important to have the confidence in and the grip from your tyres to allow you to do this.

Choosing a tyre with an aggressive tread pattern, especially on the outer knobs will do just that. These knobs will dig into the ground as you lean the bike over. This will help prevent the tyre from skipping out suddenly and sending you to the ground.

For general riding, choosing a medium width trail tyre will be a good option. If you can set them up tubeless, you’ll be able to reduce the pressure just enough to add a little bit of extra grip on top.

Brake at the right times

Carrying momentum is one of the keys to riding faster and smoother on singletrack. Braking plays a large role in this ability. Knowing when to brake and when to let off is one of the key lessons to learn to help you get faster.

When approaching a berm or corner on the trail, always try to get your braking done before you enter the turn. You want to reduce your speed just enough so that you can exit the turn quickly, without the need to make any adjustments as you’re cornering. Braking in the middle of a turn alters your body’s position and hinders your ability to control the bike. This often results in lost speed and flow.

What’s more, you’ll likely have to use a lot of energy at the other side trying to get back up to speed. Remember to brake early and just keep practising until the process becomes more natural.

Practice accelerations

Sometimes, you just can’t carry as much momentum as you’d like out of corners. So, you’ll need to accelerate hard to keep your speed. This ability to produce power can be worked on as you ride the trails, and will improve your singletrack speed and boost your fitness. Try throwing in a few short sprints of around 5-10 seconds at various points during your rides.

You’ll find that after a few weeks, your sprint power will improve, along with your overall fitness and ability to produce these sprints repetitively. It then won’t be long until you’re leaving your friends hanging, even on the downhills!

A Question for You

Where is your favourite section of singletrack? Do you have any killer tips of your own? Please let me know in the comments below and feel free to ask any questions you might have.

Photo from Flickr, by Leslie Kehmeier, Mapping Manager, International Mountain Bicycling Association.

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