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When mountain biking with my friends, we sometimes end up tackling a severe up hill over rocky ground.

I usually find I end up putting a foot down first. I'm not sure what's going wrong. Sometimes my back wheel spins and I lose power and stop, or my front wheel lifts up and I somehow lose balance and end up going off to one side.

What techniques can I use to get further up hill before I lose it?

Thanks.

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5 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Weight distribution is critical, and it is a bit of a fine balance, much like doing a track stand. I find that it is easiest to do this by staying seated and crouching towards the front of the bike. Standing on the pedals will tend to put your weight too far forward and make it difficult to achieve smooth power transfer to the wheels.

Smooth Power Transfer is another important aspect. Remember that your rear wheel only has a small amount of friction keeping it from slipping. What you are trying to do is keep the pressure on the pedals strong enough to keep you going up the hill, but not so strong as to make the wheel spin. Things that can help with this are:

  • Staying in a seated position
  • Concentrating on pedalling in smooth circles, rather than a in separate pushes from each foot
  • Using as high a gear as you can manage while still maintaining a reasonable cadence. If you are using your lowest granny gear, it is much easier for your legs to overpower the friction between the tyre and the ground.

Balance, working on your low speed balance by practicing track stands and the like will mean that you are less likely to need to put a foot down, and more likely to be able to recover from a brief "halt" in your progress.

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+1 for smooth power transfer. Slipping back wheel and lifting front wheel sounds like uneven pedal stomping to me. –  freiheit Oct 5 '10 at 5:30
    
Might want to mention moving your weight to get the front wheel easily over rock steps or roots. Keep the momentum going! –  davefiddes Oct 15 '10 at 16:03
    
Good points. You mention using a higher gear. After some discussion my cycling buddies, they suggested I actually should use a lower gear so that I pedal quicker, and that'll keep my power transfer most constant. –  Scott Langham Oct 17 '10 at 16:14
    
@Scott, that could work as well. Without seeing you trying to ride up the hill I couldn't make a judgement as to whether you were in two low a gear, and having to pedal too much and upsetting your balance, or too high a gear, and having issues with the effort and balance. The key part of my response there is "as high a gear as you can manage while still maintaining a reasonable cadence". Try different changes and see what works for you. –  deemar Oct 17 '10 at 22:50
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The back wheel is spinning because there's not enough weight towards the back of the bike because you are not sitting on the seat. A technique that works well for me is to hold the handle bars in such a way that your elbows are pointed down towards the ground. This makes sure you stay low and puts pressure on the back wheel.

Also, don't forget to KEEP PEDALING! ;) If you trust in yourself and don't stop pedaling, you can sometimes recover from a back wheel spin or even a dead stop.

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This is about fore and aft weight distribution. Also means you generally won't be sitting. When your rear wheel spins, you have too much weight distributed forward. And when your front wheel lifts, too much in the rear.

What to do? Find a hill and practice distributing your weight until you find the sweet spot where you are neither spinning the rear or lifting the front.

Then there's always the cyclo-cross technique where you pick up your bike and run up the hill.

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In practice, the best weight distribution tends to be keeping your behind on the seat and then hunching low over the bars. How far is variable on your build and the steepness of the hill. –  bikesandcode Oct 4 '10 at 22:41
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From my experience on slippery roots with hard MTB, it is critical to:

  • lift your weight from the wheel hitting the obstacle (that's what full suspension does for you), like you (should) do when hitting the curb,

  • have appropriate tires (not just tire pressure),

...except for already mentioned:

  • smooth pedaling,

  • weight distribution (low center weight),

  • balance (sideways).

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As mentioned the balance (front/back) is key, but there are a few other things that help:

  1. Full suspension - the rear suspension limits wheel bounce when going over obstacles, this helps to prevent the rear wheel spinning out
  2. Reduced tyre pressure - same concept as above
  3. Bigger wheels - I have found climbing rocky stuff easier on my 29er than on my 26er
  4. Practice...
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I am not sure if the full suspension is a good idea while climbing. Won't that just sap some of your hard earned power? –  sixtyfootersdude Oct 5 '10 at 2:06
    
That depends on the suspension design, some are more efficient than others. The loss of energy from 'bobbing' would definitively be less than when you lose traction. –  Richard Tasker Oct 5 '10 at 23:08
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