Rock gardens come in all shapes and sizes, but the big ones can be seriously daunting. Here's how to nail them.
Words: Jared Rando Photos: Nick Waygood
Smaller rock gardens can be a bit of a point and shoot affair – pick the exit, aim for it and hold on! However, the bigger versions require a much more calculated approach.
Quite often you’ll have multiple lines, trees on the side and a whole lot of stuff you don’t want to hit between you and the exit. The key to getting through safely and quickly is to scan ahead, pick your line, scan ahead some more and don’t look at anything you don’t want to hit. Here’s how to get it done.
Step 1: Scan ahead and pick your line
Always take the opportunity to jump off your bike and have a look at what’s ahead. If you don’t have that luxury, take a quick opportunity to dab the brakes, look up and see what lies ahead. Taking a split second to scan ahead can make all the difference. Pick your line and don’t look anywhere else once you are committed.
Step 2: Keep your weight back
Once you are rolling through, you’ll want to keep your weight slightly back and adjust it as necessary. As you hit the rocks, momentum will throw your body forward, so having your weight back will counteract this and keep you from going over the bars on the big impacts. You also want to stay strong through your upper body – hold on tight but be wary of tensing up too much as you’ll need to let the bike move beneath you and find its path to a certain degree.
Step 3: Keep scanning ahead and adjust your body position to suit
The most common mistake is for riders to not know what’s coming up and not adjust accordingly. There’s always going to be lots of surprises in big rock gardens – you’ll come across a steep drop or get bounced off line. By looking ahead as far as you can, you’ll have time to prepare for what lies ahead. If there’s a steep drop, no problem! Get your weight way back so you don’t go over the bars. The further you can look ahead the better.
Step 4: Stay calm and relaxed
OK, so this might be a bit hard, but once you get in the groove of things, take notice of how tense you are. There is a fine balance between being too tense and too relaxed, but you really need to be as calm as possible. Tensing up too much is just as likely to throw you over the bars as losing your grip. You want to be relaxed enough to have the bike move around underneath you, but still have enough punch to keep the bike in a straight line over the small bumps and not lose your grip.
Step 5: Exit as smooth as possible
When you come up to the exit, look ahead and see what’s next. It is way too easy to forget that the trail doesn’t stop at the end of the gnarly rock garden and have it all come unstuck at the last second. Like with cornering, your exit speed is the best judge of how well you have done. As you exit, remember to let off the brakes as soon as possible, look up, see what’s next and take an opportunity to relax your grip so you can keep the fun going all the way down the hill - before the inevitable arm pump starts to kick in!