I recently completed a trip to Arizona, riding two sections of the Arizona Trail and a large part of the Black Canyon Trail.
While riding the Picketpost to Kelvin portion of the Arizona Trail I was lucky to be able to follow Rockman Joe, who resides in Flagstaff, and happens to be a very skillful rider (the nickname comes from his being a geologist). I always prefer to follow a superior rider as that gives me an opportunity to learn.
Anyway, that initial portion of the Arizona Trail begins with about 10 miles of climbing, much of which was through layers of lava laid down millions of years ago. I am a pretty good rider on level rock and even better traveling down a rough trail, but uphill rock has been the weakest part of my game.
I started right behind Rockman but he pulled away quickly as I struggled to navigate the uphill obstacles. Joe seemed to float right through or over them, not even slowing down. I tried copying what I thought was his technique but still had quite a bit of trouble.
After the ten mile climb we faced mostly downhill trail or smooth climbs, so I was able to hang with Rockman pretty well. But during that time I forgot to ask his advice on the climbing … so I emailed him and he answered all my questions. I want to share his thoughts with you since you too might be struggling with riding those uphill, rocky sections. Here are our emails.
Me: When you are cleaning the uphill rock sections (which give me so much trouble) are you clicked into your pedals or just pedaling on top? Also, do you lower your seat any for those sections or keep it at the top? I could use any advice you have to offer. Thanks!
Rockman: Well, you probably already know this but shift to a harder gear when coming into an uphill tech session. That way you have more power. Too much, and you stall so it’s a fine balance but better to be in too hard of a gear than too easy and simply spin out.
The Wolf is a perfect example. He’s got granny on the speed dial call-up … never downshifts to a harder gear when faced with a steeper slope. It’s counter-intuitive and he’s too smart for that.
The rest is body English. Weight shift to get up and over a square-edged hit, etc. I rarely, if ever, lower my seat on uphill tech. If it’s a techy traversing trail like Hangover in Sedona I might lower it a little just so I have more wiggle room but generally like to be in the position where I can deliver the most power to the pedals.
It’s all about momentum. The 29r wheels definitely have a gyroscopic effect which I’ve really noticed on uphill rocky sections. If you have the mojo that is. Hope that helps.
Me: Do you stay clipped in? I unclip ahead of time in case I stall uphill and can’t get unclipped at the last second. One time I stalled an couldn’t get my foot out, fell on my side and broke 3 inches off the end of my handle bar!
But, a lot if times I will have a foot slide off the pedal when I start to apply power (because I am unclipped).
Rockman: Nah, I just about always stay clipped in. Shimano XTR trail pedals with the cage. I might clip out and use the cage if it’s really dicey but generally don’t have a problem clipping out. I also change out my cleats once/year.
Me: I just got those pedals, new cleats and shoes (for my birthday). Now I have no excuses! Thanks Joe and Merry Christmas!
Of course, just having those pedals and Rockman’s advice is not enough. Now I have to get out there and practice. But knowing what to practice is a key to learning. If you don’t have an idea what you are supposed to do then how can you go about learning correctly. As an old baseball coach once told me … It should not be, “practice makes perfect,” but instead should read, “perfect practice makes better.”