Learn track stands to ride tighter & steeper uphill switchbacks: Episode 3 of MTBSN podcast on Mountain Bike Radio

Episode #3 of my MTBSN podcast on Mountain Bike Radio is now available.

Main topic: Why learning track stands is so helpful for riding tighter and steeper uphill switchbacks.

See the show notes and links on the MBR page for Episode #3 .




Hey everyone! Welcome to Episode #3 of the Mountain Bike Skills Network podcast. My name is Griff Wigley, also known as the mountain bike geezer. I’m am the guy behind the Mountain Bike Skills Network blog and I’m the founder and host of the Mountain Bike Skills Network Community, currently a group on Facebook.

My intent is to have all three – the blog, the online community and this show — help recreational mountain bikers like you, have more fun while upping your skills. Why? So you can ride the stuff you want that challenges you. I think of it as a Goldilocks Zone. Not too scary or hard; not too easy or boring but juuuuuust right. That middle is where the fun is and one of the most reliable ways to stay in that Goldilocks Zone is to continually increase your skills.

You can learn more about the Mountain Bike Skills Network at mtbskills.net, which is a relatively new web address, a replacement for mountainbikegeezer.com which I’ve been using the past 6 years.

I’m coming to you from my world headquarters – a basement office in my house in the small town of Northfield in the southern part of Minnesota, a state in the upper midwest region of the USA.

In today’s show, I first want to talk about the importance of track stands — which, just in case you’re totally clueless, has nothing to do with tracks — bicycle, railroad, animal or otherwise. Track stands are all about staying balanced on your bike while not moving forward — and oddly enough, that translates to being more stable when you ARE moving forward on certain types of terrain, most notably, switchbacks.

After that, I’m going to provide a bit of a roundup of what’s happening in our online community. Women mountain bikers are increasingly making their presence known there — both in numbers and in participation — and that seems to be the main reason why things are a-humming and a-buzzing.

So stay with me.

Why track stands can help you get better at riding tighter & steeper uphill switchbacks

Back in February, I put up a poll in my MTBSN FB Group asking:


Which of the following skills and/or terrain challenges are you most interested in working on/getting help with in the next 6 weeks. The top 3 vote-getters were:

Manuals & bunny hops
Drops, descents

And we tackled all three of those in-depth since then: a special FB group for manuals and bunny hops, a guest appearance by Elaine Bothe on jumps, and two weeks, a video chat/webinar by Kat Sweet on drops.

But in the comment thread attached to that poll, a guy by the name of Shannon Nicholson wrote that he was having trouble with steep switchbacks, both up and downhill. I asked him how he’d rate his ability to hold a track stand and he wrote:

“I can only reliably hold a track stand for 3-4 seconds max on level ground. I haven’t even tried on a steep uphill or downhill. Interesting question. What I’m reading in between the lines is that a track stand is a key skill for steep, technical switchbacks. Is my thinking correct?”

So I launched a new discussion topic in our Facebook group about it on Feb 20 — I’ll put a link to that discussion in the show notes — and at the start, I included a short video of me taking two different lines up a steep, rocky, tight switchback.

While the track stand, ratcheting, and rocking I do at the bottom or the start of the switchback in the video seem to be important, they’re not. It’s really the pressure on the pedals and bars that allows me to stay balanced at a slow-speed while I pedal and up and around the tree at the apex of the switchback. A really good way to develop that skill by learning to do a track stand.

But not just any kind of track stand!

Did you hear me? I’ll say it again. NOT. JUST. ANY. KIND. OF. TRACK. STAND.

I thought I could skip the track stand module when I took Ryan Leech’s Baseline Balance Skills online course because I was pretty good at track stands on a dirt bike — my decades of riding mototrials — and I was able to apply that skill to doing track stands on mountain bike.

But I was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Why?

Because I was primarily using my brakes to help keep me steady, like I often did on my mototrials bike.

If you use your brakes to track stand on level ground or on an uphill, you’re much more likely to wobble more and fight for balance by turning the bars one way or another. But even if you overcome those tendencies, if you use your brakes, you’re NOT as likely to learn to learn the more important skill: using feet pressure on your pedals and hand pressure on your bars to maintain a state of balance while constantly moving backwards and forwards.

Now if you were listening carefully to the ending of that last sentence — maintain a state of balance while constantly moving backwards and forwards — I know what you’re probably thinking:

Wait! What? Did Griff just say that the best way to do a track stand — which by definition means NOT MOVING FORWARD — is by constantly moving backwards and forwards? What is he smoking?

Yup, that’s exactly what I’m saying and never mind what I might be inhaling. On a slight uphill, you use pedal pressure against the pull of gravity to stay in place, not your brakes. And as you get better, you learn to roll backwards slightly and then ratchet forward slightly, back and forth, back and forth, constantly moving but making no forward progress.

I’ll repeat that. You’re constantly moving back and forth but not making any forward progress. As you get better at this, you relax more and it becomes fun to do for no practical reason, sort of like wheelies.

BUT! As you get better at this type of track stand balancing, it gradually translates to better slow-speed balance when pedaling up and around tighter and steeper switchbacks. You don’t have to rely as much on momentum. And so your confidence increases. You start looking for steeper and tighter switchbacks because they become a fun challenge. And if you pause and hold a track stand at the start of an uphill switchback, whether to scout out your intended line, catch your breath, show off, or just enjoy the scenery while you get a hit of dopamine from rolling back and forth, so much the better.

The online discussion on track stands that I mentioned has some other interesting threads to it, including one started by MTB instructor Scott Givens (Pedal Therapy) who considers track stands to be an advanced, trials-type skill, not something to teach beginner/intermediate-level riders. Chiming in on that thread were two notable instructors, James Wilson at Pedaling Innovations and Lee McCormack of Lee Likes Bikes, plus several other community members including Chris Rose, Nancy Harris, Coob Vaj, and Keith Cadima.

And spurred on by that discussion, James Wilson produced an episode on track stands for his MTB Strength Coach podcast. I’ve got a link to that in the shownotes.

So how do you learn to do the type of uphill track stand that I’ve been yammering about in this episode? I’m biased. The track stands module in Ryan Leech’s Baseline Balance Skills course has 18 progressive lessons and that’s how I learned. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes. What’s cool about that course is that most of the exercises and drills can be done in your yard or driveway or neighborhood. And you can make substantial progress by practicing 5 minutes at a crack like I did.

Online Community Roundup – MTB Skills Network Facebook group

Okay, time for a short roundup of stuff from the Mountain Bike Skills Network Community, the FREE group on Facebook open to anyone who’s interested in developing their mountain biking skills. I added the word ‘community’ to the group name a couple weeks ago to help distinguish it from the Page.

We’re now at 1,700 members, an increase of 700 since my last episode. I continue to admit people one at a time with a greeting via Facebook Messenger. I admit women immediately and men slowly. About a third of our members are women so that’s why. Guys, I know, I know, it’s so unfair but it seems to be working. Women like the group, men and women invite their women friends, civility rules, and we may have the only community of mountain bikers on the interwebs where men & women participate in equal numbers. So having a waiting list for guys to get in seems a small price to pay.

More important than membership numbers: it’s a busy community. During the month of April, many different people added posts (I review and approve only those posts that I think are appropriate); 325 different people added over 1,300 comments.

The biggest event we hosted in the past month? I did a 1-hour video chat interview with Kat Sweet, internationally-known professional coach, jumper, downhiller, and owner/founder of Sweetlines, on how to ride different types of drops, no matter your skill level. Kat was terrific. Well-informed, funny and engaging, of course but also well-prepared. She recorded several short videos of her doing different types of drops, just for the interview. The interview became a webinar, much to my delight. I’ll link to that video in the show notes.

We also held two drawings in April. Patrick Mitzel won a drawing for a copy of Lee McCormack’s book, Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, for being one of five people to submit of a video of themselves doing a track stand. And Tim Runnette won a drawing for the same book for being one of five people to purchase a Ryan Leech Connection membership during April. So congrats to Tim and Patrick. I’m scheming for another drawing or two in June so pay attention!

So that’s it for Episode 3.

You can find today’s show notes over at mountainbikeradio.com/mtbskills/
I’m interested in your feedback and suggestions so comment there on Episode 3 or, if you’re on Facebook, join the Mountain Bike Skills Network Community Facebook Group and attach your comment to the Episode 3 post.

Also in the show notes is my affiliate link to instructor Ryan Leech’s web site. Ryan has many comprehensive online courses for learning mountain bike skills, many of which I’ve taken and 3 of which I’m taking now.

Thanks for listening today. I’ll chat with you in Episode 4, coming in mid-June, maybe sooner.

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