Top 5 Tips for Flying Through the Rocks


Greg from is back with more mountain bike tips for you….this time he talks about riding fast through the rocks.  Be sure to check out all the other Mountain Bike tip articles as well.

Top 5 Tips for Flying Through the Rocks

by Greg Heil

When Darryl emailed me the possible topic of “going fast down rocky and uneven trails on a mountain bike,” my first thought was “hey, that’s a great topic!” But as I started thinking about it a little more, I realized that going fast down a technical trail isn’t just one skill—it’s the culmination of a multitude of bike handling skills that need to be learned and cultivated over time.

Sometimes the fastest, straightest line isn’t the smoothest. Rider: Greg Heil.

Explaining how to go fast through a downhill rock garden could easily fill several chapters in a mountain bike skills book, so in this article I’m just going to give you the quick-and-dirty version. Here are my top 5 tips for going fast on rocky trails:

  1. Look Down the Trail – I took a mountain bike skills camp that spent a full day covering vision, so this is a very complex topic. But in a nutshell: look where you want to go and don’t look where you don’t want to go. You want to go down the trail, so look ahead of yourself. Don’t look down at your front wheel or at a challenging obstacle right in front of you: you need to look ahead at where you want to go. Pick a spot down the trail to focus on and, as you approach it, shift your gaze past that spot and keep descending. For more information, check out this article titled “Mountain Biking 101: Read the Path Ahead.”
  2. Line Selection – If you are looking down the trail properly, as you approach a downhill rock garden you should have plenty of time to choose a line through to the other side. If you’re riding for speed, try to choose the smoothest, straightest line possible. Sometimes smooth and straight aren’t always the same thing; personally, if it’s a choice between the two I generally choose straight. Slowing down to try to dodge every single rock is just that: slow, and it opens up numerous opportunities for error. Generally, I just try to pick a line and flow through it (more on that in a second). Finally, if you can’t see the entire rock garden or don’t have time to pick a line through the entire thing, break it up into chunks. Don’t fixate on individual rocks–visually divide the technical section into large chunks and knock it out one chunk at a time.  Check out this blog post for more information on-line selection.
  3. Get Off the Brakes – One big mistake that many beginners make is that when they approach a difficult rock garden, they automatically grab a handful of brake and slip and slide down it as slowly as possible. When riding technical terrain, speed is your friend. The faster your wheels spin, the more gyroscopic force the spokes generate. Basically, a fast-spinning wheel wants to stay upright, but a slower-spinning wheel is much easier to tip over.
  4. Ride Loose – Another serious error that many beginners make when they enter a rock garden is to stiffen up and grab the grips really hard. The best thing you can do in a rock garden is stay loose and ready to absorb the vibrations. Keep your hands loose on the grips, your butt out of the saddle, a nice wide stance on the bars, the cranks flat, your chest low and close to the bar, and your weight forward. This attack position will help you to deal with any obstacles in your path
  5. Take a Mountain Bike Skills Camp – Ultimately, this is a very complex topic and can be very difficult to communicate via writing, especially in a short blog post. If you are serious about becoming a better bike handler, check out my blog post about why you should take mountain biking lessons.

Your Turn: What do you struggle with most when descending technical terrain?

Greg Heil started riding mountain bikes seriously in 2007, and since that time has ridden hundreds of trails all across the United States. He is the Social Media Coordinator, and an editor, for, which is your source for everything mountain biking: the number one mountain bike trail map database in the world, a daily blog, gear reviews, forums, photo of the day, and more! Be sure to drop by the site and check it out, and to “follow” them on Twitter.

Enjoy Your Ride

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7 Responses to “ Top 5 Tips for Flying Through the Rocks ”

  1. DP on January 15, 2021 at 9:33 am

    Trust your equipment. New bikes can absorb much bigger rocks/bumps than you would believe. I agree, pick as straight of a line as you can, trying to avoid the sharp edged rocks.

  2. Ivy Baker on March 14, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    This is some really good information about bike trails. I liked that you pointed out that it would be smart to take a mountain biking class if you have never done it. That does seem like a good thing to do if you want to prevent biking accidents. I know that I would want to have some practice before starting a difficult bike trail.

  3. Singletracks Dot Com on February 20, 2013 at 11:23 am

    For anyone that’s interested, I just posted a much more comprehensive guide to mountain bike braking:

  4. Jones on February 15, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Practice, practice, practice. That is probably the best advice on how to get better at this.

  5. Mike on February 15, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Its a good thing Darryl asked you to write on this topic because I have been wanting to know the same thing. I am quite fearful of going fast down hills and even more so when rocks are involved.

    These are very helpful and once I’m back on the trails I will put these to the test.

  6. blundar on February 15, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Nice article!

    Pedals flat, bend knees, use legs as shock absorbers, stay low and relaxed. If it is steep, then get you but behind the seat. Eyes way ahead.

    It is OK to use some brakes. Keep the braking smooth. Maintain good momentum. Going too slow will compromise your balance on your bike.

    If it is a turn with a lot of bumpy rock sections, make the sharper turns on flatter sections and straighten out the bumpy sections.

    Have fun and enjoy the ride!


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