How to Handle Different Obstacles on the Bike

In part one of this two-part article on essential mountain bike skills, Scott Adams went over the basics of braking climbing and descending. In part two, he explores specific urban and backcountry obstacles you're likely to encounter.

Backroad Obstacles

Logs. When you want to hop a log, throw your body back, yank up on the handlebars and pedal forward in one swift motion. This clears the front end of the bike. Then quickly scoot forward and pedal the rear wheel up and over. Keep the forward momentum until youve cleared the log, and by all means, dont hit the brakes, or you may do some interesting acrobatic maneuvers. Rocks. Worse than potholes. Stay relaxed, let your elbows and knees absorb the shock, and always continue applying power to your pedals. Staying seated keeps the rear wheel weighted to prevent slipping, and a light front end helps you respond quickly to each new obstacle. The slower you go, the more time your tires will have to get caught between the grooves, and rocks love to throw cyclists to the ground.

Water. Before crossing a stream or puddle, first check the depth and bottom surface. There may be an unseen hole or large rock hidden under the water that will leave you all washed up. After youre sure all is safe, hit the water at a good speed, pedal steadily and allow the bike to steer you through. Once youre across, tap the breaks to squeegee the water off the rims.

Leaves. Be careful of wet leaves. These may look pretty, but a trail covered with leaves may cause your wheels to slip out from under you. Leaves are not nearly as unpredictable and dangerous as ice, but they do warrant your attention on a rainy day.

Mud. If you must ride through mud, hit it head on and keep pedaling. You want to part the ooze with your front wheel and get across before it swallows you up. Above all, dont leave the trail to go around the mud. This just widens the path and increases trail erosion.

Urban Obstacles

Curbs are fun to jump, but as with logs, be careful.

Curbside drains are typically not a problem for bikes. Just be careful not to get a wheel caught in the grate.

Dogs make great pets but seem to have it in for bicyclists. If you think you cant outrun a dog thats chasing you, stop and walk your bike out of its territory. A loud yell to Get! or Go home! often works, as does a sharp squirt from your water bottle right between the eyes.

Cars are tremendously convenient when were in them, but dodging irate motorists becomes a real hazard when biking . As a cyclist, you must realize most drivers arent expecting you to be there and often wish you werent. Stay alert and ride carefully, clearly signaling all of your intentions.

Potholes. Like grates and back-road canyons, potholes should be avoided. Just because youre on an all-terrain bike doesnt mean youre indestructible. Potholes regularly damage rims, pop tires and sometimes lift unsuspecting cyclists into a spectacular summersault over the handlebars.

Follow these tips and you should be one-up on your buddy next time you ride together. Unless, of course, your buddy is Hans Ray or John Tomac. Then forget it. Youll need much more than the basics to get by.

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Scott Adams is the author of the original Washington-Baltimore Mountain Bike Book: Out of the Gridlock, Into the Woods. This book is now in its third edition and is titled Mountain Bike America: Washington-Baltimore: An Atlas of Northern Virginia and Marylands Great Off-Road Bicycle Rides.

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