Aside from long ruts or bogs, the hardest part of most trial rides would have to be technical hills. By this I mean a relatively steep downhill with a tight turn, or one of those climbs that gets you dancing down the gears to avoid the bike stalling out as you try to pick your way through bumps and holes.
Case in point would be the Tussock Buster that went down last month, where we happened to hold a coaching session addressing those very points. Read on to find out how we helped install a whole new confidence in a number of riders that weekend.
Steep Learning Curve
The chances are high that you have driven past the army area of the north islands Desert Road with a certain level of longing. Countless parallel lines mark the tracks where Light Armoured Vehicles test their capabilities and the tussock covered hills are begging to be explored. Those hills, only just out of sight from SH1, are the new venue for our Tussock Buster coaching and made for the perfect place to practice the skills above.
Gavin was back for more and wanted help with those tricky downhills. “I am fine if the hill is straight, but put a sharp turn at the bottom and it’s all over.” Sure enough he was standing like a pro but when the speed got slow enough to actually make the turn, he would either lose all balance or have the front wheel wanting to wash out when he sat down. This is a very common problem. Fortunately it is also one that can be quite easily solved, providing you can tie the two crucial positions together with a quick pivoting motion.
– The only way to stand with absolute control is with your knees gripping the tall part of the seat, hips rolled forward so your bum is back and arms still keeping the right-angled bend needed to be ready for anything.
– The only way to sit around a tight turn without too much weight on the front wheel (which is when it wants to continue on straight ahead without you) is to sit forward on the seat so you can only see a hands breadth of seat, with your upper body leaning well back.]
Not A Nut Buster
Keeping his bike balanced so he could stand up, I worked Gavin through a direct transition from standing to sitting without his bum touching the seat until he was already sitting forward and leaning back. No shuffling allowed. This was progressed faster and faster until eventually he could literally smash into the sitting position. This comes with a warning though. Forgetting to lean back before you touch the seat can make for a painful experience for us males. Enough said.
Onto the tank tracks and he could now use plenty of front brake safely while both standing and sitting, with no wobbly phase in between. It was going to remain a strange experience for a while, but he was absolutely stoked with the result. His next step would be to work on his balance so that he didn’t need to sit at all, but that could wait for another day.
Steve had a problem with the slower speeds needed to weave his way up the steeper hills at slow speed. Lots of throttle is his answer to most troubles, but he had either be an aspiring Rodeo rider to do that through these bumps and holes, or learn a new approach.
Throttle alone is not going to give you the control you need. Of course it is clutch that holds the key, but not as you might be used to using it.
What Steve desperately needed was A. Find the sweet spot of the clutch, B. Hold it there, and C. Make a small change when necessary.
Real Clutch Control
First we practiced riding away from a dead stop in second gear without the revs dropping when he finally got up enough speed to let the clutch out completely. Like most people he actually learned this pretty quick once instructed that the clutch is to be moved quickly to the right spot and held there for the entire period it was needed, rather than finding that sweet spot and continuing to let it out. When it comes to clutch work, the word “Slowly” is taboo. Each adjustment should be fast but accurate.
The next step was to keep the revs high while doing the same thing. Once he got a handle on that it was time to take it to the hill. Before long he was progressing to more and more difficult sections with excellent control and the triumphant nod of his helmet once reaching the top of one particularly steep line through slippery tussocks was all the proof I needed.