Charles Agar – Zen and the Art of Downhilling
July 2, 2009
Since the training wheels came off at age 4, I’ve spent a lot of time on bikes – from suburban BMX to road riding, cross-country mountain biking and commuting to work. But there’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of downhilling.
Sounds simple, really. Ride a bike down a hill, right? But one look at the experts screaming down trails like Boulevard in Winter Park Resort’s Trestle Bike Park is enough to know that there’s a little more to downhilling than potential energy and two wheels.
That’s why I was grateful to join in on a staff downhill clinic this week with Bob Barnes, director of the Winter Park Ski and Ride School, who showed a small group of us the ropes with just the right mix of self-deprecating humor, insights and passion for gravity-fed fun.
The best part was the gear. In the shop near Zephyr Express lift, we suited up like gladiators in full-face helmets and body armor. Then we mounted Kona downhill bikes with heavy suspension. These slick machines are the bouncy bike equivalent of Tigger and heavy like riding a motocross bike without the motor.
Out on the hill, the first step was getting a good “attack stance” by standing up on the pedals with knees slightly bent and elbows out and parallel to the front shock.
We learned to weight both wheels and keep the bike moving and pivoting beneath the body to let the suspension handle the bumps, jumps, and banked turns.
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Barnes suggested I “go slow to go fast,” and showed me how to cant the bike on more severe turns, remembering to avoid my stiff “cross-country arms” and keep the bike moving beneath me.
Then there’s the Zen of braking, and we learned how to feather the sensitive disk brakes and let go to flow through turns.
While practicing on a flat spot, I grabbed the front brake lever too hard and flipped over the handlebars (one of two over-the-bar rides that day), but I’ve always been told that if you don’t fall, you’re not learning.
We rode intermediate trails like Shy Ann, Long Trail, Green World and Free Speech, a new trail with fun wooden features, followed by a gnarly run down the tight turns and switchbacks of Arapahoe.
I started doubling some of the smaller gap jumps, riding with more flow and confidence. And by the end of the day, I was completely exhausted. Who knew just going downhill would use up so much energy?
I still like to earn my gravity fun by climbing uphill cross-country style, but downhilling is a great rush and I’ll be out in the park every chance I get.
– Charles Agar is perpetually sore from too much summer fun and is thinking of buying stock in Tylenol. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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