Schooled - Hill Climbs
by Sam King
Photography courtesy of Ryan Dunford, Jesse Oatway & Rob Alford
Hosting coaching clinics at the “Carl Kuster Mountain Park” (CKMP) training facility on our single track network I found it very interesting to see the different ways people get stuck on hills and side hills. I use the term “interesting” because people can have different methods of recovering from a failed attempt at a hillclimb. Often ejecting from the bike when things go sour, launching the bike into a half-backflip or send their bike into a tree or completely off of the trail all together. This article is going to discuss some different methods i typically put to use to vanquish an incline and how i recover from error with the most efficient damage control leading to little to no harm to you and even more importantly - your motorcycle.
Throughout this summer I spent a lot of my time coaching trials and hard enduro skills across British Columbia, Canada. My number 1 training area is a venue called Carl Kuster Mountain Park, in the Monashee mountain range, roughly 40km west of Revelstoke and 15 Km east of Sicamous is a little town called Malakwa.
CKMP’s training facility is 300 acres of diverse riding terrain at the toe of Queest Mountain. The ever growing technical single trail network as well as the super fast GNCC style skidder trails sprawl the property making for some extremely fun riding, friendly for all ages and riding abilities, the variety makes this venue a perfect working environment for an instructor.
When talking technique and theory of hill climbs we have to take into consideration that there are many variations of size, pitch and terrain of inclines. Therefore, there has to be different methods to get to the top of different style hills. Being able to read what lies ahead of you on the climb and having a smart gameplan on where you want to apply the power to the ground and where you need to shift your body position is often half the battle for fresh faces in the off-road world.
Starting with the basics I always say for any hillclimb you want to gather the majority of your momentum at the bottom of the hill, preferably before the earth starts to incline. This is because when riding on flat or subtle inclines you are much less likely to break traction and lose your momentum which you will need to be able to shoot to the top of the hill.
Ideally when you have a nice straight run at a hill and you have acquired all of your necessary speed at the bottom of the incline you are able to gently back off the throttle as you are climbing the hill. Being able to roll off of the throttle as you ascend makes it almost impossible to break the traction to the rear wheel.
Often the hill is too long to coast the entire way up the hill meaning you have to give the bike some throttle to burst up and over obstacles or snotty terrain. Knowing when to apply the power as you are climbing the hill is a tricky task, I always look for what i call “holes” to chop the throttle. Meaning, if it was a hill consisting of dirt and medium size rocks I would approach the hill with about ¾ throttle to gain most of my speed before i start the climb and then apply power just before the face of each and every rock or bump just to assist my wheels enough to coast over the obstacles with little to no resistance to slow me down. Try to avoid bouncing off of obstacles and being thrown into the air, every time your wheels leave the ground you risk breaking traction as you land back on the ground.
Each & every time you “chop” the throttle or apply power in these “holes” It is important you use your body to push your weight into the rear wheel to make sure you’re gaining every inch out of of every effort you make.
Weighting the bike is the difference between making the climb or being catapulted into the bush. Not only is important to hold your balance side to side to keep your feet on the pegs but it also just as important to be aware of where your torso is in relation to your bike as this determines what weight is being forced through the wheels of your bike. As you start to incline your shoulders should start come forward on the bike, how far forward will vary on the pitch you are climbing. You don’t want to lean too far forward that you are front end heavy and start to spin the back wheel, the intention of leaning forward over the bars is just to weight the front wheel to the ground so as you can still control your bike and make necessary turns. Keep a slight bend in your elbows as you will inevitably be encountering unexpected bumps or jolts, you want to absorb these as best you can without disrupting the bikes direction.
Imagine your legs are just a big shock absorbers which slow down and reduce the magnitude of the rough terrain you are riding. Only now because they are your own legs controlled by your own brain, rather than mechanical setting, you can adjust the dampening & rebound according to each and every obstacle you encounter. Same as your elbows, your knees should always have a slight kink to create a bend in your legs, this acts as your slack so that you’re ready to absorb any unexpected roughness at all times.
Every time you “coast” (this is when you continue ascending the hill without the use of your throttle) in between these holes (brief area of consistent tractable surface), you need to be cautious as you reapply the power. Often you will need to pop the clutch whilst loading the throttle which will send you over any obstacles such as roots, ruts, logs, rocks or just that snotty stuff often found on hill climbs.
Recovering from a failed attempt at a hillclimb is something we all need to learn as we start to push our skill limitations, the only way to become a better rider is to ride more and try things that are out of our skill level. It is key to be able to recover using minimal physical energy.
Often you will realise that your high hopes of hitting the top of the hill climb are coming to an abrupt end before you actually come to a complete stop or lose control of the bike. Once you start to break traction and lose the majority of your momentum, I would start evaluating the best and most achievable place to turn your bike 90 degrees to the face of the hill climb. Turning your bike to face parallel to hill means you will now have a lowside & highside of your motorcycle, meaning you are easily able to reach the hillside with your foot on the highside of the bike to give yourself a second to take a breath and think about your next attempt. Being parallel to hill also means that now when you’re stopped on the hill gravity is not trying to pull you back down the hill.
Exiting this recovery position can be a strange feeling for the first few endeavours, as you turn your bars to face downhill, committing to ride your bike out and down the hill can be a scary notion. The truth is the more committed you are the easier it is to flow back the hill. Example; feet up on the pegs and strong mindset as well as a stand up body position with consistent and gentle braking is a formula for success. Whereas a one foot on the ground rather than covering your rear brake and a bum on the seat style with choppy, intense braking is asking for a front end wash out and/or losing traction to go sliding down the hill rather than riding it out with style & ease.
For everything you’re doing on two wheels, your head determines where your body and bike go, try to see your line before you’re actually riding the hill. Always keep your head up as you’re approaching the hill, keep your eyes forward to spot your line. This will give your brain and body time to prepare for what is coming up quick.
Photography: Ryan Dunford
Rider: Jason Ribi (Instructor & guide at CKMP)
Ride The Vibe
Now that you know the fundamentals for tackling hills get out there and ride! If there is one thing to take away from this article it would this; don’t be afraid to try different techniques that work best for yourself, it is ok to be aggressive on the throttle just so long as you’re smooth on the clutch.
Keep an eye out for updates as CKMP in conjunction with myself at Ride The Vibe release dates and info for training camps as well as skill building adventure rides in the most epic mountains British columbia has to offer.