Learning to tame the terrain

It baffles me how every place in the world has a terrain unlike any other. It can look the same, or at least similar, but feel and ride completely different. Or – the opposite - it can look completely different but ride exactly the same. It is mind-blowing how the bike can act one way on a certain terrain, and then the complete opposite on another. Learning to ride it can be as challenging as addictive as every terrain requires it’s own magic skill set. Well, at least I’ve had my fair share of “magic” moments in trying to find these skill sets. Learning how to ride slippery mud, surfing down sandy trails, (never really) getting the hang of shale slopes and pushing myself to ride different kinds of rock, I’ve come to realise that you don’t need big man-made features to challenge yourself on the bike. Mother Nature has already provided the biggest challenge of them all - the ever-changing terrain.

 

Learning how to conquer

It is so frustrating when you feel amazingly fast on your home trails and then go somewhere new and locals pin it past you like you’re riding in super slow-mo. The terrain is maybe a bit more rocky, slippery, sandy or muddy than usual and it throws you off balance. The bike acts differently; it grips in different sections, you have to brake earlier, later, less or more compared to normal and things simply feel a little less under control than at home. But as frustrating as it is to start off with, I love the challenge of trying to tame it, to work away at it, day after day – until it clicks. And suddenly everything is feels just right.

 


English Death Mud

As a Swede living in the UK, maybe it’s not strange that mud is the first thing that comes to mind. When I moved over, a little over a year ago, I had kind of forgotten all about the country’s “mud condition”. I felt confident that I could handle a bit of slip and slide having ridden in slushy Swedish winter conditions for years, but I was soon reminded that UK mud is on another level. While you might get sprinkled with mud and loose some traction in Sweden, you go swimming in a rotor-deep mud holes and loose all sense of grip possible in the UK. The mud is so much grittier, wetter and just the pure volume of it (especially during winter) is pretty impressive. I’ve come to nickname it “English Death Mud”.

 

Basically, it sent me straight back to needing support wheels and having to throw moves like I was Bambi on Ice. While my local riding buddies were shredding down tracks, both feet clipped in, looking solid as anything, I was tripodding, feet out, crashing in every corner. A year later, and I am still not as fast as my UK-shredding-friends, but I am feeling confident that even this insane amount of slippery mud is possible to conquer.

 

Gone surfing

From one extreme to another, sand is almost as tricky to get your head around as mud. Although not as commonly a problem when living in the UK - this summer being the exception – it is in most other parts of the world. Having spent a few months in Queenstown over the years, as well as a few weeks in British Columbia, California and the Alps, I have had to come to terms with slippery sand luring in every corner. In the beginning it feels like you have no grip what so ever - like the front wheel is ready to wash out at any given moment - but just like when riding wet trails, you have to learn to let the bike “surf” underneath you and stay loose. Expect the unexpected, kind of, in order to be in control. Although it feels strange at first, it really is awesome once you get the hang of it. And the good thing about it, compared to mud, is that you tend to ride it in the sun rather than rain. Now that is always a bonus.

 


Shady shale

Surfing the sand with your bike is one thing, but a terrain I haven’t really become as friendly with, is shale. Trails and slopes made up of millions of little flat, fine-grained rocks just seem impossible for me to get my head around. It’s been a while since I tried my shale riding skills, but I remember being absolutely awful at it.

 

I recall racing the Enduro World Series in Finale Ligure back in 2014 and like every year, the last stage of the race was on the iconic Les Mans track – I am not sure what it is like today, but back then it was full of shale and very loose. When practicing it I felt like giving up – I knew what I had to do, keep the wheels spinning and not lock them up, but it was for some reason easier said than done. I kept sliding out; wheels and body going in all kinds of directions (except the right one). Luckily, come race day, I was so exhausted by the time I got to the last stage that I kind of gave up caring about anything. I was too tired to be scared, too tired to think at all – and I made it down absolutely fine.

 


Rock and roll

Maybe it isn’t so strange after all, that shale isn’t my thing, as I’ve always been kind of terrified of rocks. It is weird since I love riding technical terrain, and I am absolutely fine with roots and steeps, but rocks… Freak. Me. Out. It’s something about them being so pointy, hard and unforgiving.

 

I tend to do everything wrong when I am in the company of rocks. I pull my brakes when I shouldn’t. I take stupid line choices. There is this tiny rock drop at my local bike park that petrifies me. I’ve done it a few times, and it’s really easy, but still – my stomach turns just thinking about doing it because it is from a rock onto another rock.

 

Wherever in the world I go however, there are always rocks, so I’ve been working on getting over my fear. And it’s slowly getting better. But rocks are one of those things that Mother Nature decided to create to look very similar, but act very differently. Canadian rock slabs, for example, are super grippy compared UK rocks, which slide you all over the place.

 

I actually have an on-going love-hate relationship with Canadian rock slabs. They look so mellow from a distance, and like such a death trap when stood on top. When you experience them for the first time, it feels absolutely mad that you’re supposed to brake on the rock. You’re even supposed to brake more with your front brake than your rear. I mean, that make no sense to someone who’s constantly been proven the opposite in other parts of the world.

 

It took me forever to get down my first few slabs, not convinced about this magic kind of rock that is grippier than most trails, and it wasn’t until recently that I started feeling slightly more comfortable riding them. And like every other terrain conquered, the adrenaline rush and proudness when I overcome my fear and do it, is just next level happiness. It makes all the stress, fear and struggles totally worth it.

 

Same, same but different

Even the most intimidating of terrain is conquerable. You just have to learn it’s special tweaks and magic characteristics. It keeps things interesting, fun and challenging. From riding rock rolls, to surfing down sandy trails and sliding down muddy singletrack – I love how nature constantly keeps me on my toes, how the terrain creates natural features unlike anything else. Some parts of the world look so similar but couldn’t be more different to ride and others couldn’t look more different but feel exactly the same. You can fly halfway around the globe, or simply drive a few hours from home. Mountain biking doesn’t have to be about massive man-made features, Mother Nature has already created the biggest, and most stunning feature of them all - the terrain we ride.