Short Track Tips for Dirt Rookies

Last year, I was terrified of short track.  Terrified. Let’s not understate that, ok?  Frightened to the point of near-tears.

I got my mountain bike a few months before the season started and had done some decent rides, but I was still wobbling around on the knobbies all tipsy style. Even the punk kids on Skuuts looked smoother than I did.

So, this year, before I headed out to the beloved Portland International Raceway, I sent a note to a woman I know who used to be a professional downhill mountain bike racer. In my mind, she is one of the toughest, gutsiest, kick-assing-est daredevils around.  Certainly, if anyone could give me a suck-it-up-and-kill-it type of pep talk, it was her.

picture-62I expected a few words of encouragement and maybe a virtual pat on the back.  What I got was a little stack of tips that really set me off into the race with a positive outlook. Without taking me into the dirt, Carrie somehow managed to make me feel comfortable on my little mountain bike – and I owe her for it.

She was kind enough to give me permission to reprint her note to me here on the blog.  I especially love the last tip – about confidence.  I think, for me, this is something that is really at the heart of whether I ride well or not. The idea of channeling an emotion is a strong one.  I swear to god I tried to be angry on Monday, but, as you can tell from the photo, I might have missed the mark a bit.

That’s ok – because a picture of myself riding dirt with a look of sheer joy (instead of paralyzing fear) on my goofy little mug tells me that I’ve come a long way. And even though there’s still a long way to go, evidence of progress is certainly something to grin about.

Short Track Tips for Dirt Rookies (from Carrie Barton)

1. People who have spent a lot of time on the road and are transitioning to mountain biking sometimes have a tendency to not be aggressive enough with head to head racing. Aerodynamics aren’t important so get those elbows out. If your stem is at 12 and your sitting at 6 on a clock, your elbows should not be pointed down and at your body. Get the elbows up to about 4:30 and 7:30. You have more stability with your elbows out and you take up more space on the trail, hence you look harder to pass from behind.

2. Keep the elbows slightly bent, no locking them straight. Also, when you’re standing up keep the knees slightly bent. You want to be crouching over your bike. You’re the most “ready” in this position to either attack, avoid, or swerve.

3. Lean the corners. Getting comfortable hitting the corners faster and harder will make you so much faster. To do this you have to lean and trust your tires. It’s also harder to pass someone in a turn if they are leaning (and have their elbows up). This skill takes practice practice practice.

4. It’s all about confidence. If you look confident and ride confident people will not be as willing to challenge you. Head to head MTB racing is very unlike cross country racing or road racing. There’s less time for strategy. You have to find whatever emotion makes you ride the hardest and most focused and go with it. I get pissed. Some people get zen. Get where ever you need to be.

Carrie Barton (VeloBella/FOES Racing) raced downhill mountain bikes professionally  in 2003 and 2004. She is still rides road, mountain, and cross regularly and most of the racing she does now is Cross and Super D/Endurance DH. Don’t ask her about the injury that ended her professional DH career unless you’re sure you’re ready for a really disturbing story.  She also kills it riding those bikes that have motors attached to them – but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

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