Lance Canfield's 10 Tips on Riding Like a Pro Downhiller

Jul 27, 2010
Outside Magazine

The bike trail stretching out in front of us looks innocentenough; just smooth dirt flanked by wildflowers in hues of purple, red, andyellow, bobbing in the breeze.  ButI know better.  I’ve been down thistrail before.

I’m standing at the top of Lithium, a downhill specifictrail off Teton Pass, Wyoming, built by the Teton Freedom Riders and sanctioned by theUS Forest (Bridger-Teton) Service.  A few dozenfeet in front of me it drops off into the Jackson Hole valley, under a babyblue sky—and that’s where the innocence ends. 

It’s steep. Sometimes it just heads directly down themountain, sometimes it snakes along exposed ridges, with rock drops, loosedirt, twisty, steep switchbacks, root drops, step-ups, jumps, turning discbrakes into burning hot metal, and whole muscles into cramps-for a few thousandfeet.

Entrance to Lithium.  Sure does look innocent.... 

Today, however, I’ve brought Idaho-based downhill mountainbike racer Sean Gollub along, for some sound advice on navigating this trailproperly, not in my current maniacal, reckless, asking for disaster form. Inshort, some tips on how to go faster, be safer, and hopefully, gain a little stylein the process. And after I landon my head in the first five minutes, the advice really starts flowing. 

Sean Gollub
Sean Gollub, riding
Grand Targhee's Buffalo Jump, shows he is qualified to dispense advice.

However, if you don’t have a DH racer handy to ride with, here’sa list of tips from pro rider Lance Canfield. An original Red Bull Rampagerider, Lance has been racing for over a decade, starred in 13 mountain bikemovies, and started Canfield Brothers with his brother Chris, manufacturers of coveted,high-end downhill bikes.

10. Lance’s number one suggestion for beginners: put yourseat down, almost all the way.  “Alot of cross-country riders make this mistake on DH trails.  In downhill, you are standing most ofthe time, and your seat should be out of the way,” he says.

9. If you have access to a bike park, spend some time thereand build your skill set and handling skills in unfamiliar technicalsituations.

8. Next, put some big dual-ply tires on your bike. “It makesa big difference in what you can hit, and allows you to run lower tire pressurefor better grip.”

7. Stand on your feet on the pedals, and be light on yourhandlebars. “With your weight centered on your feet, your balance is best,”points out Lance.

6. Get low and behind your bike seat on anything steep and/or rough, andkeep your elbows bent and wide. This adds your body suspension to the bike's, and helps keep your weight away from the handlebars.

5. Want the best grip on your bars? Yes, you do: use three fingersto hold on and only your index finger to brake. 

Downhiller's Grip

4. Keep your head up, looking as far ahead as possible. “Youdon’t need to see what’s on the trail right in front of you-you’ve already seen it-you needbe looking at what’s coming next.” (Lance says this like five times. I think heconsiders it pretty important.)

3. Clamping on your brakes and skidding is not going to helpyou slow down—you lose all traction and actually accelerate. Try to findobstacles in the trail to help turn and give traction, like rocks, berms, orruts. If you are not using the obstacles in the trail you are fighting thetrail instead of riding it.

2. Trust in thegeometry of downhill bikes. They are built to help you not crash. 

1. Finally, “Flow like water,” says Lance. “Pick a line,and use the terrain and obstacles to bounce your way down the hill. The easiestpath is the one water would take.” But of course, until you get used to the trails,it’s kind of hard to aim exactly—which is where big tires, suspension, and bigbike come in—you’ll probably end up going over a lot of obstacles you intendedto go around-at first, that is.

So, is getting the right gear and protection, tips from experienced riders, a few weeks of putting in time practicing on the trails of Teton Pass and Grand Targhee resort enough to jump in a downhill race and stay one piece?  Stay posted...I am going to find out.

--Brigid Mander

Filed To: Adventure, Biking, Fitness

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!