The Art of the Slide – Getting the Most Out of Skidding on a Mountain Bike

Looking for a fun way to build your bike handling skills and improve your balance?  Try skidding.  I’m not talking about the stuff we did as kids on our BMX bikes, I’m talking about purposely finding the limits of traction and then going beyond that to cause your bike to slide.  Skidding is one of the most overlooked yet fundamental skills for handling anything on two wheels.  You most likely won’t be purposely skidding while racing, but being familiar with “riding out” a slide can be very beneficial.

Sounds great, but how will this make me faster, you ask?  First this skill helps build confidence when your bike loses traction.  When other riders are expending energy fighting to maintain balance you’ll be more relaxed, spending less energy to control the bike.  For mountain bikers and cyclocrossers the benefits are clear especially when racing on loose or slick terrain.  You’ll be more comfortable letting the bike slip and slide through areas of reduced traction such as descending on a high speed fire road.  On a road bike the same principle applies as you find yourself riding through wet winter conditions, where gravel is covering the tarmac or even around a fast criterium corner on less than perfect pavement.

Second, skidding can occasionally be a tool to adjust your line.  While it’s rarely the fastest way around a corner it may get your bike pointed in the desired direction quicker.  This can be especially helpful in places such as downhill off-camber corners. Letting the rear or both wheels slide sideways into traction (such as a berm or a rut) can be more efficient than slowly riding the brakes along the more obvious line.

Lastly, sliding skill will help you understand the performance limits of your tires and brakes.  Knowing how hard you can get on the binders and when your tires will let loose will help you race smarter. Skidding doesn’t take a ton of time to practice but like all skills, it’s worth working on to keep your skills fresh.

Here are some guidelines to help you get the most out of sliding or skidding on the bike:

  • DO NOT PRACTICE THIS ON TRAILS!!!  Find a nice open area like a gravel parking lot where any damage to the environment will be minimal.
  • Practice this on your mountain bike or an old beat up road or cyclocross bike.  You’re purposely trying to lose traction which increases the chances of crashing.  Mounting up some old dodgy tires and some flat pedals are also great ideas.
  • Start out locking the rear brake while traveling at a moderate speed in a straight line allowing the bike to come to a stop.  Then try skidding  while almost coming to a complete stop so you get used to modulating the brakes.
  • Once you’re comfortable with that, experiment with shifting your weight.  First try forward and backward on the bike. Then try shifting your weight to the side to get the rear wheel to move out of line.  See which side you’re better at sliding and how long/far you can keep your bike sliding.
  • Trying swapping from side to side during the same slide or even getting the bike to change 180 degrees without coming to a complete stop or putting a foot down.
  • For a more practical/advanced application, work on sliding the rear wheel to one side or the other without applying the brake.  You need to use a bit of weight shift to pull these off.  Slides such as these can help you pivot your bike out of a corner instead of riding the brakes.
  • For those of you with great balance and confidence you might consider locking the front wheel.  I recommend only doing this in a straight line.  However, this is a rather advanced technique and can easily result with you on the ground so be careful.  The first thing you’ll notice is just how hard you can grab the front brake before you lose traction.

Sliding, like all other handling skills, needs to be practiced to be worthwhile.  Include some handling skills practice before or after each ride.  Include it as a “pre-warm up” or cool down is a great way to maintain or improve those skills.

Coach Eric Sterner works with all levels of dirt riders as well as cycling roadies and motorcycling roadies who want to improve their skills and fitness through mountain biking. He is available for one on one and group lessons as well as month to month programs.