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Culture » Get Out

Tips For Biking Mountains Safely

Avoiding the “endo” and other tips for biking in the canyons.


You know something’s a tough activity when falls have a special name. If you take your mountain bike to the steep and narrow trails that wind through the mountains without learning proper technique, you may suffer the classic consequence: the “endo.” As in, end over end over end.

Ed Chauner knows how to help you avoid leaving some of your skin on the mountain. The director of the well-known Intermountain Cup Racing Series, he’s an inspiration to many riders who want to improve.

He says that when riding up very steep hills, “Your bike will nearly be up to your chest. You have to get way out over your handlebars to get traction. If your weight gets back at all, you’ll flip over backwards. You need to adjust your position to maintain trail contact with both front and back tires.”

That contact goes for downhill, as well. When riding down steep slopes, he says, “You need to put your weight back more and more, until you have your weight over the rear wheel.”

Then, there is braking on switchbacks. “As you’re going into corners and have to brake, you want to get off your front brake almost entirely,” he advises. “If you’re breaking on a turn, you do it almost entirely on your back wheel.”

I’m a less skilled mountain biker, but I’ve also learned tips—the hard way. For instance, always remember which brake stops what tire. Also, don’t use brakes when you don’t have to. A rolling tire holds the road; a stopped tire skids. If you do start skidding, don’t go down with your bike. Try to get your foot on the ground quickly enough to shove the bike back upright if it’s washing out. If you hit a patch of sand or gravel, power through it. Keep those pedals moving and you’ll be far less likely to get bogged down.

As for silly little emergencies, let me save you trouble. Imagine how I learned things like this: If you have a quick-release front tire so you can fit your bike in a compact car, make sure the cone-shaped nut that holds the wheel on is securely screwed in and not about to fall off the wheel and disappear. When you put the tire back on, screw that thing on tight; don’t use only the lever. And, If you’re savvy enough to bring a spare tube, make sure you’ve also got the tire irons needed to install it. Learn how to use them somewhere other than the trail—like at home, before you need to fix a flat.

OK, now you’re ready to ride. One of my favorite places is the Quarry Trail, in Little Cottonwood. It starts just behind the electric sign at the mouth of the canyon, where there’s a paved parking area. A mile-long slog over a sometimes-rutted, sometimes-sandy, exposed trail comes first. Just when you start hating it, you come to the power plant gates. The trail snakes around on the left, and once you’re past that, it’s paradise. The trees form a cooling archway overhead, you’re sheltered from the sun, and the babbling sound of the creek with constant birdsong is a musical accompaniment. It’s a short trail—only 3 1/2 miles—but beautiful, with interesting terrain. Ride back down without braking; it’s a safe screamer.

You can ride almost anywhere in Big Cottonwood; it’s covered with trails. Storm Mountain, just a few miles up, is great for novices because it’s fairly flat. Farther up, in the middle of the “S” curve, there’s an almost-hidden opening to a forest trail shaded by trees, branching off to many other trails. It’s easy to get lost on this one, but it’s well worth riding. Stash your car in the small paved parking lot at the end of the first curve.

Wildflowers will soon start blooming in both canyons, offering even more delights to your senses. A day on your bike in the Cottonwood Canyon, even if you have to push it much of the way, is like a mini-vacation in the wilderness. You’ll know—and appreciate—why they’re called “mountain bikes.”