Line Choices

Every mountain biker understands that line choice is essential to riding smoothly. The difference of a good line and bad line determines whether you can maintain speed in the best case. In the worst case, it determines whether you get through a section or whether you slow down, stop, or even crash. This is why every basic mountain biking tutorial stresses the importance of looking ahead and scanning the terrain.

As with most things, this is easier said than done. It requires plenty of practice. Line choice is not much of an issue on even terrain or at low speed. It becomes important when you go fast and it becomes much more challenging when you ride trails with many obstacles. High speed and gnarly trails in combination present a challenge even to expert riders.

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So, what exactly goes on when you pick a line? You look at the trail ahead and you are presented with choices. The farther you look ahead, the more information you have to process, but on the positive side, more information allows you to make better decisions. Let’s look at an example to illustrate this.

Say you are going down a hill on a rutted trail and you scan ahead 10 metres. There’s a rut running on left, so you decide to stay on the right side. Then you look 20 metres ahead instead of ten. You realise the trail makes a right turn and that the rut deepens further down, so you will be cut off from the berm on the left rim of the turn.

Staying on the right, you won’t be able to pass through the curve while maintaining speed. You will have to brake and ride the early apex line which is slow. With farther range scanning, you decide to hop over the rut early and take the berm line which is fast. The rut on the left is the lesser evil in this case.

Now, let’s look at what is going on in your mind, when picking a line. In plain language, there is A (a good line) and B (not a good line). Logically speaking, A is not B and therefore by choosing A you will avoid B. One might conclude that by avoiding B, one would end up riding an A line. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

In reality, these are two different modes of thinking that yield very different results. If you think A, you make an acceptance decision. Chances are that you clear the section smoothly. If you think not-B, you make an avoidance decision. This means you have to change course and reevaluate. The reevaluation costs you time, therefore you have to slow down. Even worse, it might be followed by yet another avoidance decision.

The not-B thinking mode leads to choppy riding, accompanied by line switching and unnecessary braking. What is more, by looking at obstacles for too long, the bike might just follow the line of vision and run straight into them, since steering always follows the line of vision. The A thinking mode leads to fluent riding, less corrections, and reduced braking. When you commit to a line, no further time is wasted with evaluation.

It’s quite important to develop an awareness for these two different states when riding. Whenever you notice that avoidance decisions outnumber acceptance decisions, you have reached a critical point where the trail works you instead of you working the trail. It happened to me often enough, and I found there is only one way to deal with it.

You have to stop, and sort of force a mental reset. It’s like flipping a switch. The mantra is: “I see a line. There’s nothing but a line.” So, the solution for getting out of the avoidance mode that bumps you around the trail is to move the focus away from obstacles towards non-obstacles, or rather small obstacles you are willing to take on. It sounds very simple and straightforward, but applying it in practice is a different story.

2015 Burning Season Starts

The air quality has started to decline once again in Chiang Mai and the first fires of the season are observed. Last weekend, seven riders rode the jungle trail in the valley north of the Huay Jo reservoir in Maejo and went right through a bushfire.

The fire was very likely laid by mushroom gatherers. It is sad to see this particular valley burning because unlike the higher degraded regions around Huay Jo that have been reforested recently, this part of the forest is more intact and has richer soil.

The smoke of these fires does not only cause havoc to people’s health, but it is also very damaging to the forest. The fire kills small plants, saplings, and a host of small animals like reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and their hatcheries, thereby reducing biodiversity and giving an advantage to pests and invasive species. It also prevents the buildup of a rich humus layer.

Since it is impossible to catch the arsonists, the only viable measure seems to outlaw mushroom gathering. The arsonists only need a few seconds to light a fire, but the gatherers spend many hours/days in the forest and are easy to catch.

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21 December 2014: Maejo MTB Race

It’s the season of MTB races, apparently. There’s one more this Sunday starting at 10:00 AM at the Mae Jo scout camp near Huay Jo which is quite familiar territory to many of you who have joined our rides. Check out http://www.thaimtb.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=54&t=1114680 for details. We meet at 8:30 AM at the camp (18.934786, 99.061136) and figure out where the trail runs and whether we want to participate or squander the starting fee on pizza and ice cream while cheering the other riders. Either way, it’s going to be fun. We do suspect that you need a roadworthy mountain bike for this race, although having seen previous Thai mountain bike races, anything with two wheels and a crank will do, whether thin or fat tyres, curly or straight bars, as long as you can ride it.

This ride is cancelled.

6 December 2014: Long Downhill from Doi Pui to Mae Raem

It’s time for another Doi Pui ride! This is probably the longest route down the mountain. It starts at the San Koo drop off point from where we ride down to the sala, climb to the Doi Pui peak, then ride the northern ridge, ride down to Khun Chang Khian and then take the northern route to Mae Raem which is a little less steep than the one to Huay Tueng Tao. After an optional stopover at the Sala Café, we will ride back to Huay Tueng Tao along the single track trail west of the military base. We meet at 8:30 AM at the parking lot at the Huay Kaeow arboretum (18.810537, 98.949085) and take a Songthaeo to get up the hill. You need a capable mountain bike for this trip. Estimated duration is 5 hrs.

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22 November 2014: Mae Ho Phra Race Course

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This Saturday, we go to explore a new route in Mae Ho Phra that is new to (at least most of) us. We meet at 8:00 AM at the entry gates of Maejo university (18.89506, 99.009378). There we will try to catch a Songthaeow going up north along the Rd. 1001 Phrao Rd. Depending on the success of this mission, we will be at the intersection of the Rs. 1001 with the new Rd. 1414 (extension of Rd. 1095) in Mae Faek around 9:00 AM, or later if we have to ride the distance. From there, we proceed approx. 5 km to the Mae Ho Phra district administration on Rd. 1001, which is where the XC race course starts. The course lies northwest of the Ban Na Pak reservoir and is only a few km long, which means we will probably ride more than one lap. Including the time for getting to and back from the race course from Chiang Mai, we estimate this ride to take 5 hrs or more.

Ride Report

Three riders met on a beautiful and slightly chilly Saturday morning. Two of us rode up from Chiang Mai to Mae Ho Phra where we met a third rider at Rd. 1001. After five more kilometres and a cup of coffee, we hit the trails. The marking of the course is less than obvious, so we missed the correct turns several times. The landscape is gently undulating and the track is technically easy apart from short technical zig-zag sections at the beginning/end near the temple. It’s mostly gravel and loose dirt plus some sandpits to slow things down. We finished the actual course before noon and did some practice riding along the technical sections afterwards. These require bursts of power and correct gearing to master. I finished around 1:00 PM and caught a taxi back to Chiang Mai.

15 November 2014: Bamboo DH Trail

We meet at 8:00 AM at the parking lot at the Huay Kaeow arboretum (18.810537, 98.949085). We will arrange transport by Songthaeo to the helicopter landing place just below Pu Phing Palace. For those who prefer to climb the hill, we expect to be at the landing place around 8:45. This is a short (6.5 km) but challenging DH trail with steep sections and plenty of roots, ruts, and rocks. Pads are recommended.

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Ride Report

Five riders met on Saturday. Three of us took a taxi to meet Tim and Ong at the top. After some warmup, we began the riding down the Bamboo trail at 9:15 AM. Trail conditions were quite good. The trail is dry and fast now, but the rainy season left its mark in the form of additional ruts. Some of these rutted areas have new side lines. In the lower section, there are many loose rocks. We finished the downhill run at 10:20 AM. Tim and I decided to hike back up for some extended riding. Tim turned around at 650m altitude and I went up to 900m to shoot some more GoPro footage. I finished the second run at 13:15 PM.

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