Mountain Bike Fit Musings

Salsa Spearfish
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Salsa Spearfish

For the past 5 or so years I have been a 29er (and 650b) lover. Normally my mountain bike is a single speed, full rigid rig. Sometimes an 80mm hard tail, or something of the variety. Lately I’ve been spending more and more time on my Salsa Spearfish 29er. 100mm in the front, 80mm in the rear. The bike is a real treat to ride, and as I adventure more and more around the southeast I do believe it is the perfect bike for 90% of the trails.

Here’s Where I Am Struggling

One thing I am working on this spring is going up. Learning how to climb for longer periods. Learning to sit and spin up steeper terrain than I have been able to in the past. Normally I stand and mash on my hardtail, but I am working on learning how to position my body better and use stabilizer muscles.

The issue I have been running into has multiple layers, but the basics is that I am trying to figure out how to ride a 100mm front end up steeper terrain. I believe it is either a fit with stem change problem, or maybe I need to practice more problem.

Here’s what I am experiencing while climbing

  • Harder time keeping the front end down, even when I have a decent amount of weight on the front
  • I can’t steer too well when climbing. If it is straight, I am fine, but switchbacks I’m completely lost on body position. (Is this just practice?)
  • The front end wants to flop under slow and steep. I know this has partially to do with the 29er front wheel, more slack geometry and 100mm fork than my normal hardtail 29ers.

My Mountain Climbing Friends – Give me advice

A good part of it is riding more up hill. Learning the balance of my bike. But do you have specific suggestions, maybe with bike fit or technique?

8 Comments

  • Wil says:

    There are a few techniques that work well. If climbing seated, i tend to slide toward the tip of the saddle, bend my elbows, keep my arms relaxed, and my upper body low and close to the bars.

    This does a few things:
    1. Keeps your rear wheel planted
    2. Helps to keep weight on your front wheel
    3. Effectively shortens your saddle height, focusing effort more on your “climbing muscles.”

    Getting your body forward while climbing re-centers your center of gravity. Climbing with too “upright” of a position effectively moves your center of gravity to the rear wheel, which may be why you feel like you are lifting the front wheel and have difficulty steering.

    As with “level” mtb riding, it is important to keep your arms as relaxed as possible. Lead or direct your bike through corners, don’t force it. Let it flow. I tend to take the high/outside on climbing switchbacks. This keeps you as open as possible. Keep looking ahead so you can avoid roots/rocks/other obstacles that may give you issue at lower speeds.

    I found that riding a rigid SS really improved my climbing legs/endurance, but does not translate over to suspension climbing very well.

  • salsaTopp says:

    The uphill switchbacks are especially tricky as when going Down switchbacks, we get our weight way back and lean it through, right? But if we do that uphill, we pull up the front wheel and get sloppy. Try the age-old “perch on the saddle” technique. Find a steep section that you can do multiple times. Try it first with your bottom end literally feeling like you’re perched on the tip of the saddle. Then do the climb again a bit more forward, then again a bit more back. See what happens each time. Sometimes our muscle memory from switching bikes makes a position feel less natural/comfortable – but once you do it a half dozen times your body should start accepting that you need to be a little more forward or back on this particular bike. (I swap between a size Small rigid single speed mariachi and a medium Mamasita…….). Hope this helps some!

  • Hey,

    I’m no pro at climbing, but I love doing it. When doing switchbacks and climbing up, I generally ride “cowboy style” or “body separation.” So when winding up I’m generally out of the seat and moving the bike underneath me. So body stays still, bike moves and I look through the turn.

    I practice track stands in my yard. I also fall in the yard practicing track stands. a lot.

    to keep the front end down – body centered over the bike with shoulders slightly heavier in the front.

    on another note — I find that a heavier gear and up out of the seat is 10x better than a seated climb.

  • Loaded question. Disclaimer own an old school mtb but riding buddie has 29er. I’ve ridden both on all terrains.

    Original size is easier to keep front wheel down and steering b/c so many 29’s have the rider in a more upright position. My old school bike is more like a road bike in that I am more stretched out with more weight over the front wheel compared to some upright positions. B/c of this, I can really lean forward on climbs and keep that front wheel down. Others who have tried my bike say it hurts their back because it’s forces the rider to reach more. I noticed the above more at slower speeds as you mentioned. Once the climbing speed goes up I noticed how the 29er becomes easier to steer and climb since it “appears” to roll over things a bit easier.

    Personally I think it has more to do with riding style. I tend to grind up hills where others will “sprint” at the start in hopes of carrying enough momentum to clear their line mistakes.

    With all of that said, could you try lowering your handlebars to see if you could get more weight over the front of the bike?

  • Tucker says:

    Ok, so I don’t ride a 29er but I do love a really slack geometry ride and I ride a pretty tall 100mm fork right now. I do pretty well with climbing and switchbacks too.

    First off, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend changing anything on the bike itself. I wouldn’t want to compromise the handling on the rest of the ride simply for the sake of climbing slightly different so focus on your body position first.

    A lot of it is practice for sure! Climbing switchbacks are just like downhill switchbacks in that everybody has a direction they are better at! Personally, I can make just about any right turn switchback in front of me going up or down…I’m about 98% going left but I’m working on it!

    Give yourself the best chance from the start! Set up on the outside so you have plenty of room and can carry your speed better and don’t be afraid to run a front wheel up on the embankment when you exit, you can carry much more speed that way! I used to be like you with the just stand and mash method but with more and more road riding I’m learning to sit and spin!

    The steeper the climb gets the more you want to be forward on your saddle, I won’t get on the very tip though unless it’s really getting very steep! Try to stay out of your absolute easiest gear, it will make it easier to keep your front end down when you are really trying to put down the power. Bend your elbows and lean down towards the bars when you get to the really steep stuff. Keeping the rear wheel planted and keeping traction will keep you going up, then worry about your front wheel.

    I will try to keep my front wheel planted where I can but if you are having a hard time keeping it down in a section, stop fighting it and use it to your advantage instead! Let it come up a bit and keep it light! Instead of trying to steer around everything you can easily just lift your front wheel over or pick it up and put it down where you want it. Then you can either just keep the power down on the back wheel or smoothly pull your rear wheel right over the obstacle and keep going.

    Stick with it and keep practicing and you’ll have it down! We all love an excuse to ride more!

  • Guitar Ted says:

    Is that your bike in the image then? I assume it is.

    Along with some great tips given here, (perch up onto the saddle, letting your upper body relax a bit), I can say that a lot of 29″ers have a “sit up and beg” position which is awesome going down, but not so much going up.

    I might try flipping that stem for starters. See if that along with sliding your weight forward on the saddle on climbs doesn’t help. May want a different saddle too, so it makes that a bit less painful. (It is one of the several reasons I love WTB Pure V saddles, by the way)

    Okay, don’t get too crazy with switching out parts, but I think a saddle to bar drop, instead of the other way around, will help this issue a lot.

    Then as far as the wheel flop, you might try a wider bar. Better leverage will help with stability. That’s why the DH’ers use those crazy wide bars, ya know what I mean?

    On uphill switchbacks, I will wait till I get into the apex of the corner, and then I kind of push my hips forward and around in line with where I want to go. Steering with the hips, I suppose. Helps me get that back wheel around the tight spots. Sometimes I will do this and get out of the saddle for a couple of quick pedal strokes. Once straightened out I will return to the saddle and back to grinding away!

  • Kate says:

    that’s just mountain biking! that’s the fun stuff. just hardly being able to steer/keep the front end down/etc. that’s the fun stuff. welcome to the sport.

    that being said. i am short and have always ridden a bicycle that is too big for me because all the small ones suck… and i’m poor.

  • Chris says:

    If you have your fit dialed, I would leave it. I wouldn’t try to compensate for problems climbing with a change to fit. However, small changes can make a big difference. If you’ve got a little room to work with on your fit, maybe try the wider bars or a slightly lower bar position. I would try the former before the latter.
    As for technique, the comments above all seem to be in line with what I would say. Sliding forward on the saddle might seem counter intuitive since on a road bike you probably sit up and slide back to engage your glutes more for a climb. On the mountain bike you’re just going to have to try sliding forward for the tech stuff. Focus on holding the widest line possible and keeping momentum through the switchbacks. You’ll get it.

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