What is a ”track stand” and what does it have to do with mountain biking? Wikipedia defines track stands as follows “The track stand is a technique that bicycle riders can use to maintain balance while their bicycle remains stationary or moves only minimal distances. The technique originated in track cycling and is now used by other types of cyclists wishing to stop for a short time without putting a foot on the ground….”
OK, so you now know what it is but you still don’t see why it would be particularly useful in mountain biking. I’ve chosen to start the articles on actual skills techniques with track stands because I feel that it is a key skill that makes so many different aspects of mountain biking more enjoyable and easier.
Note the body position of the rider.
Being able to be stationary without putting a foot down whilst out on your local trails, or even on the roads going to your local trails, lets you ride with more flow, confidence and control. There are loads of examples of when track standing can or should be used on the mountain bike, way more than when road biking or even cycling on a track, where the technique originated.
It’s Flow Time
Stopping and putting your foot down on a ride can spoil the “flow”. I’ll maybe do a piece on “flow” another time but for now it is basically that great feeling you get when a ride is going really well, you feel you are riding well and that everything is possible, you are aware of all your senses but at the same time you are one with the bike and in a bubble where nothing can intrude. If you haven’t experienced this yet, don’t despair, hopefully this series of articles will help you get there. In the meantime you can just pretend.
So what do we do about this interrupted “flow”? We try to minimize putting our foot down and stay “at one” with the bike. So, put simply, we want to convert most stops where you’d put your foot down into track stands. Be that coming to a part of the trail where there is an obstacle you want to consider whether you can ride, a junction that you are unsure which way to turn, waiting for walkers or dogs to move out of the way or just in the car park before and after rides to impress your fellow shredders or to wow the mere mortals.
In theory, track standing sounds impossible! How on earth do you get a bike that is not rolling to stay upright with you on it, without putting a foot down? Well read on and you should be able to master the technique with a bit of practice. This really is a skill that most, if not all, of you will have to practice for quite a while to perfect, though you may get most of the way there quite quickly.
It’s all about balance. Don’t worry if your balance is poor, this can be massively improved with practice. We get this balance by having the right body position and by applying pressure through the pedals and handlebars
Stand and deliver!
Getting a good area to practice to start with is vital. An area of gently sloping grass or tar is ideal. Point the bike uphill though or you’ll not be able to control the bike properly. Ride slowly across and slightly up the slope in a standing position (the “attack” position” but we’ll cover this position in a separate article). Come to a stop ideally by using the slope to stop the bike or by applying the brakes gently, but then release them fully after you came to a halt.
Stay standing, with your hips forward and legs extended, but not fully locked at the knee. Because your hips are forward there will be more weight than usual through your hands but most of your weight is still passing through your pedals. Support the majority of this on you “back” leg, but counter this with power from your front leg. Feel for the balance that works best for you between pedals and handlebars.
Turn the front wheel so it is pointing up the slope, roughly at 45 degrees from straight is a good starting point and trying to keep your shoulders more or less parallel to your handlebars.
To start with have your “chocolate” (favored) foot forward and ride in so this foot is on the upslope side of your bike. Your cranks should be more or less parallel with the ground, maybe slightly up on the side of your chocolate foot. Apply gentle, and I do mean gentle, pressure through your “chocolate foot”.
Firstly, what is your “chocolate foot”? Well it’s not some unpleasant sporting related fungal infection, nor unfortunately, is it a large foot shaped lump of your favorite confectionary. Those of you who surf, snow board or skate board may be familiar with the term and will likely know whether you are “regular” or “goofy”.
Your chocolate foot is you favorite, or lead foot. Dependant on which side this is it will either be referred to as “regular”, left foot forward, or “goofy”, right foot forward. I’m sure you’ll not be surprised to learn I’m goofy.
Knowing which foot you lead with is really important for many skills, so it’s worth getting to know which foot it is. There is a test, but when I tell you it, it sort of spoils it! You’ll need a friend to help you with this. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and level with each other. Close your eyes and have someone gently, but firmly push you forward from behind. The foot you put out to stop you falling over will most likely be your “chocolate foot”. This test should only be done somewhere safe, not on the edge of a kerb of a busy main road! It is best that you ask the helper to do it at some random time that you are not expecting so it is an instinctive reaction rather than a though out action.
As I mention above this is a “standing” technique, you shouldn’t be seated at any point. It is best if you try to form as straight a line as possible between your ankle bone, knee, hip and shoulder on your trailing foot side. Stay loose, don’t tense up, this will help to reduce the planes of movement in your body, making it easier to stay still and controlled. It also helps move your weight forward over the front wheel.
Rock, don’t roll
Using a gentle upslope provides a resistive force on the bike against which you can apply weight through your pedals. This will, with practice allow you to “rock” the bike back and forth to help maintain balance. Turning your front wheel into the upslope achieves a couple of different things. Firstly, it provides a more stable platform on which you can balance. You are more or less using the front wheel axle as a pivot point for balance rather than relying on purely side to side movements if the front wheel was parallel with the rear. It also acts as your brakes whilst you are track standing, preventing the bike rolling too far forward or back.
I mention above about trying to keep you shoulders more or less parallel with the handlebars. This lessens the planes of movement again, however, don’t get too hung up on this point. What is important is that both arms are “long”, by this I mean straight, but not locked and that you turn the handlebars towards your upslope lead foot.
There is a little debate on what position your head should be in and where you should be looking. I’ve seen people achieve great track stand looking only slightly in front of their front wheel, but for me, and the accepted “best practice” is to be looking up and forwards.
Gently does it
The key to this skills is finesse, so the female riders amongst you should, in theory at least, be faster to master this skill. It is all about small, controlled, subtle movements. Lots of riders when they first try this skill look as if they are trying to screw their forks into the ground and there are lots of big left and right turns made on the handlebars. This almost drags the bike forward and makes the whole technique more difficult. Likewise, I often see shoulders being dipped massively from one side to another and the bike banging from one leg to the other as if trying to escape from the rider upon it. These are all telltale signs that your inputs to the bike are too rough or rushed.
There are only four (occasionally five) contact points between you and your bike when you track stand correctly – both feet and both hands. (The fifth point can be either your right or left inner leg, but we’ll not complicate matters with this). This should make it easy for you to understand what is needed to balance the bike.
Let’s start with your hands and handlebar grips. As we’ve discussed there is more weight forwards than a usual standing position. To counter the force you are putting through your forward foot you should place slightly more weight on the outside, or high side grip, the more weight you are putting on the forward foot the more weight you need to put through the grip and vice versa.
Following on from the above we control the bike using the forward foot. This is done by increasing or decreasing the amount of weight you are applying through your forward foot. The rear foot is mainly just resting on the pedal and has a bit less weight applied through it than the forward foot. If the bike feels like it is moving backwards, or towards your rear foot, apply a little more weight to your forward foot until this stops, or the bike moves forward. If it is moving too far forwards ease up a little on your front foot weight.
In effect the real control is coming from you weighting and un-weighting your front foot and the opposite side handlebar grip. This will take time to master so be patient, but remember small controlled movements.
You’ll get by with a little help from a friend
If you can, practicing this skill with someone it can really help, particularly if that person is trying to learn to track stand too. I’ll now describe a technique that you can use with a partner to help you master track stands.
One person should be standing, if they have a bike make sure that it is safely out of the way and will not cause an obstacle to other trail users. With the person wanting to do the practice astride their bike, the other person should stand behind the bike and move forward until their legs are straddling the rear wheel, fairly close to the wheel axel. The helper should lock their legs against the wheel and grab hold of the seatpost or underneath of the saddle. The rider should then apply their brakes and get onto the bike and adopt the standing tall position. As you will already have chosen a spot to practice as I’ve described before the rider should then position themselves with upslope foot forward and turn their handlebars towards the slope, then release their brakes. The helper should then let go of the seatpost/saddle and ensure the bike and the rider are stable. Next the helper will move their legs slightly further apart, still close enough to stablise the bike from falling to the side, but wide enough that the rider can move the bike a little side to side. The rider should by now be attempting to track stand, the job of the helper, in addition to stopping the rider who is practicing ending up in a heap on the ground, is to provide feedback to the rider. This can be done in two main ways; either by giving verbal feedback such as “too much left/right” or by tapping the hip or waist of the rider on the side that they are leaning too much towards.
Learning this skill can be tiring, so little and often for practice is best. If you are practicing with a partner, swap over every few minutes if you can. Don’t be disappointed if it takes a while to perfect, you will get there if you keep practicing.
When you start to get better try to incorporate it into your normal rides out on the trails. When people stop to faff, see how long you can hold a track stand before you have to put a foot down. When you pause for a moment to decide on a direction, once more see how long you can track stand. Before you know it you’ll be doing it without even thinking, this is called unconscious competence and we may cover this in a future article.
To recap, here are the main points again:
- Stand “tall” on your bike.
- Hips forwards.
- Turn your front wheel towards the upslope.
- Shoulders more or less parallel with handlebars.
- Cranks parallel to the ground or front foot up at 2 o’clock position.
- Front foot on upslope side and long, but “soft” legs.
- Linear body position, but stay loose.
- Small, subtle, continual adjustments to balance.
By Jim Barron
Chief Instructor & Coach