rocky trail at Halton Falls Conservation Area

If you plan to ride on the East Coast, you have to know how to ride through a rock garden. I’ve only been to one location on the entire East Coast that’s devoid of rock gardens. Some places feel like they’re nothing but rock gardens!

That’s not to say you won’t encounter rock gardens in other areas, too. Because you will. They’re all over the place.

Which means, all mountain bikers should be able to ride through the rocks. Follow my advice and you’ll be rocking the rock gardens like a pro!

Basic Rock Garden Strategy

Conquering a rock garden is a mix of body position, bike handling, and planning ahead.

The Proper Body Positioning

As you encounter a rock garden, assume the attack position. (Considering how rock gardens are commonly found on technical trails, you are probably in the attack position anyway.)

If it’s a short section, and you’re coming in with speed, maintain the attack position with your butt off the seat.

Going downhill? Move your hips back a bit further.

For longer rock gardens, you may need to stay seated and pedal through, only rising off the seat when necessary to maneuver the bike around.

Planning Ahead

To get through as quickly and as smoothly as possible, you need to plan ahead. When it comes to rock gardens, “ahead” is probably only a few seconds in the future, but the point remains.

Choosing your line.

Choose your ideal line well in advance, and choose wisely. Sometimes this means riding some of the tougher rocks early in order to avoid the toughest rocks a bit further down the trail.

Choosing your speed.

You want to enter the rock garden with as much speed as you can handle. Enough speed to maintain your momentum, but not so fast that you ram straight into a rock and stop. (Your ability to judge speed will improve over time.)

Choosing your gearing.

If the section is long enough that you’ll be pedaling, make sure you’re in the correct gear. You want a good size gear so you can generate the torque required to push over rocks, which is especially important when you’re only able to use 1/4 and 1/2 turns of the cranks.

If the gear is too small, you won’t generate enough torque, and you’ll just stall out and fall over. If the gear is too big, you won’t be able to get enough leverage, and you’ll have the same fate.

Riding It

OK, here we go, you are in the rock garden!

Don’t look down! Keep looking ahead. Remember, look where you want to go. If you’re looking down, you’ll have trouble planning out your moves in advance, and you won’t get much further.

Keep your crank arms level. This keeps both your pedals as high as possible. You don’t want to hit your pedals on the rocks. It doesn’t just slow you down. It upsets your balance and will likely knock you down.

Ratchet the pedals. If you planned ahead, you should have some momentum to carry you through. But sometimes you still need to pedal. In any serious rock garden, it will be impossible to complete a full revolution of the pedals without smashing one into a rock!

So, you’ll probably have to ratchet the pedals. If you chose the right gear, a good 1/4 turn of the pedals will provide the necessary torque to launch you over the rock in question, and you can continue on your way.

Use subtle but frequent movements. You’re going to be shifting your weight constantly as you progress through the rocks. It’s sort of like unweighting your wheels when going over logs, but not so pronounced (unless, of course, you’re going over a gigantic rock.)

Use your arms and legs as suspension. If your body is stiff, you’ll get thrown off the bike. Absorb all the movements and soften the blows by absorbing them with your bent knees and bent elbows.

See How It’s Done

Check out this how-to video:


Any questions?


Other mountain biking skills you must know:


Photo credit: Kiril Strax

You may also like

Leave a Reply