Technical sections, like rock gardens, can be the most demanding part of a XC race. With the right line choice and proper technique, you can ride through technical sections faster, and without having to dab your foot. These pro tips can help you feel confident in the most demanding sections of a XC course.

For more on race tactics check out our Race Analysis YouTube Playlist.

Key Takeaways

  • Focus on where you want to go and not on what others are doing.
  • Maintain your speed and momentum with the right gear and technique.
  • Bunch your adjustments through rock gardens early to avoid bleeding speed.

Think Outside the Race

Sometimes you won’t have a chance to pre-ride the course or practice technical sections before your race. When this happens and you’re racing on unfamiliar terrain it’s essential to think outside of the race. That is to say, don’t focus too much on the other riders you’re competing with. Instead, focus on your line choices. This means looking for the straightest and fastest way to get you through the most technical sections.

When you’re choosing a line, ask yourself, “What is the fastest way?” When you see that line, look where you want to go and hold that line. When you’re riding, don’t feel like you need to follow the athlete in front of you. Remember, just because it’s a familiar line, or a popular line, doesn’t mean it’s the fastest.

Another way to think outside the race is to have a fallback plan going into technical sections. This can help when another rider or the course throws you something unexpected. Sometimes this means simply getting off and running so you don’t lose too much time.

Before Rock Gardens

There are several things you can do before entering a rock garden to increase your chances of success. The most important thing to do is to maintain speed. Speed is your friend. Carrying momentum into a technical section means fewer pedal strokes and force from you when you ride through.

Carry Speed

While you don’t want to be in a super hard gear going into a technical section you don’t want to be in a gear that’s too easy either. A key to carrying enough speed into a section is to downshift to a harder gear and give it one or two hard pedal strokes before you enter the technical zone. It is better to be in too hard a gear than an easier one.

The lower cadence can also help you ratchet the drive-train to avoid clipping a pedal on a rock. Ratcheting is when you press the pedals, from the 1 to 4 o’clock position, then backpedal to do it again.

Pick Your Line

Now that you have enough speed, it’s time to hold your line. To hold your line you want to look where you want to go. You want to pick a line that delivers that experience that you are prepared for. The unexpected is a problem, and a predictable line helps you avoid that.

When picking your line, try to avoid the avoiding. Instead of focusing on the obstacle you want to miss, concentrate on where you want to go. Additionally, you don’t always need to avoid rocks. Just because there is a rock in the middle of your path doesn’t mean it’s a bad line. Finally, if you are in unknown terrain and don’t know what the exit is like, position yourself wide. That way, you have more options.

Give Competitors Some Space

If there is a rider in front of you, give them some space before you enter a technical section. If they make a mistake and get off their bike, there is less of a chance that you will be forced off your bike too. With enough space, you should have room to make an attempt at riding the technical section yourself.

During Rock Gardens

When you’re riding through the technical section, try and get your line adjustment done early. Every change you make bleeds speed. Bunch your pivot and reset at the beginning, and you’ll reduce the need for further adjustments. This will help you keep a straight line which should result in a faster time.


Climbing through rock gardens is difficult because gravity is working against you. While giving some space to the rider in front of you, make sure to keep your speed up. While on the climb, ratchet the drivetrain as needed. If your line goes over a rock or obstacle, unweight your front wheel. Doing this helps direct your momentum over the obstacle instead of through it.


You worked hard on the climb. Now it’s time to let the course give back. Bunching your adjustments at the beginning is crucial when you are descending. Going downhill is all about building momentum. Each pull of the brakes and change of line slows you down and restarts the momentum-building process. So let gravity work for you and start gaining speed as soon as possible.

When you’re faced with a technical rock garden in your next race, try to think outside the race. Take the lines that work for you, maintain your speed, and increase your chances for success. You can learn more from Keegan Swenson from his interview on the Ask A Cycling Coach podcast.

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