How to tell if you can tackle hazardous MTB course features?

There is an artificial rock garden at my local MTB course. I know I can safely ride across it on my XC hardtail. I suspect it might be possible to clear it lengthwise with sufficient momentum and commitment, but it’s clear that crashing would result in serious injuries.

I also suspect that trying to slowly ride it “trial-style” would end with a bruised butt, at the very least.

I’m not even sure if it’s meant to be cleared on an XC hardtail.

Are there any good guidelines for what can be ridden safely on a given bike or with a given skill level?


Not really any guidelines, as the biggest factor is the rider.

Over the pst 4 years, I have ridden increasingly difficult trails and features on the same bike (Trek Fuel) and gotten significantly better. It’s all about practice to learn necessary skills to negotiate technical trails, and gain confidence (and judgement!) on what you can safely ride.

On your local rock garden, when you say “clear it lengthwise”, I assume you mean ride it on its long dimension as opposed to jump it.

In all likelihood, there is a preferred line or two that is rideable (assuming it was to designed to be rideable in that direction). So it becomes a question of finding the right line. Momentum can help, but better to find the right line vs relying just on momentum.

Plus of course skills like balance, knowing how/when to weight and unweight the front and rear wheels to prevent them from getting hung up, ratcheting to prevent pedal strikes, etc…


Depending on the course you are riding you can go across it (easy) or along it (sketchy).

I have seen pictures of people tackling it on hardtails, but it’s not clear how. It looks much easier in pictures than real life…

This. It’s what an entire Friday’s practice of DH weekends look like. Have a look what works and what doesn’t for other riders, then try for yourself. Be precise, you are looking for a defined path (“line”) that lets you get through relatively quick and unharmed. Nothing wrong with sessioning a tricky section several times until you feel comfortable. Going fast with full commitment is usually a much safer bet than awkwardly creeping through the technical bits.


As previously mentioned, stick around and watch when there are others riding it and ask them for tips! Also read up on trail features & tips on TrailForksI. If I’m traveling to new trails and its designated blue/intermediate to black/expert I’ll take it easy and let buddies go first to see what line they ride.

I live very close to the course, and I’m usually the only person there unless it’s on a three-day weekend or before a race.

I found some videos of people tackling this feature online, and I think I could probably handle it.

I’ve never seen anyone do it in person. Also, a friend of mine busted his ass on it a while back.

Do you mean you can ride across it width ways, but not lengthwise?

There’s no rule for what can and can’t be taken on any given bike, as others have said it’s 90% rider.

I would also echo the comments about commitment and being lead in. Rock Gardens in particular seem to really reward committment (or more penalise a lack of commitment), and following someone else in can really help for finding the right speed and line, even if it’s by accident the first time. Once you’ve ridden it you’ll have greater confidence to pick your own way through.

I’ve never tried it lengthwise. I’ll try it next time. Based on the video I have found, it’ll probably be a lot easier than I think as long as I don’t slow down too much.

Come to think of it, I think I may have already cleared it once. I misrembered where the entrance was, which made me think you had to hop over a big rock at first. But actually you can just roll into and over the rock garden with proper form.

Better riders can actually turn on top of the rocks to get a better exit. I just went straight across them as it was easier.

In general, there is always someone who can handle a feature that you think is impossible. Whether or not you can is a different story.

If there is a feature you are unsure about, practice on other similar, less difficult features. Learn how to hit them in different ways at different speeds. Eventually a rock garden you thought was too difficult will suddenly have an obvious line through,even if that means clearing it.

Rarely will there every be an obstacle a hardtail can’t handle. In some cases the full suspension bikes handle them faster and/or easier, but the hardtail is the limiting factor. I’ve sent things on my XC hardtail without a dropper that I have seen people on full Enduro bikes ride around (my main bike is a 170mm).