Most people have a fear of falling from great heights, and dirt riders are not immune. For many, big, steep downhills are cause for a death grip on the handlebar, locked-up tires that skid out of control and nightmares that jolt the poor pilot from fitful sleep.Fortunately, Honda's Johnny Campbell has some advice that may work better than a trip to your therapist. The off-road hero, with six consecutive Baja 1000 wins (1997 to 2002) and a phone book-thick resume of other victories and championships, has dealt with just this type of obstacle plenty of times. Thus, he's developed a method that you should be able to use in order to conquer your fear of tackling just such downhills.Be careful, of course, and don't ride over your head--literally and figuratively. But if you practice Campbell's methods, you're sure to feel a lot more confident the next time you look at what appears to be an impossible descent down a serpentine trail laced with ruts, loose rocks and other nastiness.A. A view from the top reveals a rain rut on the inside of the first bend and plenty of loose rocks that are guaranteed to harbor little traction when your tires hit them and they roll away. "On a rocky downhill you really need to be focused on staying away from the ruts or any rocks that are going to take you out, such as a bigger, rolling rock," Campbell says.
B. "On this downhill, there are a couple of lines you could take. At the top I would be on the outside. I try to ride on the edge of the trail at the top and the bottom." As you can see, Campbell doesn't maintain an exaggerated rearward posture; he's actually fairly neutral. "You don't want to be too far forward because that puts too much weight on the front end, which already has a lot of weight since we're going downhill," he notes. He stands to maintain the most control and be able to react instantly should the bike dart suddenly off his chosen path. He also lets the bike roll down the hill in second or third gear--first would tend to yield too much engine- or compression braking and possibly skid the rear tire--and controls speed with both brakes. (A purely dirt downhill would permit use of a lower gear without as much fear of skidding the rear tire.) Campbell also advises keeping a finger on the clutch and brake levers, again to react instantly: "You have to be ready to pull in your clutch if starts locking up because you don't want to kill your engine. If you kill your engine, then you're fighting a rear tire that's locked up, which you don't want to do on a loose downhill."
C. After riding around the first bend in the trail, Campbell aims down the rest of the hill. Notice that he's on the edge of the trail farthest from the rain rut, where the loose rocks have been scrubbed away by other riders. If you do happen to blunder into the rut and the rocks, don't panic. Campbell explains, "If you get into the loose rocks, you definitely don't want to use your brakes--or use them as little as possible--because you have very little or no traction. If you use your brakes, it's possible you could wash out your front end and fall down. Another thing that's going to happen is you will be forced to the low part of the trail, which will push you into the rut; and if you get into the rut, you kind of have to sit on the seat, stick your legs out and ride it out for safety."
D. Farther down the hill, the trail changes--as does Campbell's line. "There's one transition section where the rain rut is on a bit of a flatter section of the downhill, so the rut's not as big and the rocks aren't as big. So I come down on the left hill and instead of staying on the left--because the second part of the hill has a big washout and rut on the left--I cross over and use the so-called ragged edge of the trail because it's smoother and not as beat in and washed out as the rest of the trail. The main trail looks as if it got a lot of rain and the rocks are really loose, so I stay a little on the high part. the loose rocks have been knocked down into the rut or onto the trail, so I tend to ride the edges and the high spots because that tends to be the spot that's the safest; you have the most braking control and the least amount of loose rocks and spinning. You have more braking control because there's more dirt and less loose rock. You need to avoid the loose rocks if possible and avoid the ruts."