Pro Riding Tip—Climbing Hills With Evan Smith

Evan Smith explains everything you need to know about getting to the top!

National Enduro ace Evan Smith finished third overall in the 2019 Kenda AMA National Enduro Series championship point standings behind the dominating Baylor brothers, Steward and Grant. Smith is one of the smoothest riders on the circuit and he likes to sit down a lot, which is unusual in the tight woods. Smith is also particularly good at hill climbs, and the final round of the 2019 National Enduro Series in Alabama featured a particularly nasty hill climb, so we asked him to talk us through his ride up it.

Please note that while Smith describes five steps for this hill climb riding tip, the first is not shown in a corresponding image, and the following four reference the photo above them.

“Coming into a hill, especially in an enduro where you don’t know what’s coming, the first thing is to just look to see if there’s anybody stuck on the hill, or if there are any obstacles or anything in the way,” Smith began. “Then obviously if there’s somebody in one line, you’ve got to eliminate that one and start looking for others. From there, just kind of look for the smoothest, flattest route to the top. If you see any kind of big rocks or roots or anything in the way, try to stay away from those.”

According to National Enduro rider Evan Smith, staying out of ruts and on fresh trail can help you carry more speed when climbing hills.
According to National Enduro rider Evan Smith, staying out of ruts and on fresh trail can help you carry more speed when climbing hills.Shan Moore

“There’s a deep rut that [is S-shaped] in the main line. When I came out of the corner at the bottom, I saw that it went all the way up the hill. In that case, I come out of the corner early so I can get in the fresh stuff and kind of jump from one side of fresh trail to the other over the rut; that way you’re not at the mercy of the rut. I feel like you can carry the best speed that way. The rut is going to unsettle the bike, so you’re going to have to wrestle it on your way up, and it’s more of a risk; when you’re on flat ground it’s a little more stable. I’m really kind of a sit-down rider. A lot of people might stand up on something like this, but I feel more in control of my bike when I’m sitting, so obviously I sit down on anything like this. If it’s steep, there’s a possibility of getting stuck on it, so you want to carry as much speed to the top as you can. If you carry too much speed, it’s always easy to let off, scrub the speed, and do whatever you have to do at the top. But it’s harder to gain speed while climbing it. You always want to carry as much speed into it as possible and stay as smooth as you can.”

Smith advises keeping your throttle at about three-quarters of the way open when hill climbing to reduce wheelspin, and for the benefit of having more throttle to use in case you need it, such as when confronted with a sudden obstacle.
Smith advises keeping your throttle at about three-quarters of the way open when hill climbing to reduce wheelspin, and for the benefit of having more throttle to use in case you need it, such as when confronted with a sudden obstacle.Shan Moore

“Coming into this hill, I’d say I’m about three-quarters throttle,” Smith noted. “If you’re revved out all the way, your rear tire is going to be spinning or sliding. In which case, you just have less control of your bike, and it’s all wound up and everything. So if you can stay at about three-quarters of your throttle pull, your bike is going to work a little better; it’s going to track straighter. Also, if there’s a root or anything you need to get more speed to ride over, you have some more throttle to play with. You definitely want to be in the meat of the power coming up a hill rather than already revved all the way out.”

Keeping your body position centered, having one finger on the clutch at all times, and selecting the correct gear are important tips for maintaining traction and momentum when riding up hills.
Keeping your body position centered, having one finger on the clutch at all times, and selecting the correct gear are important tips for maintaining traction and momentum when riding up hills.Shan Moore

“I chose third gear for this hill and I always have one finger on the clutch at all times; you can keep the revs up that way,” Smith explained. “I’m really good about if I am to break traction and start sliding sideways or something, I’ll pull the clutch in rather than let off the throttle. I try to stay in one spot on the seat as best I can up any kind of hill because if you’re moving around or sliding back, you’re going to start wheelying more. If you’re trying to move yourself forward on the seat, you’re going to spin more. So I like to stay centered on the bike unless I need to maneuver in some way to get over anything. It would be hard to advise one gear for everything, but I would say third is what you’re going to use probably 70 percent of the time. At least with the gearing that I run, third gear is a good choice, but everybody’s bike is going to be different. Unless your bike is geared really tall, second gear is usually going to be revved out too much. [If I were to use] fourth gear on my bike up this hill, it would kind of bog down [being that] it’s a 250. You’ve got to judge [what gear to be in] off the [bike’s] power and how it sounds.”

Weighting the footpegs by keeping your feet on them helps the bike get as much traction as possible.
Weighting the footpegs by keeping your feet on them helps the bike get as much traction as possible.Shan Moore

“You always want to have pressure on the footpegs—both pegs if possible” Smith concluded. “Then just push both feet down on the pegs as hard as you can to try to push the rear tire into the ground to get as much traction as possible. Also, I’m sitting down all the way up this hill, but if I started spinning, that’s probably when I would stand up.”