When it comes to Brevard County Parks the Grapefruit Trail (GFT) is a hidden gem for local mountain bikers. If you are new to MTB or a new GFT rider here are some must do tips from seasoned GFT riders to keep you rolling strong and fast.
The following top 10 mountain biking tips for the Grapefruit Trail were collected from some of the top riders on the GFT. These are the guys and girls that are "going big" and making it look easy.
1. Standup!Most of the features at the GFT are best handled in a standing neutral "attack position." While standing with your weight on the bottom bracket, the load is pressing down into the middle of the bike making everything more stable and allowing you to react quickly as the trail demands. Ride on the balls of your feet for the best balance and control. Keep your knees and elbows bent, your head over the stem, and your back at a 45-degree angle to the ground. In this position, your legs act as suspension more than the actual bike's suspension. Let the bike move around. Mike says to “Remember you are riding the bike; you are not being taken for a ride by the bike!”
Photo: Michael Blinne is preparing to hit an obstacle. Mike is standing in a good "attack position" that will allow him to react quickly! From this position Mike can shift his weight forward, backward, and side to side as needed.
2. Learn Proper Foot PositionsWhether in the standing attack position (as discussed above) or when seated and not pedaling you want to keep your feet in a neutral position at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock position and your dominant foot forward. This neutral position is good for cruising, jumping, going through rollers and g-outs, going over obstacles like logs and roots, and cornering. When cornering, the inside foot should be up and the outside foot should be down with most of your weight on that outside foot. This transfers weight down into the edge of the tires, improves traction, and helps rail the corners. Be careful when a foot is down as it can hit trail obstructions.
Photo: Here you see Nick Maldonado with the outside foot down and weighted as he rails the bottom turn after the Moto Jump at the GFT West Endies loop. Also, note how Nick is looking ahead at where he wants the bike to go with his fingers feathering the brakes (more on these later).
3. Lower Your SeatYou’re standing all the time anyway, why not? On technical trails like the GFT, lower your seat to allow the bike to move freely between your legs while you negotiate obstacles. Especially when doing drops and jumps you need to be able to move the bike forward, backward, and from side to side under your body. There’s nothing worse than getting hit in the butt by your bicycle seat as you try to move the bike around on a difficult section. When jumping you want plenty of room to move the bike as Jamie Freese is doing in this photo from the Moto Jump at the GFT West Endies.
Photo: In this shot, Jamie Freese's low seat position allows plenty of room to move the bike around as she launches off the Moto Jump.
4. Look Where You Want to Go (not where you don't want to go)It's easy for new riders to get fixated on their front tire and not look ahead at what's coming. While the GFT has great flow, there are a lot of features packed into this one to two-mile treasure. Look ahead at the next obstacle, not the one you are currently overtaking. Looking ahead gives you time to plan, time to pick you line for entry, and time to set up for the obstacle. Once you have prepared and set up for the coming obstacle, start looking ahead and preparing for the next. In Nick's photo above notice how his eyes are not looking at his tire or the berm he is riding, but are focused on the trail ahead to get ready for what's next. "Quit staring" - did mom ever tell you that?! If you stare at an obstruction on the trail and think “I sure hope I don’t hit that," chances are you'll hit it! Instead of looking at that stump, rock, or hole on the side of the trail look down the trail where you want the bike to go. The picture to the right shows a small washout on a section of trail. You really don't want to know what would happen if a tire hit the washout! Don't stare at the obstacle you want to avoid, instead look ahead and down the center of the trail, the place you want to go, and start planning for the upcoming corner.
5. Maintain SpeedThe GFT is a “momentum trail” with nice flowy lines that allow riders to get into the rhythm of the ride. There are several g-outs, banked turns, tables, doubles, drops, and rollers that are best ridden in a smooth non-stop fashion. Momentum is especially important in the many g-outs at the GFT. Many of these g-outs have climbs that are too steep to pedal up anyway so learn the value of momentum. Look ahead at the g-out, plan your entry line, get into a comfortable neutral standing attack position, and let the bike flow into the downhill. Stay off the brakes, feel the G's at the bottom, and let your momentum carry you up the other side. The drop by the Kiosk with the wooden bridge at the bottom is a great example of this. Another point to learn in maintaining speed is being in the right gear. Sometimes you need to shift into a lower gear to make a climb, but try to be in a high enough gear that when you are pedaling so that there is resistance. If you pedal forward and the gear is too easy you end up pedaling with a fast jerky movement. For any given portion of the trail, you should be in a gear that offers enough resistance so you can balance and be supported on the forward down stroke. If the gear is to easy your foot will travel forward and down quickly. When this happens the body follows and throws a lot of force to the front of the bike making handling twitchy and throwing you out of the attack position.
6. Don’t Break It!On a momentum trail like the GFT you want to limit the use of your brakes to maintain speed and flow, but understanding proper brake techniques is essential to safe successful riding on the GFT. You may have heard someone warning you or others to limit front braking to prevent an endo. No! You need both brakes to safely and successfully control the bike.
Top GFT riders are generally using as much or more front brake as they are rear brake. A couple things to keep in mind in proper braking are: Don’t grab a big “handful” of brake. Use one or two fingers on the brake lever, rather than the whole hand, to modulate the brakes. Use both front and rear brakes for proper control. Adjust the brake lever position to allow you to ride comfortably with one or two fingers on the brakes. This usually involves moving the brake levers more inboard on the handlebars.
Photo: As Jason Stroble clears this table top, you can see the index finger on the left hand poised on the front brake lever ready to feather the brake after landing if needed. Also, note his proper use of the attack stance. Standing, feet neutral in the 3 and 9 o’clock position, arms and legs slightly bent to act as shock absorbers on landing. Good form all around here!
7. Protect the Mellon, and Other PartsThe City of Palm Bay requires all riders on the GFT to wear a helmet, but that's not the main reason to wear a helmet. There are lots of places to get hurt on an advanced trail like the GFT. If you ride often enough, you will fall! If you fall enough, you will hit your head! If you hit your head enough, you will die! Damn – that’s simple enough for me! Consider other protective gear like shin guards. Look at the shins of a few riders on the GFT and you’ll see plenty of reasons for shin guards. Michael Blinne, who loves to go big, says, “I never ride flats without shin guards… I have reached my quota of scars and dents!"
You don't have to spend a fortune on a helmet. Even the basic helmets sold for cycling are certified.
8. Pump It Up!The GFT is a little different than the cross-country (XC) trails in the area. On a lot of XC trails a lower tire pressure is the order of the day. The GFT doesn't have a lot of sugar sand. Most of the features of the GFT are best ridden with a higher pressure. Taking a lesson from the BMXers and dirt jumpers the harder tires allow to you roll faster on the well-groomed trails at the GFT. Nick Maldonado likes to keep the tires on his Corsair between 45 and 55 psi while Shawn Bilslend over at the dirt jumps runs the tires on his DJ at 70 psi.
Photo: Shawn says the ride is a little harsher with the hard tires, but it provides better control on these nicely groomed trail features.
9. Ride with Confidence by Learning Key Basic SkillsIn general when riding the GFT, don’t fear the reaper! Ride with confidence. The second you think “I’m gonna wreck”, then you probably will. Full details on some critical skills needed on the GFT are too detailed to cover in this short tips article. There are lots of excellent tutorials on these topics and we will be developing GFT specific versions of these in the near future. Some good skills to start work on immediately are: Learn to Bunny Hop - Getting both wheels off the ground, the Bunny Hop is an essential skill that is fundamental to completing the more advanced features at the GFT. Learn to Manual - Driving hard to bring the front wheel up for a short period of time is a key skill. It’s part of the bunny hop, and useful in many other places on the obstacles at the GFT. Learn to Pump - Pumping allows you to gain speed and momentum on elevation changes on the trail. All the successful jumpers at the GFT pump all they can out of the trail. Don’t be afraid to jump. The ramps on many GFT features will throw you into a natural jump. Go with it, get your butt off the seat and back a little, keep your head up, and it all works out.
10. Respect the trail – No Dig, No Ride!A trail like the GFT didn’t happen by accident. BMBA members have spent thousands of volunteer hours building and maintaining the trail. Come out to a BMBA work day on the third Saturday of each month and meet the BMBA team, details can be found on our calendar of upcoming events. You can help maintain this great trail system and learn a little about how the trail is built and maintained. Learning to work the trail will help you understand it better, and help you ride better! Don't modify the trail. If you see broken branches or downed tree limbs feel free to move them off the trail. If you see other issues with the dirt or shape of the trail that can't be fixed with simple stomp of the foot contact the BMBA team and we'll get one of our expert builders to look at the problem.
Photo: Murray Hann, one of the original riders at the GFT, believes in “no work, no ride”. From the looks of this picture, I’d say it looks like Mur deserves a ride!.