When I’m at the races, the key to riding any track fast is to first find my lines.
Generally, I start with a track walk the day
before practice begins. I don’t attempt
to figure out every detail. I just want to
see the general flow and make a mental
checklist of which sections will need more
attention once practice begins. I also look
for any surprise dangers that could quickly
sneak up on me during my first run; for
example, a sharp, right-hand turn on the
backside of a blind crest, or a big rock
near the landing of a jump. To help me
remember each section more accurately,
I’ll take photos with my phone, and then
look back through the photos a few times
Once practice begins, I usually start
out with an easy, slow run. I just want to get
a feel for my bike, the dirt, the general flow
of the track, etc. I don’t worry about hitting
the more difficult lines. I just want to make
it down safe and easy at a pace where I can
see everything again. After the first run I
begin the process of figuring out the more
technical sections. I’ll stop at each section,
study the possibilities and decide on the best
options for me. After deciding on a line, I’ll
then push back up the trail and ride the line
immediately while it’s fresh in my mind. If I
mess it up, I’ll usually push back up and try
it again. If you are less experienced, this pro-
cess can take a few days, so don’t feel like
you need to figure out every line on your sec-
ond run. Although, the quicker you can dial
them in, the faster you will get up to speed.
Developing an eye for good lines takes
time, but as with anything, you can become
skilled if you put forth the effort. A good
starting point is to watch the faster riders.
Watch the lines they choose, and then
ask yourself, why did they go there? Was
it smoother, straighter, easier, harder?
Obviously, you should ride within your
abilities, so if the fastest line requires risk
that you’re not comfortable with, then you
will have to figure out the next best option.
Oftentimes, though, in a technical section,
the fastest line is the easiest line; most peo-
ple just don’t see it.
When I watch practice sessions, especially
at an amateur race, I am often amazed at
how little attention goes into line selection.
I’ll watch 30 guys in a row smash through
the main line of braking bumps when there is
a perfectly smooth line 6 inches to the right.
Or, how a series of S-turns can be complete-
ly straightened out by setting up the entrance
a little differently. There is literally free time
just sitting there, requiring less effort, but
nobody stops to actually see it. Never just
trust the main line; study what is around it
before deciding. That goes for every section
on the track, not just the more difficult ones.
I always say that a racetrack is like a
puzzle, and each section of the track is like
a piece of that puzzle. During a race run,
I am just simply putting all of the pieces
together. I have a game plan when entering
each section. I know where I want to go, and
that becomes the focus from top to bottom
during my run. It’s easy for your mind to
wander during a race run. If you can focus
it on hitting your lines and not on “this is a
race run and I need to go fast,” you will see
the rewards in your race results. This process of good line selection takes effort and
a little time, but be patient, because you can
become skilled at it!
YT’S AARON GWIN
By the end of 2016
Aaron Gwin had won
16 World Cup downhill
races during his career
and four year-end titles.
He is also a seven-time