by The Gonterian
Imagine for a minute that you're listening to a fast-talking TV salesman. They're always trying to sell you on the latest thing:
"New for Summer 2005: REVERSE! Catch up with the Joneses with this latest advance in fixed-gear trail-riding. You too can learn these skills! Seriously. Not only is it possible for a good intermediate rider to learn, but it's healthy, fun, and useful too. With just a small regular commitment of 30 minutes just three times a week you can get reverse skills too. No trail fixer's arsenal of skills is complete without it. This is not like your other fad crash-diet training programs. This is a tested, tried and true program that will get you results quickly. In less than thirty days, you'll be trackstanding, looping, and 3-pointing with the best. Some people even learn to ride reverse in a straight line (advanced training required). Don't wait, start your training now with an exclusive training guide from 63xc.com."
Reverse, on dirt, on fixed?
Why would anyone want to learn reverse? Can the average fixed gear trail rider learn this skill? Is it worth the trouble to learn?
All worthy questions.
I didn't really think that a "maturing" rider with my carbon-dating profile would be able to learn reverse. Most of the people I'd seen doing reverse were flatland and street BMXers and couriers on track bikes. They all look young and fit and have plenty of time to practice. They make it look easy. After reviewing some videos on oldskooltrack.com, I decided that I was going to try to learn anyway.
I think reverse is an important technique to have in order to keep yourself on your bike. I really want to ride everything. I'd come across a few situations in trail riding when I thought it would be really great to be able to back up and make a 3-point turn, like when you make a go the wrong way at a fork in the trail.
Another reason I wanted to learn this was because of some guy named June from NYC, on a shiny GT track bike. I saw this video clip: he rolls up near the curb and stalls. Easy, with a little rollback, he leans forward. Then, before you know it he just keeps going around backwards in a loop. I just hadn't seen it done like that. I was fixed in single gear dreamland. He does the loop right in traffic in front of some parked car with moving traffic going by. Great concentration. He made it look so simple, naturally. After seeing that video I was sure I could learn to do at least a reverse 360.
How was I going to learn how? There aren't any couriers here in Burlington, Vermont. And though there are many fixers, I don't know them all, and none that I knew dabble in reverse. There was only one choice. Learn by doing was my only option. Join me now...
Fixed Gear Training: Lesson 1
To learn reverse, start on pavement, concrete or some smooth surface. Vacant parking lots are great. Dead flat is ideal, but a slight incline is OK, as long as the slope is constant.
I took the trackstand as my starting point. If you're not trackstanding well yet, work on that. You will not succeed in reversing without it. Well, possibly, but not likely. Besides, trackstands can be used to impress your friends and total strangers alike. They're relaxing, and they really "wake up" your balance, too.
I begin by gently rocking forward, then backward, then forward, then back. Ideally, I get to the point of being still, but rocking back and forth in my "imagination". Then I pedal a few forward loops, trying to loosen up. My routine is to stand for five minutes, then try to reverse-loop out.
The fact that you start on a loop is important, because it means you can more or less maintain the angle of the bars from your trackstand. That way you concentrate on your legs, not your arms. You'll quickly discover that you can control your balance when your crank arms are at 3 and 9 o'clock. However, when at 12 and 6 you have none. So the key is to get the confidence to pedal through the hi-lo 12/6 o'clock spot and get to the next control point. It took me about 6 or 7 sessions before I could manage a whole 360° pedal rotation. Be patient. I often don't nail it first time, even after months of practice.
With my 46x18 on my commuter-shredder, a fairly tight reverse loop requires that I pedal about one full revolution of the cranks, which means passing through the hi-lo deadpoint twice. Just like going forwards, the key is to keep your speed steady. Don't rush! Consistent balance and speed is the key to maintaining your balance. It took me about three sessions before I came close to a full loop and about two weeks before I was doing it well enough to get it nailed for the camera.
Work on smooth surfaces until you gain some confidence, then move on to dirt and grass. Finally, when you know you're ready, unleash your new skills on the trail. I spent about a half hour riding down a steep grassy hill yesterday making half-moon shapes as I carved into the fall line of the hill, then reversed out and down, over and over. My training is really starting to pay off. Great fun.
Reverse is one more potential technical riding tool you gain on fixed. And it works great in the dirt. I believe strongly that a good solid rider can learn to reverse. Keep in mind that I'm able to ride in circles and do some three-point turns, but I couldn't ride in a straight line in reverse for anything. I'm working on that. But you don't need to go straight. Just enough to change directions or loop is enough to keep you laughing and keep you on your bike, pedaling: where you want to be.
OK, you have your first basic lesson. Start out with motivation, enthusiasm and patience. You will succeed. I'll continue to refine the technique. Part II of your reverse training guide will be ready in time for the next issue of www.63xc.com. I'll also be able to report on the cutting edge reverse skills I'm developing as we speak. I can't tell you what they are at the moment. You'll have to come back this winter.
Over and Out.