Atyrau steppe biking is technically uninteresting.
Atyrau steppe biking is like road biking, just without the tarmac.
Atyrau steppe biking presents no technical challenges.
Yes – it has all been heard.
So what riding skills does a good biker require to get around with confidence in the steppe?
That is what this blog tries to cover a little.
Focal vision versus ambient vision. This is about being deliberate in looking far enough ahead, spotting object/obstacles (or features?) far ahead with focal vision, and letting ambient vision take over as you near them and the brain has already processed the information on the object.
BikeRadar has a nice story on this.
In Atyrau the terrain is generally featureless so we easily tend to forget about this. Therefor even more so than in more varied terrain elsewhere, riders can benefit greatly from applying good vision on the track.
The trick is to deliberately remind yourself upfront of a ride to think about looking technique, as it seems soo obvious.
This makes the single most important aspect to master when riding in the steppe or anywhere else.
Bike radar has a nice, yet general article about rider position.
What follows here is the same, but a bit more specifically elaborated towards the Kazakh steppe.
Straight arms vs. bent arms
Most of us tend to ride the steppe as if we are on the road, simply because we think we can permit ourselves this, featureless as the steppe may seem.
That means that most feel comfortable with keeping their arms stretched, and leaning with quite a bit of weight on them, as we would happily do on the road.
When the soil suddenly changes ahead of us and turns to a patch of soft sand, this is the single biggest cause for the infamous endo’s (end over end), that we very regularly witness on our steppe rides.
Why does this happen? Well, our bodies are the best suspension technology on the bike. It is not the bike suspension or tyre pressure. The combination of a perhaps poorly tuned front fork and a locked-out fully straightened set of arms, causes the sudden move of the frontwheel to be passed on to the rider. When the rider is too static and has much weigth on the front, and when the rear wheel hits the soft sand the bike will simply “kick back” and throw you over the handle bars!
What to do about this? Simply ensure that at all times, your arms are not locked out and are slightly bent, either sideways or downwards. This will ensure that any bumps of the bike can be absorbed by your arms and do not get propagated to the core section of the body, causing it to wobble, or worse, fly!
Thumbs over instead of under handlebars
For most riders this is a no-brainer: Most grip the handlebars by pinching with the thumbs under the handlebars. No doing so dramatically decreases control over the bars in case of bumpiness and will consequentially dramatically increase chances of crashing.
Saddle height: legs at-ease
The amount of stretching one leg when turning a pedal is heavily subjective: What is comfortable for one person, may be totally unridable for another.
The general starting point is to position a leg with the heel of a foot on the pedal with the pedal at the lowest end and not to have the knee fully stretched.
Overstretching can cause serious long-term injuries on ligaments and tendons for example.
Know your brakes! Know how much pressure to apply to brake a lot or a little. Sounds like an open door? Don’t be surprised by the amount of people that don’t know and have never tested the stopping power of their brakes. And when needed, have bad consequences, such as endo’s or folded front wheels. This happens in Atyrau.
Single finger braking
In All terrain biking in close groups together, it is crucial to be able to brake quickly. This means get comfortable with the habit of always have fingers on the front- and rear brake levers. This saves you crucial time trying to avoid bumping into someone who is struggling closely in front of you.
A nice article on the fundamentals of braking is available.
Dealing with soft sand
Soft sand is most often considered as an obstacle, rather than a feature making the otherwise less feature-full steppe terrain more interesting!
The following approach works generally well and avoids being taken by surprise.
Patches of soft sand in the steppe around Atyrau generally are not very long. When you observe a patch of soft sand try to identify where the end of the soft patch is; it helps you to gauge the scale of the additional effort required.
Then before you enter the soft sand switch to a lower gear and increase your pedaling cadence.
Upon entry of the soft sand, relax and make yourself light by lifting your rear slightly off the saddle and make sure you have your weight distribute evenly and that you do not have too much weight on the front.
This mode of ‘attack’ will make it significantly easier to get through the soft sand.
Alternatively, get yourself a fat bike and ignore the surface under your wheels! On the flipside do not expect to ever exceed speeds of 30 km/h!
Group riding in the steppe
This combines the requirement of looking ahead properly and being ready to brake at all times.
When riding in a larger group in the steppe, it may feel like riding in a small peloton. Especially when the wind is helping us (not, is it ever?) we tend to want to ride close together. How should we be doing this properly?
Firstly, look ahead. Don’t like at the back wheel of the rider in front of you, rather try to look ‘through’ the rider in front of you, even if you don’t have an unobstructed view.
Be ready to break if you are closely behind the rider in front of you. See ‘Single finger braking’ suggestion.