JONNY WALKER – TOP TIPS FOR MASTERING ENDURO ROCK GARDENS
Rock gardens are commonplace on every extreme enduro prologue and SuperEnduro course. The unpredictable sea of rocks with their many hidden dangers are designed to keep riders on their toes and are technically demanding to repeatedly get right.
Throughout his career, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Jonny Walker has proven to be a master of rock garden riding both indoors, at the SuperEnduro World Championship, and outside at events like the infamous Red Bull Romaniacs prologue.
Leaving no stone unturned, the KTM extreme enduro star offers some helpful tips on how any rider can improve their confidence and tackle rock gardens.
Take a walk
“It’s really important to study a track when you walk it. For rock gardens, pick a line that is the smoothest and has the least number of holes. Always try to have a preferred line and two or three additional lines worked out. This gives you options if your main line becomes blocked. Walk the section a few times so you know every rock and every pitfall.”
Arrive slow and accelerate
“On entry, arrive slow and accelerate through the rocks. Don’t hit the section too fast and then try to brake or slow down. If you enter like that you make the bike unbalanced when reducing your speed. Using the ‘approach slow but accelerate through’ method – with a relaxed, central body position – this will allow the bike to remain stable. The front wheel will also stay light and therefore not hit the holes.”
Bend your knees
“Standing up is always better than sitting down. That’s the first bit to remember. You need to bend your knees and elbows and move your body weight back, but only just behind the central position of the bike. This helps to keep weight off your front wheel. Lean too far back and you have a loss of control, too far forward and you drop the front wheel.”
“I stand more on my toes than the arch of my foot. This lets me drop my heel for both balance and weighting of the bike. You’ll need to be ready to take your feet off the pegs, to steady yourself, from time to time. Put your foot down as lightly as possible – don’t put your foot down so hard and then push even harder as you’ll then need to steady yourself with your other foot. This wastes energy, and massively unsettles your balance”
Prevent whiskey throttle
“I always ride through rock gardens in a high gear – usually third gear on my KTM 300 EXC TPI. A low gear will encourage the engine to rev harder, hit the peak of the power too easily and create wheel spin. This creates risk by unsettling the bike. A high gear will help stop any whiskey throttle moments.”
“It’s not so much about staying loose on the bike but relaxed. You need to stand with a firm grip of the bike between your legs and knees, but if something starts to go wrong open your legs. It allows the bike to move underneath you and lets you move your body to counterbalance the bike. Always look ahead and try not to worry too much about what is directly in front of your front wheel.”
When to wait vs when to push forward
“It’s almost guaranteed that at some point a track will be blocked by riders. Until you’re in that situation it’s impossible to decide whether to hang back or push through. If my preferred line is blocked, I’ll look to my second and third options. Sometimes it pays off to wait a few seconds until the main line clears, sometimes it doesn’t. Over time experience will help you make those split second decisions.”
Practice is vital
“As with everything, practice is so, so important. You need to work on sections like this outside of racing. That way you will improve your bike handling skills and develop as a rider. It’s great if you’re lucky enough to have a rock garden at your local track, but there are always lots of natural rock gardens out on the trails to practice on. Repeat the section until you can do it five times in a row perfectly, this way you will become more comfortable with the approach, speed and body position.”