How To Tackle Trail Obstacles At Speed-June’99

Pennsylvania’s Barry Hawk has been the undisputed king of the ATV cross-country racing world for the past six seasons. His points championships and dozens of overall race wins can mean only one thing?he knows how to tackle the toughest obstacles nature can throw at him.

We sat down with Barry just before the first AMA Grand National Cross Country event in Florida and asked him to fill us in on his riding secrets.

Hillclimbs: “Momentum is the main thing for hillclimbs. Don?t square off the corner before the hill, but rather rail around with a lot of momentum. Choose a line with the least resistance and always look ahead to see if anyone might be in the way. When you?re walking the track before the event, look carefully for rocks and stumps on the hill that you may not be able to see in time. While climbing, keep your weight forward but don?t stand up with your legs locked?you won?t get good traction that way, especially if you?re leaning over the bars. At that point, the hill may already have you beat. When climbing, I always keep a finger on the clutch. I?d rather slip the clutch than downshift?there?s too much of a chance of hitting neutral or false neutral and then it?s all over. Of course, if you aren?t going to make it up and you start rolling backwards, don?t hit the rear brake! Hit both brakes hard as soon as you know you aren?t going to make it and then figure out a way back down.”

Rocks: “Of course, the thing to worry about with rocks is getting flats. It seems to me, though, you don?t get flats where you think you would on the track (where there?s big rocks). If the rocks are about half the size of the height of the tire, I try to run ?em over just to the left of the center of the quad ?cause the brake skid on the right is the lowest point. If you can, though, avoid the big rocks completely. If I am going to hit some rocks or ledges, I can slip the clutch right before impact to get the front end light. You can also use body english to ?lighten? that part of the quad?say, for example, if you?re going to hit with the right front, jerk up on the right handlebar and put your weight back on the left rear right on impact.”

Ruts and holes: “To tackle these obstacles, I like to wheelie over them and let the rear suspension handle the hit. Like the rocks, if you?re going to hit the hole or rut on the right side of the quad, throw your weight to left when you hit it at just the right time. If you?re going fast enough you can just skim over holes. If the rut or hole is too big, jam on the brakes right before you hit it, then let off and roll down it. Don?t hit big holes with the brakes on or you?ll be in for a rough ride!”

Tight woods: “When you?re shooting between two trees that are just wide enough for your quad, don?t look at both of them. Pick one and put your front tire as close as possible to it and you won?t have to worry about the other tree. I rarely try to ride tight trails dead center, but rather concentrate on one side. For tight woods I use low gears and slip the clutch to slice and dice through tight trees. I like to brakeslide down tight trails since that allows me to stay on the gas and keep the revs up.”

Water: “If it?s a hard bottom, there?s no need to fly through it because you?ll just end up getting your gloves and goggles wet. Take the creek crossings just fast enough to stay dry. Keep your weight to the middle of the quad, but not too far back. I take most streams in first gear, using a steady throttle, concentrating on not stalling. Ease through water and try not to break the tires loose.”

Mud: “There?s usually more than one line through the mud sections and experience will tell you which is the best to take. Remember, the more a line through the mud gets used during the race, the looser and deeper it gets. If the muddy area is small, just jump it or wheelie over it. On longer mud runs, ease into it, get your weight off the seat and concentrate on keeping the rear wheels driving and not losing momentum. If you feel the quad start to high-center in the mud, start rocking and stay on the throttle to keep the momentum going. For mud, you want to have your weight pretty far back to keep the front wheels skimming, rather than sinking into the mud.”

High-speed straights: “More of the cross-country tracks these days are featuring more high-speed straights than they used to. To go fast, sit back on the seat and look way far ahead. Swing wide going into corners rather than cutting them tight, making the corner as wide as possible. Watch your distance when you?re dicing with other quads?at those speeds things happen fast.”

Walking the track: “I always walk the entire track before the GNCC races. I usually arrive on Friday morning before the race and walk the track on Friday afternoon. It can take two to three hours to walk the tracks, which are usually around seven to ten miles in length. I keep mental notes of where big rocks, holes or stumps might be hidden along the trail. I?m also looking for better lines at mudholes and on hillclimbs and trying to anticipate where bottlenecks (places where quads jam up and stall on the trail) might occur.”

Passing: “Most of the passing at a National cross-country race take place on high-speed straights. I do a lot of the classic ?block passes? there? duck to the inside going into a corner, outbrake the other guy, and drift up in front of him so he has to shut off. If he?s holding the inside, come up on the outside and then you?ll be set up to take the inside on the next corner. In the tight woods, a good place to make a pass is when the trail forks off into two lines. Take the line the other guy didn?t, gas it, and hope you have at least a half a quad-length on him when the trails merge back together. Hopefully, he?ll back off and let you by. Always take the other line when the trail splits, even if it?s slower, ?cause the other guy might make a mistake and then you?ll have the pass.”

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