It's the weekend of the 1st round of UCI Downhill Mountainbike World Cup at Lourdes. The downhill track at Lourdes doesn't have many sections with varying line choice, but as Aaron Gwin proved last year it pays to get off the big brown main line and utilise the full width of the track to open up corners and carry speed. I would gestimate that approximately 80% of riders exclusively use the main line (to their detriment). They do this, because there is the perception that it is the easiest and fastest line. It is also perceived to be the smoothest line, as opposed to the terrain either side. How wrong they are. Yes, sometimes, the main line is the fastest, and frequently it is the only line through dense trees or between rocks, but it is always worth checking out the terrain either side to see if there are ways to carry speed, straighten the track out and avoid rough terrain.
The main line frequently drops to the downslope side of roots, rather than hugging close to the tree from which they grow. When the trail first develops, this may be the best option as the roots will probably still be beneath the substrate, but as it erodes, the roots are slowly exposed, and now they are narrower and spread more widely across an off-camber slope. Compare that to the alternative option at the base of the tree trunk where they cover a smaller area of ground, are larger and pose less of a challenge - the only challenge being fighting gravity and getting up the slope to the base of the tree. The main line can also be rougher than the ground either side, so you use more energy absorbing the bigger impacts. This is because of exposed cobbles, boulders, roots and holes (braking bumps). It's also directly down to the soil/ substrate, which is slippier when wet than the vegetated terrain either side. They can even form narrow ruts, which are challenging for most to ride, as the front wheel can get snagged in the side wall.
The main line is often longer, as it snakes around obstacles and finds the 'smoothest??' line. Travelling a shorter distance is, more often than not, going to be quicker and getting off the mainline can reduce the distance you travel and significantly reduce your time. Getting out of the mainline can get you on to more robust, less slippy terrain that has good grip. It also allows you to open out corners, so like any racing car or motorbike you start wide, hit the apex and go wide again, carrying speed all the way through the corner and giving you room to accelerate on the exit. It also allows you to straighten out sections rather than making lots of micro-turns, which ultimately slow you down.
We conducted an experiment on a shortish (40-45 seconds)section of track at Dunkeld, here in Scotland. It was through a dense forest and was relatively narrow with only very limited line choice off the mainline. We did one run following the main line and recorded a time of 45 seconds, then we took lines that opened up corners, found straight lines and explored the terrain right on the fringe of the forest. The Morrocco Media line recorded a time of 41 seconds - 4 seconds quicker on a section with very limited line choice and we had to work a lot less on that line, too. It was also a lot more fun to ride out of the main line! Give it a go next time you're out. Look for ways to shorten the track, carry more speed, straighten out sections and get out of ruts. If you want to improve your line choice, check out our line choice analysis session on our website and get in touch to make a booking.