Tips for the Trail – Marcus Barton on Navigating Rock Gardens

Mar. 19, 2018

Former Mr. XTERRA Marcus Barton did his first XTERRA in 2007 on a $50 Mongoose bike he bought at a garage sale. By 2017, he was a 6-time XTERRA Southeast Regional Champ and won his age group at XTERRA Oak Mountain. Not only is Barton fast, but he exemplifies the XTERRA Spirit by sharing his experiences and expertise with the Tribe whenever possible. Below he shares his expertise on navigating some of the rock gardens at XTERRA Oak Mountain.

  1. Walk the course – the first rule of thumb for any rider is to walk the trail before riding it. This will allow you to get a feel for where are the tricky parts and generally what to expect.
  2. Hang loose, man. Being stiff and having a death grip on the handlebars will usually spell trouble. Instead, loosen the grip a little, bend your knees and elbows and allow the bike to move underneath you while using your bent elbows and knees as suspension. Anytime you keep yourself stiff, you will just end up bouncing around on – or off - the bike.
  3. Keep a level head, and level pedals. Having one foot all the way down lowers the ground clearance you have from the rocks. This means that there's a better chance of you bottoming out and banging that pedal on a rock. This also usually results in a crash. So, the fix is to keep your pedals level (at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock) when riding through the garden. Some rock gardens you need to pedal through, so just keep an eye out when you need that extra clearance over a larger rock and level them back out.
  4. Carry speed when you can. Take the course at XTERRA Oak Mountain for example. There are some rock gardens on the Seven Bridges Trail, but even though they may look intimidating, it's just a matter of carrying speed across the rocks. You'd be surprised at what your mountain bike suspension can soak up as long as you keep your body loose and relaxed.
  5. Look farther ahead to go faster. This is true for all mountain biking, not just rock gardens. If you are super-focused on that big hunk-o-rock right in front of your tire, you will slow down. Constantly try to scan farther ahead and you'll be able to not only pick your next move, but you won't target-fixate on the rock that you really shouldn't be concerned about.
  6. Remember that not all rock gardens have to be ridden. Riding Blood Rock at XTERRA Oak Mountain can be a difficult task, even for skilled riders. Sometimes even the best of us (yep, even me) will sometimes choose to run through a garden on foot vs. riding it. After all, this can sometimes be just as fast as riding it. This is especially true during the race and when you have people in front of you having problems and preventing you from having a clean line.
  7. Check out the Blood Rock feature with Casey Fannin from last year at