Techniques: How to get your bike started after binning it on a steep hill

You’ve plucked up the courage to take on a gnarly hill climb but you’ve stalled halfway up it, what do you do next? Clive Rumbold talks you through the technique of hillside recovery

As your off-road prowess builds, you’ll probably find yourself looking at riding on terrain that you might not have previously considered even walking over. That may be rutted lanes, deep river crossings or steep hills and inclines.

At first, you’ll probably timidly ride to the foot of them, looking up the slope and visualising how you would ride up it. You might even jump off your bike and take a walk up to see what the surface is like for traction and what’s waiting for you at the top.

Eventually, you might decide that it’s time to turn theory and visualisation into reality and attack it. You might have read in issue 31 of ABR how to tackle steep inclines, but it’s important to know what to do if it all goes a bit pear-shaped and you end up dropping your pride and joy.

So, if you’re on your way up a steep hill and something starts to go wrong (i.e. you choose the wrong gear or hit a rock unexpectedly) it’s imperative that your baseline emotional state has been trained to keep calm, relaxed and decisive.

All of the above happenings could lead to your bike stalling or falling, and it’s vital to remember that if you stall on a hill do not pull the clutch in! The very thing that will stop you from rolling backwards down the incline is the engine stalling and preventing your back wheel from turning.

Don’t pull the front brake in either. If you pull in your clutch and front brake both you and your bike will start to slide. Why? Because there’ll be no weight on the front wheel.

So, the golden rule is this: If you stall on a steep hill, stay calm, relaxed, decisive and do nothing apart from get one foot down to keep yourself upright. Choose the higher side to put your foot down to avoid a ‘timber’ moment.

After you’ve steadied the bike you’re ready for the next step, getting it started again. Try and navigate to the part of the track/ trail where there is the best grip or angle of incline, and make sure you’re pointing in the direction which you wish to go.

This may require a lot of manpower. Once you’re set, get your bum back towards the pillion seat to get some weight onto the back wheel. This helps it gain traction when you twist the throttle. Get your foot on the rear brake and apply pressure.

The way of knowing that you have enough pressure on the back brake is to pull in the clutch. If the bike starts sliding down the hill, let the clutch out immediately. Apply more rear brake pressure and try again until you’re sure it’s holding you.

Now you can pull the clutch in to start the bike (in gear). Open the throttle to a point where you feel the engine will not stall, for when you’re ready to release drive from the clutch. With your two main fingers on the clutch, start releasing it smoothly until you feel the biting point.

Once found, release the back brake with confidence, do not suddenly pull the clutch in or you’ll start sliding backwards again. Keeping the throttle at a suitable rev point, smoothly start releasing the clutch while ensuring that the back wheel doesn’t spin. If it does, contain the power.

As the bike slowly moves forward, get your feet up as soon as you can and try to build momentum. As soon as the bike is moving happily get back up on your pegs while looking to the top of the hill and ensuring your body positioning isn’t too far back, or too far forward.

If the bike stalls then begin the process again. If you can’t get the bike up the hill, then recover it and start again. As ever, practice makes perfect.