Mountain Bike Descending body position 101, video demonstration

As you may have read in my mini-course the correct descending body position involves standing and staying centered with your weight on the pedals (not getting way back), legs relaxed and bent (not squeezing your seat) and arms bent in a half push-up position.  Remember, I didn’t invent these skills I have been fortunate enough to learn from the best (World Champions Marla Streb, Greg Minnaar, etc.) and learn from the great riders that I coach (Ross Schnell, Mitch Ropelato, etc.).  I am simply passing on what I have learned.

New Video!

In these videos taken by a student in my Philly mountain bike camp a few years ago you can really see one huge reason (there are many) why centered is good and getting back is bad. 

In this how to mountain bike video, it shows me riding off a curb with my weight back and arms extended. Notice how I get “pitched forward” as my arms are yanked down the curb.  Also notice how my entire body weight drops the same height as the curb, Ker plunk! Imagine if the obstacle was a little bigger and I was on steep hill! Imagine how much worse this would of been if I was  squeezing the seat with my thighs. Have you ever had the feeling of being pitched forward on a descent?  

In this video,  I am centered on my mountain bike with all my weight on my pedals and my arms bent, ready to extend my arms and legs so my entire weight doesn’t drop off the curb. I simply extend my arms and then my legs and the bulk of my weight (from my hips up) just keeps moving forward on the same plane. This is a much smoother, in control and in balance way to descend. Again, imagine if it was a steep hill and bigger drop.

Here is a shot of me staying centered on a much bigger drop in Moab in 2004.

Mushroom Rock in Moab

Gene with Weight centered!

Now go out and do the same two drills yourself and compare the results!

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31 replies
  1. Kim says:

    This really really works!!! Gene, I continue to ride better and ENJOY more thanks to what I learned at Camp & what I continue to learn about myself as I practice the skills! Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Steve in Boise says:

    I’m a little challenged, but I don’t see a link to the video mentioned in the article. Can anyone school me?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Steve,

      There is something odd going on on this page but if you click on my “updates” tab on the top right of the page the videos will work.

      Reply
  3. Barbara says:

    Hitting update was working, until you added a new blog on braking and cornering. I was going to show the videos to Michael, but now I just get an error, and it says the URL was not found on this server. When I hit update it just puts the new blog at the top of the page.

    Reply
  4. Jet says:

    Thanks Gene for the video.

    Now I know why even when I move my body back whilst going downhill, I still have this tendency to want to fall over!

    So Gene, now the key is to put weight on the pedals, hands in half push up position and keep body low right? So even if body is more front, it’s okay?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      “So Gene, now the key is to put weight on the pedals, hands in half push up position and keep body low right? So even if body is more front, it’s okay?”

      Yes, but the way that reads may confuse some people. You want your weight centered on the pedals so if previously your weight was behind the pedals your body will be more forward than before but to be clear for other readers, you don’t want your body forward, you want to be centered.

      Reply
  5. John says:

    Hey Gene what a great video. I understand why I endo’d on a decent in the spring. I definitely need to practice staying lower. Thank you for the great info on your site. I need all the help I can get to stay in front of those younger guys.

    Reply
  6. Tony Deal says:

    I agree with Gene, but I feel I have to say this to clarify this topic: To resist your body’s tendency to move forward on the bike at any time, whether braking or downhilling, you must flex your triceps but if your shoulders are the bars, flexing your triceps will only push you up higher over the bike. Your shoulders must be behind the bars in order for your arms to be in the proper position for your triceps to resist you moving forward on the bike. If your shoulders are over your bars, it’s very hard to keep your weight from moving forward. Look at Gene’s picture. His weight is not so far back that his arms are locked, but his shoulders are distinctly behind the bars so that his triceps can resist forward motion. This position also unweights the front tire thus reducing resistance to bumps in the trail and corresponding “bump steer” which is the phenomenon that yanks your handlebars when your front wheel hits something not perpendicular to the centerline of your bike.

    Thanks for the great tips, Gene!!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Tony,

      Wow, that was pretty confusing. I honestly never focus on where my shoulders are (that would involve way to much thought) I simply stay centered on my bike (weight on my pedals). What are you trying to say here? That my weight is not centered, that is centered? “Look at Gene’s picture. His weight is not so far back that his arms are locked, but his shoulders are distinctly behind the bars so that his triceps can resist forward motion. This position also unweights the front tire thus reducing resistance to bumps in the trail and corresponding “bump steer” which is the phenomenon that yanks your handlebars when your front wheel hits something not perpendicular to the centerline of your bike.” I just watched the “weight centered” video 3 times and not that it matter where my shoulders are it looks to me that I am centered and my shoulders are maybe an inch behind my bars. However if I 4 inches shorter and on the same bike to stay centered my shoulders would be further back. If I was 4″ taller to stay centered my shoulders would be more forward.

      Unless I was about to hit a bump why would I want to unweight the front wheel? I am really confused.

      Reply
  7. Juan says:

    First of all thank you all this is very intereseting stuff!!

    I agree with Gene, and also get the idea from what Tony states, it makes sense to me (keep the shoulders behind the bars), and for the example Gene suggests, “If I was 4″ taller to stay centered my shoulders would be more forward.” I think if you are tall and while being centered your shoulders are beyond the bars maybe you need a larger stem (or bike!). my two cents… :) regards!

    Reply
  8. LORA says:

    As a mountain biker who used to teach people how to ride horses with proper body mechanics, I see here what I used to see all the time with teachers and their instructors. One student would ‘get’ the concept with one phrase, while others would just be more confused, but ‘get it’ with another way of saying it. Hope I’m not confusing the issue, but Tony seems to focus on his shoulders and triceps to stay balanced, while Gene focuses on his pedals. I love the articles and how everyone seems to enjoy so much RIDING THEIR BIKE!

    Reply
  9. David says:

    Thanks Gene.
    I figured you’d get it straightened out.
    Good video clips. I figured those out by trial and error this last year. I think it very well illustrates why staying in the at ready (aka attack</i) position is so important when riding.

    I'm still hoping to be able to get into one of your classes or series. All the ones you had in my area this year conflicted with other things on my calendar.

    Reply
  10. David says:

    I think Gene’s point is about staying focused on centering your weight over the pedals, which really translates to centered over the bottom bracket. Then this same principle of staying centered corresponds to body positioning while cornering, climbing, or descending.

    Reply
  11. Jet says:

    Thanks Gene for all the great tips.

    A few questions:
    1. I intend to fly over to US to attend your camp. Can I rent a bike there during your camp instead of getting my bike there?
    2. Understand you have the mountain bike camp and also the DH camp. Can beginners participate in your DH camp? If yes, can one attend the DH camp without going through the basic camp?
    3. Gene, are you based in Colorado? Will want to attend a camp coached by you when I’m flying over.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Jet,

      1.Yes, you can rent a bike, once you email me the location of the camp you want to attend I will email you contact information from local shops that rent bikes.
      2.Our downhill camps are designed for downhill riders and racers, or regular mountain bike camps cover the same skills (plus a few climbing skills like body position, ledges and switchbacks). So it really depends on what kind of riding you enjoy, if you only enjoy downhill (with the benefit of a shuttle or chair lift) and dislike climbing take a dh camp if you like both climbing and descending take a mountain bike camp.
      3. I am based in Colorado but do camps all over the US. All camp listed feature me as the coach unless otherwise noted.

      Reply
  12. Jet says:

    Thanks Gene.

    I’m okay with climbing as well. So will decide on the mountain bike camp after fixing when I’ll fly over 24 hours to the US.

    Looking forward.

    Reply
  13. Eric says:

    Thanks Gene, that one video actually turned my mountain biking around. I was coached quite wrongly as a beginner mountain biker to put all my weight far back on the jumps to unweight the front tire so that both tires would land at the same time.

    What ended up happening is that I had that wiplash effect just like the first video, so the larger jumps looked too dangerous for me to do. I tried balancing my weight without worrying about what tires were going to land first and I found out the bike naturally landed everything both tires at the same time very smoothly with no rattling of the head. Now I am doing jumps twice the size with no loss of control or wiplash feeling at all. I also applied it to taking hard corners and I am taking them faster without having the bike come out from under me like it used to sometimes.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey Eric,

      Glad to be of help! Things can go wrong quickly jumping and one of the main problems riders have is being/getting out of balance so you have nailed one of the basics on this. There is a lot more to master in jumping and cornering (and just riding) but this is a huge step that many riders who have been riding for 20 years never learn.

      Reply
  14. Jack says:

    Hi Gene,

    Thanks for the great info/videos. I always find my body weight being pushed forward by gravitational force descending, and it is pushing my arms against the handle bars with much greater force than I would like. In turn, it is limiting my steering ability since I am not getting a relax grip on the bars. Anyway to correct that? Or there is something I am not doing right? I did follow your instructions on proper positioning. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Jack,

      This a great example of how the written word and even a video is not great for learning physical skills. You say that you followed my instructions on proper positioning but you admitted in the previous sentence that you had not followed my instructions (assuming you have signed up for my free mini-course). The correct body position means having all of your weight on the pedals which means there is no pressure on the bars. You mention you arms being pushed into the handlebars which means your weight is too far forward (when centered gravity pulls your weight into the pedals). Of course there is a lot more to body position than just where your weight should be and we cover body position in much more detail in our camps but this is a great start for most riders.

      Create your best ride yet,

      Gene

      Reply
  15. whatever says:

    Hm. Seems like this is just semantics. Staying centered over the pedals seems to be a good way to phrase it, but doing so definitely puts your hips behind your seat (i.e. back) as your front tire drops in the video, which is what you are saying not to do.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Felix,

      Wow, you should really invest in a camp so we can get understand how to ride correctly. I never put my butt behind the seat in the video (of me doing it correctly) , the seat went in front of my butt and that is a big difference, not semantics. In the video where I do put my butt behind the seat and ride that way before the curb I am in an off balance position (weight behind the pedals) and at the end of my range of motion causing me to get yanked forward throwing me off balance and robbing me of momentum (as my weight falls down the curb). In the video of me doing it correctly my weight stays over the pedals most of my weight (from the hips up) keeps moving forward and his unaffected by the drop. This keeps me in balance and allows me to maintain my momentum!

      Think about how much you just learned in a few sentences! Imagine if you took a camp from us and became just half as good as some of our students! You would be riding better, faster, in more control and having way more fun (and that is only riding half as good as many of our students, if you worked hard on the skills we teach you might be good enough to podium at Wold Cup races like some of our students!)

      Reply
  16. Leroy holmes says:

    Awesome explanation with visuals. The curb clips , kinda skill exercise type clips, really help explain why being centered, balanced and low help.

    Reply

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