Mountain Biking Skills Tips Are Worthless – How to Make Them Work!

I often say, “knowledge is worthless without action” and after writing my post on instincts I realized a great way to explain it. This is the follow up article to my original article on instincts, if you haven’t already I recommend reading it first (http://betterride.net/?p=1837 ) .

There are a million riders out there eager to help their fellow riders, but few are qualified. I will use a couple of common tips that are good, correct tips as examples.

One tip you hear a lot is “look ahead”, which is correct and vital to riding well. While there is nothing wrong with this advice it does a rider little good. Knowing something and actually doing it are too different things entirely! So knowing to look ahead is unlikely to help as that knowledge is in your smart, thinking brain, while action comes from your “reptilian brain” which doesn’t think, but simply acts according to instinct. Have you ever driven home and not remembered any of the drive? That is because you are not using your thinking, conscious brain. You didn’t think, “put on my blinker, slow down, stop, look both ways and turn right on 18th street”, you just did it! Skills need to be the same way!

Fear (and I don’t mean terror, just not wanting to crash or slide out) causes your survival instincts to kick in. Did millions of years of being hunter and gatherers and then farmers teach the correct survival instincts for mountain biking? No, have you ever entered a turn, felt like you were going too fast and hit your breaks in the middle of a turn? Well your survival instinct just made things a lot worse, by breaking you decreased your traction, greatly shifted your weight and decreased your lean angle, all making the problem worse.

So, the only way to make “skills tips” work is to make them instinctual. To do this we need 3 things: First, an understanding of how the skill works (how can I look ahead but still make it through all of those rocks?) Once we understand how the skill works we need to trust the skill. Just believing what someone said isn’t enough, we need proof that it works (and proof that it works in all situations). Now that we understand and trust the skill we need the skill to become instinctual which is often tough, right now our instincts tell us to do the opposite (such as look down when we know we are supposed to look ahead). Test this, go ride a rocky trail and see how often you catch yourself looking less than 10 feet ahead. Depending on your speed you should be looking 20-80 feet ahead. To make a skill instinctual we must do drills! Not just random drills, drills that are designed to get you to do the skill correctly and produce a new instinct or “habit “.

A second great tip is to stay centered on your mountain bike with your weight on the pedals when descending. Makes sense, works great, but is very hard to do. From my instincts post: “Moving your rear end way back on a descent feels good, you are moving away from danger! Skiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers instinctively do this, yet it puts them in an out of balance, non-neutral (once shifted/leaned back we can only move or react in one direction, forward) out of control position. Despite all the logic that says we should be centered, without practicing staying centered and neutral we will naturally creep back on descents.” To stop this bad instinct of getting way back and start riding centered you must first understand why we should stay centered and how to do it (if you don’t know this please sign up for our free mini-course which explains this in detail with videos). Once you understand why and how to do it you must remove fear from the equation so you can practice perfectly. This can be done just riding down a paved hill and focusing on weight on the pedals. Once you are used to having you weight on the pedals and it feels comfortable and normal on a paved road start practicing it on mellow trails and work you way up to the toughest trails you can find (and you will realize that the steeper and tougher the trail the more you instinctively want to move back). Of course there is way more to descending body position than just where your weight is, but this is a huge head start!

If you have ever watched the best athletes in the world practice, this is what they do. Day after day, even when they have mastered a skill they continue to do drills because if they stop the old instincts will take over. All top athletes spend more time doing drills than actually playing/doing their sport. I don’t expect you to do that, but what percentage of your riding time do you spend doing structured drills designed to help you master a specific skill?

The entire BetterRide skills progression is based on explaining a skill, demonstrating the skill and then having you master the skill with carefully designed drills. This is the only way to learn to actually do something correctly.  Ask any top ski racer, tennis player, football player, martial artist, boxer, wrestler, MMA fighter or basketball player and they will tell you the same. Michael Jordan needed more drills than all his high school peers as he was a lousy basketball player his freshman and sophomore years. Jerry Rice set and holds nearly all receiving records in the NFL, yet he was not close to being the fastest receiver in the sport. Jerry Rice’s training and practice is legendary, he would practice running patterns by himself after practice ended. He was determined to make all the movements, skills and patterns instinctual.

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  1. nancye hicks says:

    I used to lean way back but after practicing what you suggested I feel more confident & balanced

    Reply

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