Why Our Instincts Fail Us On Our Mountain Bikes!

As a matter of fact our instincts fail us in most sports. Why, because fear and self preservation are much bigger motivators than logic and reason! You will always instinctively move away from danger, if your computer suddenly burst into flames would you stay right where you are or jump back away from it? Intuition also fails us in sports as we tend to use it  instead of logic and reason. In other words what feels good often isn’t correct and most people tend to learn by doing what feels good, they don’t spend hours studying how to stay in balance and in control.

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. Getting riders to stop leaning back into the “safety position” is  one of the skills ski and snowboard coaches work on the most. Especially in skiing where you actually want your weight pushing against the tongues of your boots which not intuitive at all!

Leaning into a turn also feels natural but again puts you off balance (you weight is no longer above your bike pushing down on the tires) and makes you likely to slide out. We are not on 350 pound motorcycles on swept pavement with 12″ wide sticky tires! Leaning works on street bikes but is a recipe  for sliding out on a mountain bike. Ever have your front wheel slide in a high speed corner? Fast corners tend to be downhill and we accelerate through them. The steeper the corner and/or the higher the speed the more your instincts want to get back off the rear of your bike which un-weights the front wheel (if you also lean with your bike this really increases the odds of having the front wheel slide).

Looking straight down at the trail to avoid rocks feels good and makes sense, “I have to see the rock to avoid it, don’t I?” Yes, it helps to see the rock but not stare at it when it is 5-10 feet away, by then (or sooner, when the rock is 15-30 feet away) we need to be looking past it. Wow, is that hard to do! Even after spending 40 minutes explaining to our students how their vision works and doing 5 different drills that prove to the students that they don’t need to look down they tell us it is still hard to look ahead (and many of these students are pro racers who have been riding for 10-20 years!), especially hard to look past rocks. That is why we have drills, to master our vision, logic alone is not powerful enough to overcome fear and the survival instinct, to overcome fear you need a lot of proof and practice over a long period of time.

Experiment, go ride a trail with rocky sections and see if you are looking past rocks when they 15-30 feet ahead of you. If you catch yourself looking only 3-5 feet in front of you you are not looking ahead correctly, causing you to, tense up, go slower, react and mirco-manage the trail and likely stall out. Watch videos of the best racers in the world like Greg Minnaar, Aaron Gwin and Steve Peat, you will notice that they are always looking 20-100 feet ahead and never glancing down. This is much easier said than done!

Other times instincts hurt our riding and endanger us:

Ever put your foot down in a corner?! Putting you foot down inside of you puts you off balance and makes you more likely to slide out yet we all do it. Even world champ Greg Minnaar does it occasionally, because it is instinctive, but Greg will be the first to say that putting your foot down is a bad idea!

Ever skid your rear tire because you are not using enough front brake? Again, until you master that front brake you will always be a little timid to use it to its full potential. Fear is powerful.

Ever get the death grip (a very tight grip) on your bars?  This just makes everything worse as you stiffen up and ride really rough but when at all scared (I don’t mean terrified, just a little concerned for you safety) riders instinctively do this (I know I do!) despite knowing that it is wrong.

This is the reason all top athletes have skills coaches (ever see an Olympic skier, tennis player, golfer, martial artist, wrestler, etc. without a coach/es? Nope, can’t master or reach you personal best at any sport without first understanding the fundamental skills and then doing drills to master those skills), I can’t think of a single sport that is intuitive and instinctual. Heck, even runners have stride coaches, what could be more “natural” for us than running? (well, if you ever see me run you will understand the need for stride coaches!)

If you are tired of letting your instincts rule your riding and put you in out of control and out of balance positions, looking only a few feet in front of you in technical sections (even though you know to look ahead) and want to start riding smoother, safer and faster invest in your skills and take a mountain bike camp from us that is guaranteed (or your money back) to greatly improve your riding.

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9 replies
  1. Jack Sullivan says:

    This is good stuff and I like what you had to say about the vision drills . . . good reminders from my camp in Bend 5 weeks ago.

  2. Brett says:

    Another great post! Since you are also a motorcyclist, perhaps you are aware of the parallels between what you are teaching here and how a flat track (a.k.a. dirt track) motorcycle racer approaches high speed turns (motocross riders do this too). Unlike a road racer who hangs off the inside of the bike, a dirt track racer stays in a neutral, upright position and pushes the bike down in the direction of the turn. In a high speed corner, this may make the back tire (and even the front tire) slide…but it’s okay because the rider is in a balanced, in-control position and looking ahead through the turn. I’ve taken a couple of motorcycle racing classes so it’s awesome to hear you teaching similar skills!!! Keep up the good work!

    • Gene says:

      Hi Brett,

      Yeah, I took American Super Camps motorcycle school and they teach some of the same techniques they we have been teaching for years (as have they), we just add a lot more detail. It was kind of frustrating though as I like to know how and why a technique works and they were more, “this is how you do it”, I still leaned a quite a bit and had a lot of fun! I just which they took their skills and coaching a little further (allow I don’t think that is what most of their students are looking for, my fellow Super Camp students were quite different than the mountain bikes we coach, much less curious and asked almost no questions, as a matte of fact I think I annoyed some of the other students with my questions!). I really want to get to a Keith Code school too.

  3. Jason says:

    So you are saying that during a steep descent, we should NOT be moving our rear ends over our bike’s rear end? I do that so I don’t flip over the bars, is there a better technique?

    • Gene says:

      Yes, Jason, sticking your butt back is a dangerous (yet intuitive position) as it puts you out of balance and at the end of you range of motion. Please sign up for our free mini-course on the 10 top riding mistakes and myths and how to correct them and it will show a video and a list of reasons on why staying centered over your bottom bracket is much more in control and safer (less likely to flip over the bars). This is why we are in business and so many top pro racers take our camps right along side riders of less ability, 20 years of riding won’t magically teach you the correct techniques as they are not intuitive.

  4. Corey says:

    One of the biggest advantages of coaching is the critique, in fact I believe that is the most important aspect (assuming the coach is actually training the correct fundamentals) of coaching. A third person has to be able to observe and identify the correct form, coach corrections, and reinforce proper technique. I hope I am able to attend a camp soon!

    • Gene says:

      True Corey. We are looking forward to coaching you! It will be the best investment you have ever made in your riding!


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