MTB Skills Coaching For 18 years! (Why A “Beginners Mind” has Helped Me)

Wow! My baby just turned 18! Hard to believe I started BetterRide in April of 1999, with the goal of bringing sound, drill based mtb skills coaching to mountain bikiers like you. It is has been an amazing, fun, sometimes stressful and highly educational 18 years. Thank you for sharing your passion and support with me! BetterRide has helped over 3,000 riders greatly improve and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and coaching four World Champions, a 78 year old who went on to finish the Leadville 100 in less than 12 hours (when he was 80!) and so many passionate mountain of all experience levels.

One of my favorite books is titled, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and the concept of the book is, with an “expert” mindset there are few possibilities but with a “beginner” mindset you are open to more possibilities. This has been proven over and over again in sports, all the top track coaches and athletes said no one could run a four minute mile, then someone proven them wrong. The “Fosbury Flop” high jump technique was ridiculed by both coaches and athletes until Dick Fosbury won the 1968 Olympic high jump using his technique. Now it is simply the way people high jump.

I’ve always tried to keep a beginners mind and test out new technologies and new technique concepts before dismissing them. There have been quite a few times in my racing and coaching career when “experts” told me I was crazy or wrong about either a new bike set up idea I was trying or new (to me) technique. Heck, even 3 time World and World Cup Champion Greg Minnaar told me I was wrong about a few bike setup concepts I preached, now he has adopted them!

Now, I’m not some all knowing bike genius, again it was my beginners mind that encouraged me to try other peoples/pioneers ideas/inventions. I take zero credit for the concepts below, I learned them from other people much smarter than I.

My first downhill bike that felt unstoppable was Yeti Lawwill Straight 6, then Straight 8, then DH9 then Astrix Havoc. All these bikes were long and slack! I remember fellow racers laughing at my “aircraft carrier” of a bike. “That things so long and slack! How do you turn it! Might be great in a straight line but …” Meanwhile, Nathan Rennie and Marla Streb were crushing the competition on that bike! Nobody cornered better than Rennie (except, maybe Nico Vouilloz who invented the modern, in balance cornering technique that I teach) and he crushed the competition on that bike! Now, 17 years later all bikes are long and slack (except some cross country bikes because XC racers (like the rest of us) don’t like change).

When Greg Minnaar moved from Honda to Santa Cruz Bikes, I told him that his size large V-10 was way to small for him. He just laughed and said, “Who is the World Champion here?” Good point I thought, but your still wrong. Greg is the exact same height as me, 6’3″ and a large Santa Cruz V-10 had the same reach measurement as most other companies mediums. Meanwhile, I was on a Canfield Brother XL Jedi, a full 50mm longer than Greg’s bike.  Well, two or three years later they came out with an XL V-10 (only 25mm shorter than my Canfield) and Greg switched to that. I asked him why (given his previous statement) and he said, “the longer bike allows me to get lower and is much more stable” and I replied, “yeah, wait to you ride a REAL XL!” and again, he laughed. Then, they came out with a double XL V-10 (the same length as my Jedi!) and now Greg is on that, except, he runs a 10mm headset spacer making his reach measurement 10mm longer. That’s right, Greg thought a 425mm reach measurement fit him perfect in 2010 now his reach is 60mm longer.

Now, I’m not smarter than Greg and I’m definitely not as skilled or fast, so why did I figure this out sooner than Greg? Change feels weird, that’s why. Think about it? You know the old saying, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”? Well, why would a World Champion change was has been working for him. Then Greg started to egt beaten by racers on longer, slacker bikes so he pushed to get the XL made, then the XXL.

At 6’3″ I always wanted bars wider than 28″ but nobody made them! I remember telling bar companies, make wider bars, they will be more stable. But what did I know? I was just some obscure coach and midpack pro racer. Then my friend and former student Chris Van Dine showed me his 32″ bars (way wider than I had ever wanted/hoped for). I quickly order a set and my friends immediately started ridiculing me and asking, don’t those feel weird? They did feel weird, really weird, after spending that was 5-10 years on 28″ bars and before that bars even narrower, 32″ bars felt weird! For my first 6-7 days riding them they felt weird, then they simply felt great and stable. I no longer used my Hopey steering damper any more they were so stable. Still, everyone laughed, especially Greg Minnaar! 30″ is the widest you need to go he told me and my students. Well, now his signature bar from ENVE is 808mm wide (31.8 inches wide!) and he runs them uncut.

Plus size tires are awesome and the best tires for 80% of mountain bikers! They aren’t new though! I raced Nokian Gazzaloddi 3.0 tires in 1999! Nokian was so far ahead of their time it is crazy! Again, everyone laughed at my tires! “They are so heavy (they were heavy!) they roll slow (not true at all, just their perception despite having never tried them) you’re crazy Gene”. Well, I got third at the World Masters Championships on those tires and the guy who won, “Pistol” Pete Loncarevich, he was on them too! Pete and I just laughed at the masses who couldn’t wrap their heads around these incredible tires! They gave you an extra inch of suspension travel, smoothed out the trail and cornered like you were on rails!

Plus size tires give you so much confidence! Yes, they weigh more, so what! The single most important thing when riding or racing is confidence. I know I can corner faster, ride rough trails smoother and faster, ride steep, loose trails better when I have more traction. I love my 3.0 tires! If you have steep, loose, rough or root filled trails where you ride you will love these tires.

In 2002 or 2003 at the Mammoth Mountain NORBA national I saw a guy with this seatpost that went up and down remotely! It was called the Gravity Dropper and I tracked down the owner/inventor, Wayne Sicz and told him I was super impressed by his invention and wanted one badly! He sent me one and I started PREACHING their benefits to all of my students (most thought I was nut’s, too many gadgets, you don’t need to drop your seat (? really? are you insane?) well, now most bikes come with a dropper post!

Keep a beginner’s mind and learn to at least accept change and try new ideas and concepts. Learning and growth is fun and you will never become a “master” without a beginner’s mind.



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