mountain bike coaching

Mountain Bike Coaching, Are you Wasting Your Money?

Mountain Bike Coaching, Are You Wasting Your Money?

I have uber-students, they take every opportunity to learn more about riding. They take a three day camp from me, three day camps from other coaches, 2-4 hour clinics from other coaches, etc. They ask me all kinds of great questions, they go online and participate in forums on mountain bike skills, etc. These students are stoked on learning and I love their enthusiasm! Sadly, most of them haven’t improved nearly as much have they could have with the amount of time and money they have invested in their riding (from me, and/or all the other coaches).

Now, don’t get me wrong, they possess a ton of knowledge, often jumbled and contradictory knowledge but there is a lot of knowledge stored in their big brains, “look at the big brain on Brad!” (Pulp Fiction quote) So, why are they wasting their money on that coaching (including my coaching)? They are wasting their money because they keep looking for that next piece, the little piece about cornering that is going to make them finally corner like Aaron Gwin, or wheelie like Robbie Root! The thing thing is, there is no little piece they are missing.

What they are missing is mastery of the core skills. The core skills that I and any other coach that is an actual coach taught them! Dan Millman (World Champion Gymnast, coach and author of “The Inner athlete”, Body Mind Mastery” and The “Peaceful Warrior Series”) state’s, “Athletes’ problems with learning or improving their skills are tied to weak fundamentals. To raise athletes’ potential you need to rebuild their foundation for success”. Famous Alabama Football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant would tell you the same thing as would all US Team Coaches (US Skiing, Tennis, Soccer, etc).

I understand, we want more! More skills, more $1,000 rims that make the trail feel rougher (whoops, different blog topic ;) ) more little “tips” that will finally get us where we want to go!

The problem is, they (the uber-students mentioned above) may understand the fundamentals, and probably do them a fair amount of the time but, they are not doing them all the time!

They haven’t mastered the basics from their first 3 day camp with me. What they are missing is mastery of the core, fundamental skills! Which means when the trail get challenging their lack of mastery shows as they make mistakes and/or revert to old, bad habits.

Watch Greg Minnaar and/or Aaron Gwin (or any other top 10 World Cup downhill racer) what “advanced skill/s” are they using? None! They are just executing the basics flawlessly. Watch them through a gnarly rock garden, their head isn’t moving, watch Aaron Gwin or Minnaar in a corner, they are simply executing the basics, flawlessly.

Mountain Bike Coaching

Greg in 2010 at Fort William, centered, balanced , fast and consistent nothing fancy here, just executing the basics!

Are they also doing a little “thing” or two that maybe aren’t basic, fundamentals? Yes, but they are little things! Do those little things help Aaron Gwin win? Yes, they do. (the top three pro men were separated by less than a second in the last World Cup in Cairns, AU)  Will those little nuances help someone who rides at 80% or less of Aaron Gwin’s ability, NO! Why? Did I mention Aaron Gwin executes the basics flawlessly?!

There is hierarchy to skills and the fundamentals are the most important, advanced “little things” don’t work on a flawed foundation!

“What about in bermed corner, what is the difference in technique in a berm corner vs a flat corner Gene?” I get some version of that question almost daily and the answer for most riders/racers is, “nothing, if you aren’t looking through that corner” and nothing if you are going faster than that berms ability to help you (all berms aren’t created equally). (for the actual differences in bermed vs flat corners check out my next blog article)

In all “mature” sports (sports that have had coaching for 30+ years and top athletes make a good living in) such as ski racing, football, golf, tennis, basketball, etc.. The top athletes spend 80-90% of their time deliberately practicing their sport (doing drills with a focus on quality, not quantity) and only 10-20% of their time actually doing their sport. Football great Jerry Rice spent 99% of his football related time practicing and only 1% playing (as referenced in the book “Outliers”).

In those more “mature” sports athletes spend years/decades practicing the basics five to six days a week. Once they have truly mastered the basics they start adding in the more advanced skills to their practice but, the bulk of their practice continues to be the BASICS, everyday, using drills that they “mastered” 5-15 years ago.

The majority of us need to focus on the basics (that will make us 20-100% better) and get them wired before we work on the little nuances that might make us 1% better.

Are you honestly looking ahead 100% of the time? Looking past the exit of every corner? Always cornering in perfect body position? Are you always returning to a centered, balanced, neutral position after every rock garden, jump, drop and obstacle? If your answer is a resounding yes, then it might be time to add the little 1% skills to your foundation training.

Until then, work on mastering your foundation, your time spent/reward ratio will be much higher than working on skills you lack the foundation to execute.

Dirt Magazine to 2009 Pro 4x and Jr. Cat 1 Downhill US National Champion Mitch Ropelato (now on Specialized Factory Team) in a interview in the Oct. 2009 issue: Dirt Magazine: “You seem to be able to turn amazingly, what do you put that down to? Got any special tires on there?

Mitch Ropelato: “Ya, Gene Hamilton is to thank for that, I took is clinic last December in Bootleg Canyon and he was able to show me the correct technique I needed to pull them off.”

Mitch cornering back in the day, notice his vision and body position. Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

Mitch cornering back in the day, notice his vision (looking way past the exit of the corner) easy to talk about but takes a lot of quality practice to master). Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

That was after 1 or 2 “basic camps” with me. Mitch understood that he didn’t need to know more, but that we needed to know better. He did is drills, religiously! Mitch didn’t say, “now I know this, time to find something new”. He said, “now I know this, time to master this”.

Mitch went on to take a total of five basic camps, and then my downhill race camp and some private lessons (where I still focused on having him execute the basics). Can you corner like Mitch? If not, time to work on the basics!

Look, I could make a fortune if I offered basic, intermediate and advanced camps and sent students down the line through my series of three, three day camps but I’m in this to help people, not pump them up and lie to them. You don’t need an advanced camp, you need to master the basics.

Stop searching and wasting your money looking for “more” and focus on “BETTER”. I’m sure your favorite coach would love to continue to coach, critique and work with you on the basics instead of trying to coach you some little nuance that you lack the foundation for.

Master the fundamentals and you will reach your potential as a mountain biker! Keep trying to figure that “magic piece” that you are missing and you will never reach your potential.

 

Kain Leonard smoothing it out in Crested Butte!

Mountain Bikers, Smooth it Out!

Mountain Bikers, Smooth it Out!

“Smooth it out” was what my teammate Kain Leonard used to say to me before every downhill race. This meant, “Don’t take the smooth lines fast, take the fast lines smooth!” Even if your focus is control, safety and/or being more efficient this applies to you too!

As I often state in my camps, smooth equals fast and smooth equals efficient. It also gives us more control, allows us to run lower tire pressure without flatting and beats up or bike and body less. Being smooth is a win, win, win, win situation (except for bike shops, they will be bummed that you aren’t coming in for repairs as much).

Kain Leonard smoothing it out in Crested Butte!

Kain Leonard smoothing it out in Crested Butte! Photo courtesy of Mark Ewing, Evolution Bike Park

Does that trail feel rough? Many mountain bikers, especially those whose first bike was a full suspension bike ride “Stiff” and are relying on their suspension not their bodies to absorb shock. This not only makes for a rough ride but a less enjoyable and less safe ride too. Notice how much Kain is absorbing shock with his arms and legs in the photo above. His handlebars are almost hitting him in his face! That’s probably 30 inches of suspension travel!

Now, the idea of learning to ride on a hardtail will make you a better rider is simply not true, learning to ride on a hardtail is more dangerous (beginners to pros simply have less control on a hardtail as suspension’s goal isn’t to absorb shock (but it is an added bonus), suspension’s goal is to increase the rider’s control by keeping the wheels on the ground giving us more traction and stability) and hardly confidence inspiring.

Hardtails also teach us to take inefficient “hardtail lines” (taking the smooth line fast instead of taking the fast line smooth) and cause us to fear small obstacles that we would hardly notice on a full suspension bike. Once you are a somewhat skilled rider hardtails are great for helping us learn how to be smooth.

I received the following question from a student on this very topic and I thought I would share it and my answer with you.

“Hey Gene,

I am stoked on the skills that I learned at your camp. After just a few weeks of deliberate practice, I could feel them taking over during a race this past weekend. I utilized some other tips that you shared, like setting a precedent for riding a course fast during practice. Awesome advice! Although I think that I am visualizing the course too slow afterwards.

During the race, I ran single ply tires (I normally don’t, but I thought the course would be more tame). I rear flatted several times in practice and during my race run with near 35psi! I am considering my equipment choice, but wondered about a comment that you made to me at the camp.

On the first day of the camp, you had given everyone an individualized purpose on Girlscout and you told me to “stay light”. I wasn’t quite sure what to do exactly. I know riders who ride HEAVY and know what not to do, but was wondering if you were referring to pumping or something else.

Is there a drill for riding light or something I should focus on when riding light?

Thanks for the awesome camp and your insight on this topic.

Peace,

Ian”

Hi Ian,

Great to hear (except for the flats). By stay light I mean use your body, not your bike to smooth out the trail. Use manuals, weight shifts, unweight your bike, bump jump obstacles, be dynamic (relax your arms and legs and use them as shock absorbers to soak up bumps instead of plowing into them).

I don’t have a drill for this but you made me think of one. Find a rough section of trail at least 20 yards long with a variety of 1-7″ obstacles, then time yourself coasting through (at race pace) with stiff arms and legs, then with relaxed arms and legs, then focusing on manualing everything you can (with weight shifts to unweight your rear wheel) then bump jumping everything.

Then study the trail and figure out which method works best on each obstacle and/or each “section” (example: manual the first log, then bump jump those roots getting backside on the last one, bump that last root then bump jump off the next rock clearing the following 7 rocks and 2 roots then pump the last two smooth, roller shaped rocks). Then time that, then switch it up bump jump, manual and pump in different places and time that. This will teach you two BIG things: 1. How to be smooth and ride light and 2. What technique is best over different sized, shaped and spaced obstacles.

I actually saw two factory Giant downhill racers (Jared Rando and Amiel Cavalier?) doing this for over half an hour on a really rough, barely downhill section of track at Angel Fire 6-8 years ago. In my opinion it was the most important part of the track because if you made a mistake and lost a little speed there was no way to regain that speed as it was flat and too rough to pedal. Did I mention that they took first and second place in that race?!

Mountain bikers, Smooth it out!

Amiel Cavalier taking the fast line smooth!

Added content for you as you may not have taken a BetterRide camp. Mountain biking is a very dynamic sport. The trail is constantly changing (pitch changes, traction changes, smoothness changes, camber changes, etc) which means there is not one, ideal position on bike, you will be constantly making small to large adjustments with your body to stay in balance and in control.

There is a centered and neutral position that we are constantly returning to get ready for the next change (see this article and videos on that: http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT  ) but, to be smooth you will often briefly be in a non-neutral position (arms full extended or fully compressed) as you will see in video.

When I say, “take the fast lines smooth” I mean there is often a faster, straighter line than the smooth line. This line might be really rough though, so, you will need to “float over” that roughness using bump jumps, weight shifts, manuals and simply weighting your suspension on the smooth sections right before it gets rough (pushing down on the pedals by straightening your legs a bit) and letting the suspension extend and ”unweight” (by lifting your legs towards your chest) over the rough sections.

A great example of this are tree roots, often as you pass a tree the “smooth line” is going around the roots, which can triple the distance you travel as you make an arc around the roots. The “fast line” would be jumping straight over those roots or simply unweighting over those roots.

Test out these techniques and practice “Smoothing It Out”.

 

Braking on your mountain bike

MTB, The Odds are Against You (which is good!)

MTB, The Odds are Against You (which is good!) this is my second piece this year on how fear is good.

When you were young were taught to seek a sensible, well paying career? Did you grow up hearing that thousands of hopeful actors go to Hollywood and never make it? Told that these actors end up waiting tables or heading home with their tail between their legs? This is the SADDEST advice! Everything worth doing in life the odds are against you! It’s called challenge and competition which will always occur when there are more people who want something than there is supply of that something.  That is actually a good thing as it forces us to learn, grow and bring our “A game” if we want to succeed. Our “A game” is when we are happiest and having the most fun! Just getting by stinks! Time seems to just crawl when you are doing just enough to survive but not doing your best. When you are forced to perform right at the edge of your ability level time flies and you feel a great sense of accomplishment when you achieve your goal.

failure

Riding King Kong scares the $&ap out of me every time I ride it! The feeling of being “in the moment” and the sense of accomplishment afterward are why I face that fear. I know I have developed the skills to ride Kong but anything less than my A game will spell disaster, forcing me into the “flow” state!

As a mountain biker you may be afraid of a certain trail feature or an entire riding area. A few years ago I met a couple in Winter Park who said they had been wanting to do one of my downhill camps but the only dh camps that fit their schedule were always at Bootleg Canyon and they had heard that Bootleg is gnarly so they kept chickening out on taking the camp. This fear held them back from two really important and fun things for three years! First, Bootleg does have some gnarly trails but it also has many fun trails that flow really well, so they were missing out on super fun trails for three years. Second, they were having less fun and feeling more fear than they should have on every ride for three years! Had they used that fear as a catalyst to learn and grow they could of called me and learned they I don’t teach on those gnarly trails and they would of gotten more enjoyment out of every ride for three years!

Use your fear to challenge yourself to learn, grow and become your best. I realize, if you could take a little magic bill that instantly gave you the skills of the best mountain bikers in the world you probably would, but what is the fun in that? All mountain bikers would be great riders and there would be no challenge left, after a few weeks or months of riding at the level of the best riders in the world you would probably take it for granted, start riding less and seek out a new challenge that gave you a sense of accomplishment.

Fear is good when it keeps us safe and when it challenges us to grow. Fear is bad when you let it hold you back from being the best you can be. Really, really want to make it as an actor? Take acting classes, practice deliberately and keep facing the fear of rejection at auditions until you make it. Will everyone that follows that recipe make it as an actor? Of course not, again simply too big a pool of talent and too few roles. You will however become the best actor you can be, learn a great deal about yourself, learn a lot about the business side of acting and possibly discover something similar (directing, coaching, producing, filming (maybe you are better behind the camera than in front of it) and most importantly you won’t die wondering (what if I had followed my heart and tried to make it as an actor?)!

I owe my fortunate life to fear! I was afraid to die wondering! I had quite a few role models who had given up their dreams to be “practical” and they seemed really unhappy to me. Not unhappy on a day to day basis, they smiled, laughed and enjoyed their lives, but deep down I could sense this feeling of disappointment that life had not turned out as they had hoped. That fear (of feeling disappointed on how my life turned out) scared me much more than the fear of failure scared me.

My life turned out a lot like an actor who didn’t quite make it but learned that he was good behind the camera and then learned he was even better at directing. Right after college I wanted to make it as a pro snowboarder, along the way I received some terrible coaching and thought, “I could do a better job of that”. While snowboarding competitively I started mountain biking in the summer as cross training and to have fun. After my “career” as a snowboarder ended I was offered my dream job, coaching the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Snowboard Team! In Steamboat I really learned and grew as a coach as they paid for me to go coaching schools and I was able to practice coaching five to seven days a week. My love for coaching and mountain biking grew as my love for snowboarding started to fade so I decided I was going to take what I had learned about structured, drilled based coaching to mountain biking. That was 1999 and the transition to mountain biking coaching was another big fear as no one was doing what I wanted to do at the time and I was openly laughed at for attempting it. It took years of hard work and living at the poverty level but now I have my dream job/business! All because I choose to dive into my fears instead of hide from them.

Face your fears! The odds are against you but your heart will thank you.

NOTE: I did not say that you should ride a trail that scares you nor attempt a trail feature that scares you. It likely scares you because you don’t have the skill to do it. Use your fear to inspire you to learn and become your best!

do what scares you

Fear While Mountain Biking is Good, Part 2

Fear While Mountain Biking is Good, Part 2, You Can’t Out Think Fear (Read part 1 here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-1dx )

Fear is a powerful and often misunderstood emotion that has some effect on every mountain bike ride we do. The fear we ALL experience while mountain biking varies greatly in intensity from rider to rider and from trail to trail. Most riders think of pro downhill racers as fearless but in my 17 years of coaching them and 20 years of being one I have found that even the fastest pro downhill racers experience fear, on beginner trails! So the idea of “No Fear” is comical at best, we all experience fear and it isn’t always a bad thing, fear can save us from injury and keep us from doing things we aren’t skilled enough to do. On the other hand, fear that is not in proportion to the risk we are taking can really mess us up! Too little fear and we do things over our head and get hurt! Too much fear and we question our ability and end up not riding or crashing on a section of trail we are capable of riding smoothly and in control. There are a ton of macho guys reading this right now saying, “Not me, I am fearless!”, please, anyone saying that needs to ride a world cup downhill track or the new Redbull Rampage site! Do some people experience less fear than others? Of course, that is why I and thousands of other mountain bikers have ended up in the emergency room! We either didn’t experience the appropriate amount of fear or charged in despite the fear. Fear that keeps you from riding Cam Zink’s line at the Redbull Rampage is good! Fear that keeps you from riding a section of trail you honestly have the skill to ride in control is bad. The worst two kinds of fear for a mountain biker are  minor fear, where you keep riding but are too concerned with your own safety to ride at your best and fear of failure so you don’t even try.

I’m well known for my intense curriculum featuring perfect practice using drills in a safe, controlled environment (often a paved parking lot) and then applying those skills on trail. I have noticed a pattern that happens in all of our camps regardless of our students’ age/experience/perceived skill level, even at our downhill camps at Bootleg Canyon with pros like Cody Kelly and Luca Cometti, students do our cornering drills really well on pavement then not so well on dirt (at first, which is why drills are so important)! At Bootleg Canyon we use Girl Scout for our on trail cornering practice, the easiest trail on the mountain. Watching our students practicing deliberately on pavement (photos) I am always impressed by how quickly they catch on to correct cornering technique. Then we head over to Girl Scout and they aren’t doing what they were just doing in the parking lot, they look totally different. Why do they go from executing the skills well on pavement to not so well on dirt? Fear! No, pro downhill racers aren’t scared of Girl Scout Trail, but they are more concerned about their safety than they were in the parking lot. Even on a beginner trail there is not as much traction as the parking lot, there are rocks to avoid, bushes on the side of the trail, penalties for mistakes. This concern for your safety (fear) distracts you and hinders your performance.

Fear While mountain biking

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills! Look at that outside elbow, up and out where it should be.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Not a “scary” trail but he isn’t as sharp as in the parking lot. He needs to look a little further ahead and lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Fear is stored in your “Lizard Brian” or “Reptilian Brian”, part of your brain stem where instincts and action occurs WITHOUT thought. Have you ever noticed that sometimes, despite knowing that you are supposed to do something (like look ahead) you don’t do it on trail? Have you ever driven home and upon getting home said to yourself, “how the heck did I get home?” That is because knowledge and your “thinking brain” don’t help you do, doing comes from the same Lizard brain where fear is stored, and doing is similar to being on autopilot, your body just does what the autopilot makes it do. This creates a problem as your conscious, thinking brain wants one thing (to float over that rock) while your Lizard brain wants something else, usually to protect you (get off your bike and walk over the rock). As you probably already know, when it comes to riding your mountain bike the lizard brain always wins! (On side note this often why you might know exactly how to do something yet still can’t do it.)

How do we get our Lizard Brain/autopilot and conscious thinking brain to work together? Drills! The whole goal of drills is to ingrain a habit or movement pattern. By ingrain, I mean make that habit so dominant that no matter how tough that trail is your body does the correct technique without any thought (hence the auto pilot analogy). There is an old saying that is so true, “Amateurs practice until they get it right, pros practice until they can’t get it wrong!” Once we understand the correct technique and do drills to ingrain that technique we need to upgrade our self-image as a mountain biker. Let’s say there is tough rock section that has troubled you for years, you have never made it (and probably think something like, “darn, he comes that rock that always messes me up” as you approach it. Then you take a BetterRide camp and learn the correct combination of skills to get over that rock and wham, you do it! This is when you need to stop, get off your bike, look at that rock and update your self-image. “Wow, that rock used to mess me up every ride, now it is easy, I simply look to victory, manual, shift my weight and off I go! That rock is so easy now, watch, I’ll do it again.” Then do it again and really cement the idea that that rock is now easy and you have the skill to do it consistently.

If you are honestly really skilled but you feel your fear level is not in proportion to your skill work on updating your self-image. If you aren’t really skilled work on improving your skills, then updating yourself image as your skills improve. Remember, fear is there for a reason and it often helps keep us safe but if it is holding you back work on getting your fear into proportion with your skill.

Fear is also where men and women differ greatly! In my next article on Fear and Mountain Biking I will explain what I have learned about how men and women respond to fear and how this difference affects your ride and often your relationship.