Mountain Bikers, Open Your Minds

Mountain bikers have become the most close-minded people I have ever met! What happened to trying something before forming a negative opinion? I realize there has been a lot of change recently, 29r, 27.5, plus size tires, fat bikes, enduro racing, gravel grinders (is that mountain biking?), the rise of carbon fiber frames, ebikes, longer reach measurements, shorter stems, wider bars, slacker head angles, steeper seat tube angles carbon fiber rims, wider rims, oval chainrings, boost spacing and super boost spacing.

Yes, there has been enough change to make your head spin! However, most of those changes do add to your enjoyment of riding and many greatly affect your control and safety while riding.

Where does all the hate come from? As humans, we are wired to leery of change as back in our hunter-gatherer days change often meant death! It’s 2018 and though change might be harmful to your wallet it isn’t life-threatening. 

I have heard that the only thing permanent in life is change. Since that seems to be the case, why don’t we embrace change and experiment to see if the latest change is good for us? Have you tried any of the innovations I listed above? Have you formed an opinion based on emotion on any of the above? Take the emotion out and test things objectively! 

For years the industry has fought change for some reason (probably because it is expensive and risky for them) but finally, they are embracing things that I have pushed for years (I didn’t invent them, just stumbled upon them then embraced them). Since 2001 I have been pushing for longer reach measurements and slacker head angles (thank you Yeti and Mert Lawwill (designers of my Yeti/Lawwill dh bikes which were so long and slack my friends and competitors would joke, “how to do your turn that aircraft carrier of a bike).

Since I turned pro in 1995 I have been preaching the control of shorter stems (thank you, Zach White). The pushback I got against dropper posts (thank Wayne from Gravity Dropper) from 2002 until just a few years ago was massive. Now, finally, even World Cup Cross Country racers are using them.

Everyone laughed at my slow rolling 3” wide Gazzaloddi tires, even as I earn a bronze medal in the 1999 World Masters Championships (and the winner, Pistol Pete Loncarevich was running them too!). Now they are back 20 years later in the form of plus-sized tires!

When I got my first set of 32” (812mm) handlebars (thank you Chris Van Dine) the whole crew at All Mountain Cyclery at Boulder laughed at me. Don’t they feel weird they asked? And they did but every ride they felt a little bit better but it took a week before I decided I wasn’t going to cut them down a bit.

Even Greg Minnaar was closed minded when I suggested 32″ wide bars in one of my camps with him in 2011? He said, “nobody needs bars wider than 30″, now his signature bars are 31.8”!

Riders also laughed at forward I push my saddle on its rails and now the early adopters love steeper seat tube angled bikes (thank you Canfield brothers) as they climb better (because you are more centered and don’t have to slide as for forward on the saddle when climbing).

Before saying, that bike won’t climb, those tires roll slow, that stem is too short, I don’t need a dropper post, plus sizes tires are dumb,  experiment! And no, one ride is not an experiment, change will always feel weird! Experiment for a few days, one pound of pressure too little or too much makes plus sized tires ride weird, riding with a dropper post for the first time feels really odd, as do wider handlebars. Give a change six to seven rides then form your opinion!

Quick edit the day after I wrote this. Wow, “the I am looking to find something that offends me” crowd has their undies in a bunch over this article. I never said, “all mountain bikers are closed minded” and I never said, “all change is good”. This article was just encouraging riders with closed minds to open their minds and try something (thoroughly!) before forming an opinion. If you already do that sweet! This article wasn’t written for you, you are already experimenting. Please point out where I attacked someone for being closed minded.

Edit two: We all tend to be closed minded on somethings, World Champ Loic Bruni laughed at 29er downhill bikes and openly made fun of them, now he is racing one. I wrote an article titled 29ers just aren’t as much fun, and at the point for me, they weren’t as much fun (after spending two years on 29rs and then returning to 27.5. Now, thanks to better geometry I think 29ers are more fun! Greg Minnaar, said a 435mm reach was fine for him and now he rides a 500mm reach bike.

 

The Most Important Mountain Biking Skill

Have you ever been told you are really smart? Told/know that you have a high IQ? Are you really analytical?

Then you probably suffer from the same mountain biking skill error I have been fighting all my life, trying to think your way through physical skills!

This was written for a student who frustrated me because he reminded me so much of myself! They say people are mirrors of you and when something bugs you about someone it is a reflection of something about yourself. It definitely was in this case and I desperately wanted to help him overcome is reliance on his analytical, thinking brain. That part of your brain is great for solving math and engineering problems but terrible at athletic skills. It’s actually not so much that it is terrible at athletic skills it is that it has nothing to do with athletic skills.

Have you ever noticed that knowing a skill doesn’t seem to make you able to do that skill? That’s because you need to train your “procedural memory” not simply understand the skill. If understanding the skill was enough to get you to do a skill there would be no coaches, simply read a book and aha, you’re a great skier, snowboarder, surfer, mountain biker, etc.

I’ve had the same problem as this student all my life. I have to completely understand a skill before I will commit to it! Ever hear the phrase “dumb jock”? Well, most jocks aren’t dumb but often the best athletes don’t sound too bright when they are asked about their performance.

This has nothing to do with what we think as intelligence, the reason they don’t sound bright is the questions they are asked can’t really be answered. “What were you thinking as you took off for the double backflip?” Well, she wasn’t thinking, she was doing. Her conscious, thinking brain was shut off. So she has to make stuff up when asked that question.

You’ve experienced this, it’s called the zone. Where everything just seems to happen perfectly as when it needs to be done. It is a blissful state and one of the main reasons you enjoy mountain biking enough to read this article but, you wish you could hit that state more often.

Another hard question is, “how did you do that?” Often, top athletes have trouble with this question because they don’t know exactly what they are doing and have trouble putting it into words. This is because skills are stored in our procedural memory, where a circuit is designed for each skill. That circuit is called the cortex-basal ganglia-thalamus-cortex loop.

The book Choke goes into great detail about this. I noticed this the first time I worked with Greg Minnaar. I was explaining a skill and Greg kept saying, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s exactly what I do! You could tell he was astounded that I could break it down and put it into words. Greg executes most skills so well he has long forgotten or maybe never knew the mechanics of the skill.

You know what, Greg is very bright too! His good fortune is though he is bright in the IQ sense he also bright in the body sense (using his basal ganglia). He knows when to use his IQ (managing his career, businesses, and investments) and when to turn off that thinking brain and use his basal ganglia (all physical activities).

I’ve been a geek trying to be cool all my life. It all started one day when I was seven and came home really upset that I didn’t make the baseball team. My sweet mom trying to protect me said, “honey, your just not a natural athlete but, you are so much smarter than those boys, your IQ is blah, blah, blah ..”. Not exactly what this seven-year-old boy wanted to hear.

Looking back though there was a lot of truth in that statement. School was easy for me, I didn’t even buy textbooks my senior year of college, I just went to class and paid attention and got mostly A grades. Sports, they were a struggle though. I never passed the presidential fitness test (was often the slowest in the 50-yard dash) and in college, I learned that I had asthma.

So when it came to the two sports I actually did okay in, snowboarding and mountain biking, I knew I couldn’t out power the competition so I tried to outsmart them! Sometimes it worked a bit with strategy and “smarter” training programs but where it didn’t work was in the skills department. I tried to think my way through the skills.

Are you proud of your knowledge of skills? But, deep down you know that you aren’t always or perhaps are rarely doing what you know? That was me.

In 2007 I took a great motorcycle camp (American Supercamps) with the hope of learning more about bike handling. I was the only one who asked questions, out of 16-20 riders. When I asked questions all the other students just looked at me with that STFU look. They completely trusted the coach and just did what he said (lucky guys!). I had to know “why” before I would buy in, which, looking back was my problem all through my athletic career (or lack thereof!).

The athletes that just do what the coach says are the lucky ones, their mind doesn’t get in the way! Now, knowing why a skill works does help most of us buy in and I have spent the last 28 years helping students understand that why. However, my best students, aren’t focused on why it works. Once they felt a skill work that was all they needed, they practiced it until they couldn’t get it wrong.

There is hope for the rest of us though. We simply need to find ways to either shut off the over analyzing part of our brain or distract it.

I first experienced this in 1992 when my snowboard coach would yell multiplication problems at me when I was training. He said when I was solving problems I rode my best. Unfortunately, I didn’t truly understand it then, as a matter of fact, I was confused. How could being distracted be good?

That was before I knew about procedural memory. Once we have trained our procedural memory with structured practice (something I had plenty of as a snowboarder) when we shut off or distract our analytical brain our procedural memory takes over and we rip!

So far, the best way I have found to distract my analytical brain is to use music. I ride best with music at low volume (I have to be able to hear my tires, chain slap, and wind all of which give us cues to what is happening). My favorite riding song is the Gin and Juice cover by The Gourds.

I also practice meditation which also helps by focusing my analytical mind on my breathing, letting my body “just do”.

Your assignment is to drill, drill, drill the proper skills in (riding trail is not skills training as you quickly lose focus and return to any dominant habits you have (which are often, old ingrained bad habits)) in a controlled environment like an empty parking lot. On the trail work on shutting off or distracting your analytical mind and letting the drilled in skills take over.

Experiment, try singing, listening to music at a low volume, do multiplication problems, learn to meditate, anything you can do to let your procedural memory take over.

Do have a favorite way to shut off that overactive mind? Let us know below.

If you know anyone who could benefit from this article feel free to share it.

Shut that brain off and create your best ride yet!

 

 

 

dumb motorcycle camp guys asked zero questions

used to think I needed to know every little detail of how and why a skill worked to commit to it.

I have work with GM, very bright guy, was amazed I can but what he does into words so smarter than me because he knows when to use analytical brain and when to use body brain

For this article we have two brains, our “smart, thinking brain that solves math problems” and our “body brain” called procedural memory (book Choke?) when to use each… smart when stopped and figuring out a line, body while riding

Answers: meditation, music, distract the overthinking brain, math problems racing slalom  examples to prove my point but condoning these uses Doc Ellis , Wille Warren , Sutton,  ross rab, Jimi Scott

MTB, The Pros Use It, Why Maybe You Shouldn’t

MTB, The Pros Use It, Why Maybe You Shouldn’t

Just because an mtb pro (or a bunch of pros) uses a piece of equipment doesn’t mean you should make the same choice. Why not? Well, there are several reasons and I will give you some excellent examples.

A student of mine emailed me accusing me of being crazy for riding plus-sized tires. His argument was that Jared Graves and Richie Rude (two World Champion Enduro racers) tried plus tires and didn’t like them. My first question to my student was, can you corner as well and as confidently as World Champion racers? To which he replied, “well, I’m much better after your camp and I have been doing the cornering drills but no, I’m not that good.” Well, plus tires give me the confidence to corner much faster and aggressively than narrower tires I told him. Wouldn’t you corner faster if you knew you had Way More Traction?

Jared Graves cornering like the champ he is!

So, reason one why not doing what a top mtb pro does is, you are not Jared Graves! Don’t you think Jared Graves can corner better than you and that he rides with more confidence than you? So, Jared doesn’t need the extra traction from the plus-sized tires but, you sure could benefit from that extra traction and confidence!

Reason two why not doing what a top mtb pro does is, change feels weird, maybe if Jared and Richie spent more time on plus they would like them! It took me seven days of riding to get used to 812mm wide bars! My friends were joking me and asking me how much I was going to cut them down. After three days they still felt weird to me and was thinking I would probably cut them down but was smart enough to give them a few more tries.

Reason three comes from working with Greg Minnaar (three-time world champion and three-time world cup overall champion). Who do you think knows more about bike handling and bike setup, me or Greg Minnaar? Well, let me tell you about three separate conversations with Greg.

The first happened in a camp I was teaching with Greg about two weeks after getting my 812mm wide bars (in 2011 I think). I was explaining to the students that the ideal bar width (for control and good body position) was between 32″ (812mm) and 29″ (740mm) depending on height and width of your shoulders. Greg just laughed and said, “no one needs bars over 30″ wide. Well, Greg’s signature bar from ENVE is 808mm wide and he runs them uncut. It took Greg a while to come around but now his bars are much wider than 30”!

Greg Minnaar

Greg Minnaar’s 808mm wide bars

A few years before that, when Greg moved to Santa Cruz bikes from Honda, I told Greg is large V10 was way too short for him. Greg just laughed and said, “who’s the world champion here?” Well, the next year Santa Cruz lengthed the reach measurements on the V10s by 20mm. A year or two later they came out with an XL designed for Greg and Steve Peat (both of whom are 6’3″) that had a 25mm longer reach than the large. Then, two years ago they made an XXL that was another 25mm longer in reach and Greg added a 10mm headset spacer to that! Greg loved the XXL and it seemed to bring new life into his career. Greg’s bike has grown by three sizes since he told me his large was fine for him and I said it was too short.

Then there was the time I told Greg that I really wanted a 29r downhill bike! Greg couldn’t stop laughing at that idea! Well, now Greg rides an XXL 29r V10.

Greg Minnaar’s XXL 29r v10

Reason three is, pros are afraid of change! Ever heard the saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Well, think about it, if you are a multi-time World Champion and you are used to your current bike, why change to something different? It wasn’t until Greg started getting beat by racers on longer bikes that he decided to experiment.

Reason four, often a top pro racer is paid to use certain equipment. Greg has won racers on bikes from Haro, Orange, Honda and Santa Cruz. He gets paid quite a bit of money to do that and he might be riding a prototype, not what you can buy.

Do your own research and TEST (for at least a week!) various changes in equipment to see what works best for you. Keep an eye on what the pros are doing as you can learn from that but, what the top pros are doing isn’t always the best thing for you to be doing!

I hope this has helped you. Any stories about a pro doing something weird/different that worked for you? That didn’t work for you? Let us know below.

Feel free to share this with anyone you know who could benefit from it.

Create your best ride yet,

Gene