Choose to Be Unreasonably Happy When You Ride
Inspiring Mountain Biking Students from 20 Years of Coaching, Part 1
As you can imagine in my 20 years of coaching mountain bike skills I have had a lot of interesting and inspiring people take my camps. Some of these people have gone on to become famous racers, some legends in the industry (more about them in Part 2) but many of the most interesting stories come from my passionate students who simply love riding bikes.
They say that with age comes wisdom and I have definitely learned a lot from some of my oldest students. While most people aged 50 plus are retiring from sports or watching their performance in their sport/s of choice decline many of my “older students” have inspired me to keep learning, improving and getting better for the rest of my life!
My first older student was a 55-year-old grandmother who had learned to ride a bike that year! She never had a bike until she was 55, impossible for me to even imagine how scary and intimidating it must have been for her. Did I mention she had four fused vertebrae?! She said her friends thought she was crazy and that they just sat home and watched TV most of the time. I remember telling her that her friends were the crazy ones, she was smart enough to continue learning, growing and exploring. I will never forget the smile on her face when she did her first wheelie! (unfortunately, I did forget her name, it was 19 years ago!)
Two other “older students” I coached were Nancy Harris (aka Den Mom) and her husband Roger Gutierrez. Nancy and her husband Roger took my first ever Bootleg Canyon Downhill Camp (with Luna Chick Marla Streb as my guest coach) in 2005. Nancy had grown up riding motorcycles and now both of them were into downhill mountain bike racing. While her heart was willing Nancy’s knees were failing her, years of dirt bike riding had left her knees not functioning too well.
Nancy taught me to be tough! Seeing her grimace in pain but keep riding hard made a big impression on me. If she could ride in that pain I could push her bike (and my bike) up the trail to the top during that camp as her knees were really hurting in the cold (yes, it snowed in Las Vegas that weekend!). She has gone on to have both knees replaced, did her painful rehab and his still riding and racing downhill 14 years later! Roger is still riding and racing too, what an amazing couple!
I once coached a 67-year-old student in Fruita who rode up and over this rock on Prime Cut in Fruita (a student is riding down in this photo):
He did it with ease (using the manual and weight shift from this article: http://betterride.net/blog/2018/mtb-manual-over-obstacles-w-overlocked-move-video-tutorial/ ). That isn’t the coolest part though. I was coaching in Fruita three years later and this elderly gentleman walked up to me and he said, “Gene, I don’t know if you remember me but I took a camp from you three years ago and you said that I was the oldest rider you ever saw go up the rock on Prime Cut”. I excitedly replied, “yeah, I remember you, you were 67!” He then, very nonchalantly said, “I just wanted to tell you, I did it again yesterday, thanks for your coaching.” He went up that rock at 70! Wow!
My oldest student so far has been Fred Schmid who was 78 when he took a camp from me in Dallas, Texas eight years ago. Now that alone is impressive, mountain biking at 78! But wait, there’s more, he did the Leadville 100 when he was 80 and finished in under 12 hours earning him the coveted Leadville 100 belt buckle! Fred started mountain biking in his 70’s after being a rancher in Waco, Texas. Last I heard from him he was doing the Telluride 100 at 83 years of age! If that doesn’t inspire you nothing will!
I’m sure I have left a few older riders that I have coached but don’t think you didn’t inspire me too! Here’s to all the older riders out there inspiring the youngun’s that they don’t have to grow old! Thanks for the inspiration!
Mountain Biking 10 Ways To Calm Your Fear and Ride at Your Best
1. Create a pre-ride routine to get you in the right mental space to ride your best! Nothing kills confidence liked a busy, cluttered mind. Don’t just a hop than bike after a stressful day, start with a routine that gets you focused on riding your best. Learn to create your pre-ride routine here: https://wp.me/p49ApH-1g9
2. Go at your own pace and take “baby steps” when progressing. Taking a big leap over your comfort zone is not a good way to improve. This is a case of fear being a good thing! A big leap over your comfort zone likely means you don’t possess the skills to do it (or at least don’t believe you have those skills)!
Have you ever been goaded into doing something that you felt was way above your skill level? Even if you make it you often don’t feel like you have gotten better, you feel like you got lucky. Feeling, “Holy cow, I nearly died, that was sketchy!” does not improve your confidence! If you don’t make it, the crash will often set you back, decreasing your confidence and raising your level of fear. So be gentle with yourself and progress at a pace that is comfortable for you.
3. Focus on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. This sounds simple but pays off big. Our brains don’t understand “not” and “don’t” very well. If you are focusing on not falling your brain has to focus on the concept of falling and then quickly try to refocus on “not” doing what you are thinking about. It is much easier to focus on “getting to that tree” or “ride this section smooth and light” than telling yourself “don’t fall”.
4. Live to ride another day! If you are more focused on “not falling” than you are on getting to where you are going, get off your bike and walk that section. Who knows you might go right through it the next time when you are more warmed up and/or focused.
After/while walking that section figure out what about that section is scaring you then “baby step” your way up to doing it.
Example: If a four-foot drop on an exposed trail is scaring you find a one foot drop with no exposure, get really good a hitting that, work your way up to a four-foot drop with no exposure, then ride an exposed trail with a one foot drop working all the way to a four-foot drop on an exposed trail. This builds on a series of successes, increasing your confidence!
5. Breathe, relax, breathe and smile it is just a bike ride. Breathing and smiling releases tension which improves our balance, coordination and confidence. I mean deep, belly breathes from your diaphragm which is very calming. Smiling releases endorphins which relax you. The simple act of lifting the corners of your mouth, even if it is a grimace it will release those endorphins and relax you!
I read that Navy Seals use “box breathing” for this, breathe in for a four count, hold for a four count, breathe out for a four count, hold for a four count and repeat.
6. As you improve make sure you update your self-concept to match. Remember that the past doesn’t equal the future. You may have wrecked or not made a section last week/month but if your skills have improved since then the section may be easier for you now.
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, here comes that rock that always messes me up” as you approach it. Then you 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.
7. Wear knee pads and elbow pads when practicing a tough section are learning a new skill. I have found that having padding on really increases your confidence when learning or trying to push your limits. As a matter of fact, I never ride without knee pads anymore, knees are too valuable and too easily damaged!
I don’t wear them because I expect to fall (I don’t expect to fall), I wear them so I can focus on what I want to do!
8. Write your fears down and then read them out loud! This often debunks your fear/s. Is your fear realistic? Often fear is not based in reality and when we realize this the fear goes away.
I was taking a meditation for sport class and the instructor had us do this exercise, some of the fears were hysterical. One of the students said he was afraid of upsetting his wife if he didn’t do well. Instructor, So your wife really cares how well you do in your bike race. Student, well, actually, while she wants to me to do well she really doesn’t care what place I get.
9. Learn from your mistakes. If you mess up or wreck do your best to figure out why it happened and correct that mistake or improve your technique so it will not happen again. Then update your self-image!
10. Power pose! You might want to add this powerful technique to your pre-ride routine! https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en
Confidence is everything! Not overconfidence which can be dangerous, simply being confident in the skills you possess as a mountain biker will enable you to ride at your best!
Remember to have fun, after all, that is what mountain biking is all about.
I hope this has helped you. What are your mountain biking fears? Let me know in the comments.
Feel free to share this article with anyone you feel might enjoy it.
I learned to coach because I love helping people succeed. That is a coach’s job, help their athletes reach their potential. I had a horrible snowboard coach (he knew his stuff technically but was bitter and put all the athletes on the team down) and thought I could do that better!
In my 29 years of coaching my focus has always been, how can I get this student performing at their best? The thing holding most people back isn’t their athletic ability, it is their mindset.
I have heard many mountain bikers say things like, “I will never be able to do that”, and they think top racers are special people, somehow they were born to mountain bike. Well, guess what, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right!” (Henry Ford)
Greg Minnaar wasn’t born with bike skills, he developed them and continually seeks to improve them. I wasn’t born with coaching skills, I developed them and I am always learning and improving.
Change your mindset from, I can’t, I wish I could … to, with practice I am getting better. Like most of us, I have setbacks and frustrating days but I don’t let those days get me down. I use those days as inspiration to get back on top of my game.
Do you know what stokes me out most about riding? Challenging myself and seeing my riding progress. I’m 52, I stopped getting faster 12 years ago! But I’m getting better, I cleanly ride sections of trail on 130mm travel bike that I struggled to ride with a downhill bike 12 years ago! (and I chicken out a little more too, I’ve gotten better and wiser!) I study, practice with focus and intensity, sometimes I fail, then I get back up and try again.
Never stop learning and practicing! About anything, if you are interested in something become a student for life! Often it isn’t about learning more, it is about learning and doing better.
Years ago I had a student say, “I already knew that.” I asked him why he wasn’t doing it! 🙂 Learning physical skills isn’t just about knowledge, it is about being able to do the skill. Can you corner as well as Greg Minnaar? If I took a photo of you practicing in a paved parking lot would you look like this?
If not you need to either learn more and then practice or practice what you have already learned.
This “good enough” attitude slowly kills your riding stoke. When you are thinking, I’m not getting better. I rode that last month but now I’m struggling. Plateauing is really frustrating and can be avoided by spending a little less time riding aimlessly and a little more time focusing on doing your drills and mastering the core skills of mountain biking.
This “good enough” attitude happens at all levels of riding from advanced beginners to top pros. I will use some pros I have been fortunate enough to coach as an example. Some of my most famous students practiced with intense focus for months/years after their camps and a few got 95% as skilled as Greg Minnaar (based on comparing their race times and watching them ride). Once getting that fast young athletes often start focusing on becoming faster instead of becoming better. Their results are plateauing (granted finishing in the top 10 in an EWS race is pretty impressive) and they are starting to look a little sloppy. They need just 10-20 minutes a day of practicing to get their techniques back to 100% because 95% doesn’t cut it at the EWS and World Cup Level.
I realize you might be quite away from riding as well as someone like Greg Minnaar, my point is no matter where you are, with a small amount of practice time you can greatly improve. As a matter of fact the further you are from perfect execution of a skill that that bigger and faster your gains will be with practice.
If they are 95% as skilled as Greg Minnaar, no matter how much they focus on speed they will never be as fast as Greg (after all he is 5% better than them and very confident!). Watch a World Cup race and compare the super fast guys in 20th place or further back. These guys are just outside of the top 20 in the World yet they look sloppy and almost out of control as they are at the edge or beyond their skill level. Then watch Minnaar, Gwin and Luca Shaw they make it look easy! They are so completely in control and so smooth they almost look slow. They put skills practice before speed!
Go out and practice and have fun getting better! Just 20 minutes of structured, focused practice done three days a week will pay off big. Set your mindset to, I am getting better with practice!
Video tutorials of skills to practice:
Please feel free to share this article with riding buddies or anyone you feel that could benefit from it. Create your best ride yet!
- Asheville, NC Mountain Bike Camp w/ Gene Hamilton of BetterRide
- Asheville, NC MTB Skills Refresher Camp
- Austin, TX Skills Refresh, Skills Application, Subtleties, Trail Strategy Mountain Bike Camp
- Austin, TX Mountain Bike Camp, With Gene Hamilton of BetterRide
- Austin, TX Mountain Bike Camp, With Gene Hamilton of BetterRide
- Austin, TX Women’s Mountain Bike Camp w/BetterRide Founder Gene Hamilton
- BetterRide Mountain Bike Camp Gift Certificate
- BetterRide Story
- Boise, ID Mountain Bike Camp w/Gene Hamilton, Founder of BetterRide
- Cancellation Policy
- Chip MacClaren
- Core Skills
- Dante Harmony and Jackie Harmony
- Don Bogardus
- Downhill & Enduro Mountain Bike Camp w/Gene Hamilton
- Downhill and Enduro MTB Coaching
- Durango, CO Downhill/Enduro Skills Mountain Bike Camp w/Gene Hamilton
- Durango, CO Mountain Bike Camp w/BetterRide Founder Gene Hamilton
- Dylan Renn
- Enduro Mountain Bike Camp, Moab, UT
- Fairfax, VA Mountain Bike Camp, Virginia MTB Camp
- Fairfax, VA Mountain Bike Skills Camp Refresher
- Fairfax, VA Women’s Mountain Bike Camp with BetterRide Founder Gene Hamilton
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Fruita Women’s MTB Camp with BetterRide Founder Gene Hamilton
- Fruita, Colorado Mountain Bike Camp with BetterRide Founder Gene Hamilton
- Gene Hamilton
- Have Way More Fun!
- Hood River, OR Mountain Bike Camp w/BetterRide Founder Gene Hamilton
- Improve Your Confidence!
- Index Page
- Jeff Ferrell
- Moab Mountain Bike Camp
- Moab Mountain Bike Camp with BetterRide
- Moab, UT Skills Refresh Mountain Bike Camp
- Mountain Bike Camp Dates and Location
- My Account
- Park City, UT Mountain Bike Camp w/Gene Hamilton, Founder of BetterRide
- Richmond, VA MTB Skills Camp with BetterRide Founder Gene Hamilton
- Ride Fast and Efficient!
- Scottsdale, AZ Mountain Bike Camp with Gene Hamilton of BetterRide
- Sedona Mountain Bike Camp With BetterRide Founder Gene Hamilton
- Skills Coaching Overview
- Terms and Conditions
- The Ten Most Common Mountain Biking Mistakes
- Winter Park, CO Mountain Bike Camp with BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton
- Winter Park/Fraser Women’s Mountain Bike Camp with BetterRide Founder Gene Hamilton
- Mental Training
- Mountain Bike Camps
- Mountain Bike Skills Coaching
- Reviews From Passionate Riders
- Thank You
- XC Racer Reviews
- Downhill Photos
- Downhill Racer Reviews
- XC Race Camps
- Women’s MTB Camps
- Downhill Coaching
- Private Coaching
- Rider Reviews
- Coach Bios