Fear, The MTB Skill Killer! (why you are afraid of trail features you have the skill for)

I’ve written some informative articles on Fear and how to handle it, how to use it to your advantage and how it can hold you back. Those articles can be found here: http://betterride.net/blog/2016/fear-when-mountain-biking-is-good/  , http://betterride.net/blog/2016/fear-while-mountain-biking/ , http://betterride.net/blog/2015/three-issues-keeping-you-from-mountain-biking-at-your-best-part-2/ , http://betterride.net/blog/2014/overcoming-fear-when-mountain-biking/ , http://betterride.net/blog/2014/fear-and-mountain-biking-part-2/

I had an epiphany yesterday though that really helped me understand fear (often irrational fear for a rider of that skill) that affects riders of great skill. Yesterday on my sacred Tuesday ride with my favorite crew here in Moab a long time friend and former student was scared to do something she has done probably 100 times before and something not near as hard as one thing I saw her ride last year. On another Tuesday ride last year Cathy was the only one to ride the Notch on LPS. I haven’t ridden the Notch in 3-4 years as the risk/reward ratio isn’t there for me but Cathy did it with speed and grace last year! She is a very capable rider, especially when it comes to steep and technical. So why was she scared to ride the last roll in on the Snotch yesterday? She eventually rode like the stud she is but it got me thinking about fear and the skilled rider.

Now don’t get me wrong, for a less skilled rider and even a skilled rider fear can keep us from doing things we have no business doing and that is a good thing! This is something I think all of us can identify with, we roll up to some trail feature we have ridden a hundred times and we “chicken out”. This is usually super frustrating and why does it happen?

Well, I figured out why yesterday and I came up with a plan to help you avoid this happening to you! If you are a longtime reader hopefully you remember my blog post about how we learn physical skills, if not please read it here: http://betterride.net/blog/2015/mtb-skills-actually-learn-experts-often-make-poor-coaches/ It’s a worthy read on it’s own (and great review if you read a while ago) but it will greatly help you with overcoming fear too.

So, now that you have read my article on how we learn physical skills you have learned that our beautiful, smart, conscious thinking brain has NOTHING TO DO with doing physical skills! Zero, nothing, nada! Think about all the things you know to do on your bike put don’t do (because you haven’t drilled them into your procedural memory)! Like looking ahead! Every riders knows to do this put if you watch a remotely technical section of trail you will see that 90-99% of the riders are looking less than a few feet in front of their front wheel  (except the top 100 or so downhill racers in the world who are ALWAYS looking ahead).  Riding a bike (or playing an instrument or any sport) does not happen in the part of your brain that thinks consciously (the part of your brain reading this sentence and the part of your brain that solves problems). Turns out, that is the whole problem with fear of something you know you can do! Ever notice how when you just roll into a tough but doable section of trail you do it well but, when you stop and scout it for a few minutes you often get hesitant? (Not recommending just rolling into a challenging section that might have changed since you last rode it, if it has a blind spot always scope it out first!)

Let’s get back to Cathy. So, she stops and looks at a section she can do comfortably (it is challenging mentally because there are major penalty points if you mess up but skill wise she has done this many times and things much harder with bigger penalty points) and engages her smart, thinking brain. It has no idea how to ride a bike and it’s looking at a steep rock slab covered with a thick layer of dust, with a little notch you have to wiggle through that could catch your pedal or bottom bracket then some tree roots with a rock wall on one side and a small cliff on the other. Her conscious brain, which doesn’t understand how easy this is for her is thinking, “this is stupid, there are so many ways we could get hurt here!” Mean while, the second she dropped in her conscious thinking brain stopped thinking and her procedural memory kicked in and she nailed!

This same scenario happens to me more than I would like. It even happened in the same spot on my first LPS lap this year!

If YOU find this happening to you on the trail and want it to stop, focus on doing this: As you roll up to that feature/trail section or BRIEFLY stop to check it out, tell yourself “I have done this before, in control and in balance (don’t lie to yourself, if that isn’t the truth stop and do what your feel is safest!)  just look at my line, then look to victory (where you want to be after that section), relax and let my body do what it knows to do!”

It really is that simple once you have done something confidently, in control and in balance you can do it again! Now, if you have never done it confidently before and don’t feel confident now, DON’T do it. Work on the skills needed to do it and baby step your way to doing it.

Let me know in the comments if you have faced this problem before and/or if this tip helps!


Easy, Fast Tubeless Tire Fixes for MTB

When you get a small puncture or sidewall slice on your favorite trail you want an easy, fast tubeless tire fix! I’ve got two simple fixes that you can prepare for and a few things that could help even if you aren’t prepared.

Mountain biking often takes place in remote areas so I recommend being prepared has it is cheap, will save you a lot of time and STRESS on the trail and just might keep you from walking out a few miles. Depending on where you live that starts with tires. In Moab we have a saying, “friends don’t let friends ride single-ply tires”. So, if you live in an area with sharp, square edged rocks, I highly recommend “enduro” or “trail” tires, these tires have sidewalls about halfway in between flimsy, light weight cross country tires and strong but heavy downhill tires. Yes, they weigh more than xc/single-ply tires but they allow you to run less air pressure for a smoother, more in control ride and resist all forms of flatting much better than single-ply tires. Carrying a CO2 cartridge inflator is a great way to not only speed up fixing a flat but to re-bead the tire in case you have to de-bead it.

CO2 cartridges

CO2 cartridges

The coolest things for fixing tubeless tires are plugs. I’ve used them for years but was always frustrated by how small the mtb plugs are (and their crazy cost!, $8.00 for 5 tiny plugs). Well, the other day I flatted why riding with my friend Lance and he whipped out some motorcycle plugs that are perfect for bigger sidewall tears and even a slice on the bead of a tire! They are 3-4 times bigger (diameter) than mtb plugs and three times as long so you cut each package into sets of three! They are cheaper too, $6.00 for 10 big plugs that when cut into thirds equal 30 plugs! I now carry both the little mtb plugs for small punctures and the motorcycle plugs for bigger holes, tears and slices in my tires. (I have a photo of both size plugs (see “featured image” above) and of my recently plugged sidewall slice on the bead but the new version of wordpress won’t let me “add media”. If anyone knows how to fix this please email me!)


The final piece to carry for tubeless tire fixes is a piece of Gorilla Tape. My flat was the result of a broken spoke that shot through my rim strip! It blew a 3-4 mm wide hole that all the air escaped out of. We had to de-bead the tire, pull out the broken spoke and patch the rim strip with Lance’s Gorilla tape. It can also be used to “boot” a big slice in the tire. Sadly, I had my CO2 head but no cartridge. We did get the tire’s bead to reset though, it only took about 200 pumps as hard and fast as we could do them with the little trail pump!

I did have a spare tube (which you should always carry) but Lance was determined to get it to work tubeless. Thanks Lance!

Later that day a friend at bike shop said he used a rubber band to plug a tire. Basically, anything that will plug the hole will work, once in Sedona Jordan used a cut piece of cactus to plug a hole. So, if you aren’t prepared you can McGiver it with about anything that will plug the hole!

Never hurts to have an ounce or two of sealant in your pack too!

Any other cool tubeless repairs you have used or seen? Let us know!

cody kelly has mountain bike skills

BetterRide MTB Camp Grads Tear Up the Sea Otter! (while their coach just gets older and slower! :) )

BetterRide MTB Camp Grads Tear Up the Sea Otter! (while their coach just gets older and slower! 🙂 )

Wow, what a weekend! While I was busy coaching a fun group of riders here in Moab quite a few of former campers were either winning races or landing on the podium at the Sea Otter Classic!

So stoked to see my students chasing their dreams and amazed to see that at least one “BetterRider” was in the top 4 of every gravity event at Sea Otter!

Cornering powerhouse Mitch Ropelato (SRAM) won the Sea Otter Dual Slalom in style! Congratulations Mitch! Another Gold for your huge trophy case!

Video of Mitch racing Kyle Warner here (courtesy of Kyle Warner) ! https://www.facebook.com/Kwmtb/videos/1347650138614481/

Former Sea Otter Dual Slalom Champion Cody Kelly (Yeti) earned a third place finish is the pumptrack race! Cody was also 14th in the Downhill! Great work Cody, looking forward to seeing your best season yet!

Mitch Ropelato and Cody Kelly in the fastest ever  BetterRide Camp, 2009?

Mitch Ropelato (White Fox Jersey) and Cody Kelly (yellow helmet behind Mitch) in the fastest ever BetterRide Camp, 2009?

Wow, the photo brings back found memories! Jackie and Dante Harmony, Heikki Hall, Szymon Kowalski and Will Collins. Nearly 10 years ago, wow, how time flys.

Mike Day (Giant Bicycles) is back from retirement and raced his way to 2nd place in the Downhill and Kiran Mackinnon (Santa Cruz) earned a 4th place finish. Congratulations to both of you! I’m impressed!

Mike Day’s teammate on Giant Bikes, McKay Vezina pedaled and pumped his way to 4th in the Enduro!  McKay is off to fast start this season as he was 15th in the Downhill and finished 21st in the second Enduro World Series of the season. Keep it up McKay!

What a great weekend! Hoping yours was filled with challenge, triumph (you gave it your best!) learning and fun!


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.