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!

 

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!

 

Mountain Bike Crash

Mountain Bikers are Athletes, Act Like One!

Many “casual” mountain bikers and even some racers don’t feel like they are athletes. Well, I have news for you, mountain biking is an athletic sport, so mountain bikers are athletes and you should act like one. Acting like an athlete will make you safer, give you more control and allow to ride faster and more efficiently!

I get some form of this question once or twice a year from a student, “How do you prevent your quads from getting tired and burning on long descents while standing the whole time?” This always makes me smile, just because of how one of my coaches replied once when asked this question by a student.

He bluntly replied, “mountain biking is a sport, you need to be in shape an athlete to do it”. While he is right he could of been a bit kinder in his reply.

As I stress in my camps, mountain biking alone is terrible for you (physically), you need to add sound strength and mobility training to your riding. Yes, mountain biking is wonderful for your heart, lungs and some muscles in your legs but it causes imbalances (by working a muscle but not the opposite muscle). Your quads get really strong but your hamstrings don’t get much of a workout which puts uneven tension on your knees, which can lead to knee problems and an extremely tight IT band, causing major problems. Most riders favor a “forward foot” when standing and coasting, working your trailing leg and forward leg much differently leading to hip and back problems, etc.

Mountain Bikers are Athletes, Act Like One!

Mountain bikers’ IT Bands are notoriously tight!

 

Many riders think riding is enough and lifting weights will add weight and/or feel they don’t have time for it. Mountain biking is very physical and demands a stable core, coordination, strong legs and reasonably strong upper body , unfortunately cycling does little by itself to strengthen our bodies and keep our bodies functioning well so we must add strength training to perform at our best and stay safe (muscles protect us in crashes).

Yesterday I did ten 7-9 minute downhill runs then one 3,500 vertical foot 20 minute descent, all standing and yes, I was tired and a little sore but I feel great today. It was first my first lift served downhill day of the year and I expected to get worn out quickly and not be able to do top to bottom runs (how I felt last year) but working out this year saved the day!

Sarah Kaufman on her way to 2nd place!

Maintaining good body position requires a strong and mobile body! Sarah Kaufman in great position!

My back had been giving me trouble the last few years and I quit working out, at first I felt OK on the bike despite not working out, probably the lingering effect of working out for years. A few months after I stopped working out I noticed I couldn’t do a five minute descent without my quads cramping up a bit and I couldn’t make some climbs I used to make.

This winter I finally found some exercises that got my back feeling much better (more on them in a future blog) and I started working out again. At first I didn’t notice much (probably because you don’t gain strength quickly) but in the last few weeks I have been stoked to be able to hang with friends who last year would simply ride away from me!

Downhill riding at Deer Valley yesterday was the best I have felt on a downhill bike in years, despite being the first day this season actually riding downhill trails! I’m over the moon excited right now because I feel like I’m forty again!

Enough about me, how does this help you?! I HIGHLY recommend you find a qualified strength and mobility coach and start working out! No, you won’t bulk up but you will become stronger, more confident, faster, more efficient and much safer on your bike!

* Stronger/faster: James Wilson explained this to me years ago. He said something to the effect of, “… you are  right, by riding hard, pushing big gears up hills and doing intervals you will make your “engine” much more efficient. You will take you 1/8 horse power engine and get it running at 90-95% efficiency. However, if you workout and turn that engine into a 1/4 horsepower engine you can run at 50% efficiency and go faster with less perceived effort.” That really drove home the power of working out! Over the long term (that was 11 years ago) this advice has proven to be so true as I had one of my best seasons as a pro downhill racer when I was 40 years old!

* Safer: Many crashes happen when the rider is worn out. Why, being tired leads to bad habits, like sitting down while descending and sloppy control as your arm strength and coordination fades. Also, muscle makes great padding! A strong, limber rider is much less likely to get injured in a crash as a frail, weak rider.

* More Efficient: A good strength training program works movement patterns, not just muscles! A few years ago I worked out really hard in the gym and was surprised to have a personal best time on a climb the next day. I thought I would be worn out but instead climbed stronger than ever. When I asked James about this, he said that I had strengthened not only my muscles but my bodies ability to “fire” that movement pattern so, Of Course I climbed faster.  This phenomenon has happened many times since and it still blows me away.

What to work on:

Mobility/Stable Core: Years ago when I was a snowboard coach I was introduced to the idea of “effective strength”. There is a big difference between the strength one can produce pushing weight and the strength one can produce doing something that requires strength, mobility, balance and coordination. To ride our best we need “effective strength”! An example of this is doing squats instead of using the leg press machine or “leg sled” at the gym. With a squat you are not only working your quads, you are working the every muscle needed to produce that motion, including stabilization muscles and your core. When using the leg press machine you are bracing yourself against a solid platform and pushing away mainly working your quads (not your hips, gluteus maximus, core and stabilization muscles). When riding a bike we don’t have that solid platform to brace against and have to create that platform with our core and stabilization muscles. We Create that platform by creating a stable core.

Strength: All body strength and movement strength. We want to strengthen the movements we use when pedaling, absorbing shock and controlling our bike. This requires a well thought out, mtb specific workout program and the help of a personal trainer to make sure you are executing the program correctly.

You don’t have to bulk up, a good strength training program will pay HUGE dividends on the trails and allow you to effective use the skills I teach. So first, learn to ride a bike in control and in balance then invest in your body so you use the skills longer and more consistently.

 

 

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.