The Best MTB Skills Advice I Have Ever Given. (How we actually “break” bad habits and create perfect ones)

The Best MTB Skills Advice I Have Ever Given. (How we actually “break” bad habits and create perfect ones)

As you may know I am obsessed with learning and teaching. How do we learn? What is the best way to learn a new skill? How can I best coach this skill? How can improve on my methods? These questions are constantly running through my head which is what makes coaching such a great passion for me. Well about 5 months ago I hit the Jackpot!

I have learned some truly amazing information on learning and mastering skill. Two books in particular have really opened my eyes, Slow Practice Will Get You There Faster by Ernest Dras and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. The first book is written by a renowned tennis coach about golf and the second explains the science of learning backing up (and then some) the first with the science behind why slow practice and “deep” practice work so well. If you are fascinated by learning and have always wondered how some people go on to be great at something while others seem to try hard but not get to the top these book are both great reads and I highly recommend them. If you are more a “cliff notes” type scholar I will give you some of my biggest takeaways from the books.

What both of these books explain is Slow, “Deep” or “Deliberate” practice is the best and fastest way to master anything, whether it is playing an instrument, mastering a martial art or becoming a better mountain biker.

Why slow, deep practice? Turns out we don’t fix or change bad habits, we need to produce brand new perfect habits. In layman’s terms a skill (such as doing a wheelie) is a series of impulses transmitted through a wire from your brain to all the muscles and nerves the skill requires. When we first do a skill we put the wire in place but it takes perfect repetition of that skill to make the wire work better. The “wire” starts out with no insulation (imagine a bare wire with no rubber coating under the hood of your car) so it shorts out easily and doesn’t always fire correctly. We build that insulation (called the Myelin Sheath) best through slow, deliberate practice.

BR Coach Gene Hamilton explaining cornering body position

How does this effect you and your mountain bike riding? If you are like me and all of my students so far, when you first started riding your either had no instruction or improper instruction and started doing somethings incorrectly (which for me meant, getting my weight back on descents, riding to upright with straight arms, braking in corners, etc. a ton of bad habits). Unfortunately the Myelin Sheath doesn’t know what is correct or not so the more you ride incorrectly the more you build up that insulation around that wire. Which means the more and more powerful that bad habit becomes. Then you read a “tip” on how to ride better (like in my mini-course) and now you know you should ride with your weight on the pedals instead of getting your weight back. You then practice this by coasting down your driveway with all of your weight on your pedals. Congratulations, you have just created a new, perfect habit! Don’t get too excited yet though, that habit or “wire” isn’t insulated to well so it doesn’t always fire correctly. You are committed to change though so you practice it five times a day for a week. Now the Myelin Sheath has gotten thicker and the wire works better but, the old wire has 8 years of Myelin Sheath building around it so the old habit still takes over when you aren’t focused on the new habit and when ever the least bit of fear creeps into you.

How do you build up enough insulation on the wire for the new, perfect habit take over the old habit? Slow, deliberate practice. What the heck is slow deliberate (or “deep”) practice? Slow, deliberate practice is working on one movement or short combinations of movements slower than you normally would do them. The best musicians learn songs much better and faster by taking 20 minutes to play a three minute song! They are focused on the tiniest of movements and the sounds they produce sound more like elephants in pain than music (my favorite quote from The Talent Code is from a music professor who says, “if a passerby can recognize the melody you are playing it too fast”).

Coach Gene Demonstrating how to practice deeply.

You may be saying, “What does this mean to me? I ride bikes!” Well for you it means we need to first learn the correct, in balance and in control techniques and then practice them at a very slow pace with an eye on perfection and stopping and correcting our mistakes. You are fooling yourself if you think riding a bike will make you better at it (maybe a hair more comfortable as you get used to your bad habits but not better).

Students doing "deep" practice while Gene coaches

If you want to reach your personal best as quickly as possible, slow down and practice deliberately!

Mountain Bike Trail Building Passion!

By BetterRide Head Coach Andy Winohradsky

So its not quite too late for New Year’s Resolutions … and here’s one for anybody that rides a bike on dirt: get out there and get your hands dirty with a few days of trail maintenance this season.

Little story: I just got back from Miami, Florida and was blown away by the quality of the riding and the vibrant MTB scene in the area.  What?  Great mountain-bike riding in South Florida?  If you find yourself with a response similar to this, you’re not alone.  I tell my riding buddies here in Colorado the same bit and they think I’m joking, and previous to my recent journey to F-L-A, I would have thought the same.

So how do you get great riding out of a place that is a flat, sandy, swampy, bug-infested jungle?  Simple (or not), you build it!  There is one reason that the trail systems that I rode were in existence and a blast to ride: a massive amount of trail work.

Anyone that has a bit of trail building experience understands that you can’t blindly hack a trail out of the side of a hill or through a forest and expect to end up with a quality result.  Proper trail building takes knowledge and experience in addition to hard work.  A good trail has to flow well, use the natural features of the area, have some good variety, among a lot of other things that can be argued about or discussed at some other time.  But to do it right takes some skill, some vision – and in the case of South Florida – a lot of creativity … and tons of hard work.

While some trail systems benefit from beautiful vistas, lush forests, and/or diverse eco-systems, the Miami area trails had none of these.  They were drained swamps, and at least one of them was an unofficial garbage dump at some point.  They appeared to be built on discarded land, and the builders had only a few acres to work with.  Trail builders created artificial and additional elevation (in addition to the natural twenty feet – tops) with wood, rocks, dirt, old carpet … sometimes 50′s era washing machines (decoratively spray painted).  Bridges were built and snaked precariously over the numerous still swampy areas (there was even a large decaying old boat grounded in what must have previously been a canal – won’t get that in Colorado) .  The trails were undoubtedly “tree-wrappers”, which can be scoffed at by us snooty western folk, but this actually added to the atmosphere and character.  Many of the tight turns were perfectly bermed, and small – but fun – jumps and rollers were dispersed through-out in order to help keep speed and momentum.  Nothing was unsafe for a beginner, yet even a washed-up, pro-downhiller like me could have a blast (Think high-speed-six-mile-singletrack-pump-track in a tropical forest).  There were some beautiful areas that wound through the everglades, and some sections of trail went right up to the ocean, so it wasn’t like you were riding through a Mad Max themed, day-glow carnival the entire time.

My point is this: from the above rant, did it sound like I had a good time?  Those people made some awesome trails out of nothing.  I don’t plan on moving to South Florida anytime in the future but if I do, I’ll still be an avid MTB’er and I won’t be hurtin’ for a wide selection of fun trails – all because a few people were willing to dream the dream and then put it into action.

And if you ride, you too should be part of that action.  Help the cause.  There are a lot of great trails already out there, but (not enough) maintenance is always an issue.   Access to MTB’ers on many trails is threatened because of this.  There are many proposed trails (some probably near you) that need as much help as they can get.  Also, trail building doesn’t only happen out there, in the dirt: good trails need well spoken people on the paper work side of things, at the board meetings of the Recreation Department, etc.

So, skip a ride or two this season and help build some trails.  Trust me, the cold beer will taste just as good at the end of the day … maybe even better!

Using Mountains Bikes to Help Troubled Kids! (heart warming story)

We need more people like this guy in this world. Did you know we have a similar program here in the US? I have volunteered for the Denver chapter before. The organization it is http://www.tripsforkids.org/  and they take troubled kids mountain biking.  It was a very moving experience, tough kids with criminal records from a detention center. It was quite the learning experience. The kids were from Denver yet had never been to the mountains (a short bus ride from Denver).  At first they were getting frustrated, a few got really upset (when they make a mistake or couldn’t make it up a hill) and some even cried. After a little encouragement and some small mountain bike successes they were smiling, laughing and having a great time. As a snowboard coach I learned that sport is a metaphor for life and helping people over come challenge can really help their self esteem. I didn’t realize how much can be gained in a couple of hours though. This had a profoundly positive effect on the kids.  Check the website for a chapter in your area or if you have the time start one!