MTB Rock Roll

Mountain Bike Steep Rock Rolls, Video Tutorial

Mountain Bike Steep Rolls and Rocks, Video Tutorial

Smooth equals fast and smooth equals efficient, here is how to roll down a steep face smoothly!

Riding steeps and steep rolls is perhaps the most misunderstood skill in mountain biking. The LAST thing you want to do is start with your weight way back! No matter what anyone says, this is a scary position and unsafe position. You are starting at the end of your range of motion. With your weight back will be yanked down the steep roll and likely endo.

You want to do it smoothly and in balance, as I explain in the following video. For a more detailed break down please read and check out my photo sequence breakdown below after watching the video.

Mountain biking well requires being in balance, in control and being as smooth as possible. When descending that means we always start with our weight centered on our pedals and in a neutral position where we can proact or at least react to anything the trail throws at us. For a video tutorial of this starting position please read/watch this: http://betterride.net/blog/2018/mountain-bike-body-position-the-fundamental-movement-video-tutorial/

As you approach a roll in this position you will alter your position in relation to the height of the roll in. If the roll is equal in height or taller than the length of your arms you want hinge so you are practically brushing your chest on your handlebars and your knees are bent close to your chest.

MTB Rock roll

MTB Rock Roll starting position

Then as your front wheel starts down the descent you will extend your arms at about the same rate the wheel is dropping away from you. As your rear wheel starts to descend you will straighten out your legs about the same rate as your rear wheel is descending.

MTB Rock Roll

Starting to extend arms

 

Fully Extended Arms at impact, knees bent (notice, I’m only in this position for a millisecond as my front wheel goes from steep to flat, never ride in this position! Use it then return to centered and neutral) 

Already re-centering by bending arms and starting to straighten legs

Arms bent, centered, legs nearly straight ready to absorb rear wheel impact

Back to flat as smooth as possible (looks at that rear tire, still a fair amount of impact but smooth enough not to flat with 18 psi)

Example: If the roll is the exact length of my arm extension I will start with my chest practically on the bars and finish extending my arms at almost the exact same time my front wheel is hitting the ground (same with my legs and rear wheel). On a roll the length of your arm extension or less your head and chest should not move at all as you do this. If the roll is taller than arm extension I will extend my arms a little slower than my front wheel is descending with the goal of reaching full arm extension at the same time my front wheel is hitting the ground, then do the same with my legs.

For a short roll or drop such as a curb simply stay hinged and gently push down with your arms as the front wheel drops then do the same with your legs as your rear wheel drops.

The bonus of this is that in addition to being safer and much smoother is also faster and more efficient!

Often, when it comes to being smooth and efficient we want to look at mountain biking as being a game of momentum. The better you can maintain your momentum the less effort you will need. Momentum likes slack angles, if you are coasting downhill into a steep uphill you will slow down quickly, if you coast into a mellow uphill you will maintain speed longer. The same with downhills, a steep downhill with a sudden transition to flat ground (a steep approach angle) will cause your momentum to slam into the ground, not propel you forward. A less steep downhill with a lesser approach angle will be smoother and not slow you as much as you transition from the hill to flat ground.

While in almost any body position the approach angle of our bike remains the same, we can greatly change the approach angle of our momentum. By simply starting hinged and low and extending your arms and legs as you descend your hips and upper body take a much slacker approach to the ground. This makes you smoother as you have less impact and allows you to carry more speed.

This is easy to test, find a short, steep descent or a set of stairs and roll down with weight way back, you feel a big impact when the rear wheel slams into the ground. Now repeat the same descent, starting at the same speed as before but this time get centered and low and extend your arms and legs as you go down. You will find it is much smoother (less impact) and you carry more speed after the descent.

Have you had trouble with steep rock rolls like this? Have a particularly challenging roll on your favorite trail? Tell us about it below.

Want to go up a wall like this? Check out my next 2-minute tip and breakdown!

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

 

Exceed Your Mountain Biking Goals By Not Focusing On Them?!

We have probably all read that we should set goals in life (and sport) and then work towards them. What if I told you there is a much better way to achieve your mountain biking goals and a much more enjoyable way too?

This is the time of year where we typically analyze what we have done this year (or over the last 2-70 years) and set goals for next year.  Whether you want to finally clean that root filled climb, ride with more confidence or win a big race this article will help you lay the groundwork to do just that.

Wow, as a mountain bike coach I never thought I would tell you to stop setting goals! A few years ago I read an article that talked about not setting goals but creating and doing processes that allow you to grow in the direction you want to. Before that, in his book Body Mind, Mastery Dan Millman taught me something similar, to set my goals, write them down and then set them aside and simply focus on being the best I can be every day.

Focusing on being the best you can be, helps keep you in the moment (instead of focusing on the goal which could be months or even years away) and if you honestly do this you are likely to exceed your goals. Also, by being the best you can be each day you will enjoy each day more, not feeling like you are sacrificing today for tomorrow. With this approach, if your goals change because your life changes, a new job, a new relationship or an injury,  you won’t be thinking, “Darn! I wasted all that time” because you will have enjoyed every moment. This is similar to the processes idea but you still set a goal.

Here is a quick personal example of focusing on a goal, in 1999 (before reading Body Mind Mastery) my goal was to win the UCI World Masters Championship (WMC for short) and that was my complete focus for a year, from the fall of 1998 to the competition on September 4, 1999. By total focus I mean I quit my dream job, moved to so I could train more on bike in the winter, lived off my saving and eventually my credit card (hard to work all day and train hard enough to win a World Championship), went to bed early every night so I could recover from my training (so I had no social life) and every time I did intervals I thought, “this sucks, intervals are so painful, but I have to do these if I want to win the WMC!”.

Lucky for me, I managed to earn a bronze medal and honestly, it was the best day of my life until that point! However, I woke the next day and realized I was approximately $8,800 in debt to my credit card, I had no job, no place to live (all my stuff was in storage and I had lived in my van most of that summer) and no girlfriend to return to and I was in Quebec with two smelly friends in my old VW van, with a nasty exhaust leak, that none of us were confident would get us home! Victory is rather fleeting! And, after all, it was just a bike race, not helping others or saving lives!

mountain biking goals

In Third Place at the 1999 UCI World Masters Championships

In 2001 I decided to try and win the WMC again! This time I had read Body Mind Mastery and after setting that goal I put the goal aside and focused on the processes (intervals, skills practice, working out, yoga, mental training) and being the best I could at those processes each day. If it was interval day I did the best intervals I could, not to win the world masters but to simply enjoy pushing my body as hard as I could. I led a balanced life, I had a great job, sweet girlfriend and cool house to return to after the race.

My qualifying run went great, 2nd place and I didn’t push it at all, I could easily drop 8-10 seconds off my time on race day! I know I can win this! On race day, I charge out of the gate and my chain popped out of my chain guide in the first turn! Nooo! I hop off my bike, throw the chain back on but it pops off 30-40 feet later. I angrily pump my way to the finish and hang my head in despair. Probably the worst day of my life. However, the next day it was easy to smile as I was in the best shape of my life, was riding better than ever and had a great life to return to back in Colorado. My life was still pretty darn good! Can you imagine if my chain had come off in 1999? That would have crushed me, all that work and sacrifice for nothing!

Long story short, setting your goals and then focusing on simply being the best you can be every day is a great way to reach or exceed your goals. However, the article that talked about not setting goals but creating and doing processes that allow you to grow in the direction you want to is quite similar to Dan Millman’s idea except they eliminate the goal altogether (which I am still not 100% sold on). You can find the article here:  http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230333#   I feel it is a great read. Please let me know what you think about it.

I am sold on the idea of creating processes, which is what I do every year, I have physical processes (bike training programs, workout routines, yoga, foam rolling and stretching) mental processes (imagery, questioning self-talk and mental toughness exercises)  and mountain bike skills processes (drills to keep my skills at their best, on trail application and feedback from our coaches) that I do to reach my goals. Which, now, in my 50’s is to stay physically and mentally healthy enough to ride for another 50 years! Here is a great hierarchy of riding skills processes to work on: http://betterride.net/blog/2017/mtb-skills-practice-make-best-use-time-hierarchy-mtb-skills/

Here’s to creating your best year yet!

Have you used the methods above or something similar? How did go for you? Let us know and add to the conversation in the comments.

Enduro Camp

Greg Minnaar’s Big Mistake In the Last World Cup, Learn From It

The bike world is abuzz with talk of Greg Minnaar’s big mistake in the last World Cup! He did something I and most riders have done but you wouldn’t expect it from one of the best MTB racers of all time!

His crash wasn’t his mistake, it was the cause of the crash that was his mistake! To bring you up to date, if you weren’t glued to your live feed on Saturday, Greg crashed and seriously hurt his chance of winning the World Cup Overall. Greg had a big points lead going into the race and with just two races left he was likely going to win the overall, now that is going to be a tough task.

So what did Greg do that caused his crash? The conditions were quite different for the final 25 qualifiers (of which Greg was the 3rd place qualifier) than for the first 55. With the wet, muddy conditions, poor visibility and a big points lead, Greg decided to take it easy and be safe!  In other words his goal was to “not crash”! Which is the worst state anyone can ride in! Mountain biking is an offensive sport! You cannot mountain bike defensively, it will lead to disaster! Either ride with confidence or get off your bike and walk. Greg chose to ride defensively while is main competitors, Aaron Gwin, Danny Hart, Jack Moir, Troy Brosnan and Loic Bruni all attacked the track with confidence. Heck, despite the rain Aaron Gwin rode the best race of his life and took the win while Greg crashed and was disqualified.

In every camp I coach I tell my students that the safest way to fall is to not fall! Let me explain, our brains don’t like the words no, not and don’t. There is a real simple reason for this, if we think “don’t crash” we have to think about crashing! “Oh, that last crash hurt! Man, don’t want to do that again …”. It completely shifts our focus from confident to not confident. This in turn affects our coordination! We become much less coordinated and lose our “athletic posture”. Not a safe way to ride.

Not only do we want to be confident, we want to ride confidently at 90-100% of our ability level. At less than 90% we lose focus at 101% we are riding over our skill level and will likely crash. If you can’t ride that section of trail confidently, get off you bike and walk it. Then, if you want to one day ride that section of trail figure what scares you about it and what skills you need to improve so it will no longer be scary!

Why 90-100% of our ability level? That is where the “flow state” is! In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that to reach the “flow state” we need a challenge but a challenge within reach. So, too big a challenge (riding at 101% or above) we will not reach the flow state and probably freak out and we crash. Not enough challenge (riding at less than 90% of our skill level) and our mind tends to wander and we crash.

By “trying to take it easy” Greg wasn’t riding at his usual level of confidence and “taking it easy” allowed Greg to lose focus for a split second and his run was over!

It was sad to see my friend, student and coach make this mistake but it is a great reminder to be on the offense or get off and walk! Riding defensively never ends well (as does riding above our skill level, you can always get off and walk!)!

I hope you have learned from Greg’s mistake and enjoyed this article. Feel free to share it with anyone you feel may benefit from it. Have something to say or ask? Please comment below.

Fear is Good

MTB Skills Practice, Make Best Use of Your Time (Hierarchy of MTB Skills)

With so many coaches and instructors joining the ranks these days riders are getting flooded with skills information. Much of the information is good, some not so so good but often, even if it is good information it isn’t worth your time! Let me explain, if there was one skill that would improve your riding by 70% (at least) and ten skills that would each make you 1% better wouldn’t your time be better spent on the skill that will make you 70% or more better?

In an effort to be heard above all the noise coaches are picking apart skills and explaining a very complex piece of a more simple skill to sound like “pros”. The problem is, 99.5% of riders including 3 time World Champ Greg Minnaar will never get to the level where that little complex piece would matter. I will give you an example then explain what I call the “Hierarchy of MTB Skills”. My example is one piece of a skill that definitely works but even Greg Minnaar does not do.

When cornering always have your inside foot forward, in the direction of the turn (enter a left hand corner with left foot forward, enter a right hand corner with right foot forward). This was first taught to me by downhill racing legend Rob Sears, RIP. This foot placement does work well* so why do great racers like Greg Minnaar not use this technique? Because after experimenting with this technique Greg realized it takes up too much band width and he would often mess up on a more important piece of cornering such as getting his speed down to the correct entrance speed for the corner and/or looking through the corner. In other words, Greg Minnaar was losing over a second or more per corner on the hopes of gaining a few 10ths of a second on half the corners (he always rides with his left forward so this new technique would only help in in right hand turns as he already always has the correct foot forward for left turns). That is not a good pay off! (This did work for a Rob and one other racer I know but for most of us it is a big, time wasting challenge and not worth the effort. If it comes easily to you go for it!)

Do you want to impress your friends with interesting but relatively useless knowledge or be able to ride at your best? My goal has always been to ride at my best! Knowledge is worthless if you can’t easily and consistently put that knowledge to use. If the best racer in the world (whose job is riding/practicing/racing bikes) can’t master the technique what are the odds that someone with a full-time job and possibly a family will have the time to master that technique?

As your coach my goal is to get you riding at your best and that is what you are paying me for. Even though I have coached numerous national and world champions you probably don’t have the time they have to practice. My goal isn’t to show off all the technical knowledge I have after over twenty years of coaching. My goal is to teach you how to master the skills with the biggest benefit to you! With that in mind I have developed “The Hierarchy of MTB Skills”.

The hierarchy is designed to help you focus on what you currently need to improve. Within the hierarchy there is even a hierarchy for each piece of that skill. For instance all skills require proper vision techniques and proper body position. So they are number 1 and 2 in “The Hierarchy of MTB Skills”.

No matter what skill you are working on the first two pieces will be vision flowed closely by body position. If your vision is off and every other piece of the skill is perfect it will still be a terrible corner or switchback. However, if the vision is perfect and everything else is a bit off it will likely still be a good corner or switchback. If both your vision and body position are perfect and everything else is a bit off it will probably be a better corner than 99% of mountain bikers are making!

If you have taken a camp from me or know how humans learn physical skills like mountain biking (see this article for more on that: http://betterride.net/blog/2015/mtb-skills-actually-learn-experts-often-make-poor-coaches/ ) you know that physical learning requires deliberate practice. Deliberate practice usually involves drills and I recommend at least three twenty minute drill sessions a week if you really want to see improvement in your riding and have those improvements stick! Use the hierarchy to get the most out of your practice time.

Once you master a skill you must keep practicing it to stay sharp (old saying, “amateurs practice until they get it right, pros practice until they can’t get it wrong”) by now you may be able to spend a little less time on that skill and more on the next skill down the hierarchy. Practicing just the two most important skills would be boring so spend sometime on all the skills but skew your time to get the biggest payback!

I know that you know that looking ahead on a mountain bike is important but I doubt you realize what a large percent of your riding time you aren’t doing it. The only way to fix that is to learn how to look at the trail and then train your eyes do that with vision drills. Watch the top downhill racers’ eyes, you will never see Aaron Gwin, Greg Minnaar or Rachel Atherton looking down, never! Now watch a video of you on a much less scary trail and I bet you will be surprised how often you are looking down.

I have quite a few friends who can manual (ride a wheelie downhill) for miles which is amazing to me! Yet they aren’t looking ahead all the time on trail, meaning I can corner, brake, ride off-camber roots, etc. better than they can. Don’t get me wrong, manualing for miles is cool and looks really fun, but doesn’t help you on the trail as much as vision

Don’t get frustrated, get motivated! Understand that if you master the top two skills on the hierarchy you are more than halfway to mastering every other skill. As for everything in life, the more you put into deliberate practice the more you will get out. Go practice! (using the drills I have taught you. As you know, telling yourself, “look ahead” doesn’t work! You must train your vision using drills.

Here is the Hierarchy of MTB Skills:

  1. Vision, always looking ahead correctly!A. Where you are lookingB. How you are looking

    C. Training your vision/subconscious connection

 

2. Body position, always in balance, in control, relaxed, neutral and in an athletic stance

A. Vision

B. Weight placement

C. Hinge

D. Arm/shoulder position

E. Foot placement on pedal

F. Dynamism

 

3. Balance, always in balance, balance can be trained*

A. Vision (huge affect on balance!)

B. Body position

C. Balance training

D. Pedal pressure

E. Slow speed balance

F. Trackstands

 

4. Braking

A. Vision

B. Descending body position

C. Foot and hand adjustments

D. Bracing

 

5. Cornering

A. Vision (looking through corner, 5-10 feet past exit if possible)

B. Descending body position

C. Braking, Get cutting speed braking done in straight line before starting corner

D. Line choice

E. Traction, correct body position for optimum traction

F. Foot placement (down or level), correct foot placement for goal (is your goal optimum traction in a loose corner or do have traction but want to accelerate by pumping the corner)

G. Forward foot towards turn direction (again, if you’re not perfect on everything above and/or if this makes you less perfect on anything above it is a complete waste of time)

 

6. Obstacles skills 1.0

A. Vision

B. Body position

C. Pedal Wheelie

D. Coasting Wheelie/Manual

E. Weight Shifts

 

7. Switchbacks

A. Vision

B. Body Position (climbing and descending)

C. Entrance preparation (braking for downhill switchback, shifting catching breath for uphill)

D. Line choice and turn entry point

E. Uphill, power modulation. Downhill brake control

 

8. Obstacle skills 2.0

A. Drop offs (at all speeds)

B. Rear wheel lift

C. Bump jump

D. Bunny hop/J Hop

E. Jumping

 

9. Riding Off-camber trails and roots

A. Vision

B. Body Position

C. Balance

D. Don’t brake!

 

10. Restarting on a hill

A. Vision

B. Body Position (climbing)

C. Seated

D. Vertical Bike

E. Clean wheel path

F. Gearing

G. Pedal away (don’t push off with foot on ground)

H. The “second pedal”!

  • *Why when cornering having your inside foot forward (enter a left hand corner with left foot forward, enter a right hand corner with right foot forward) can slightly improve your cornering. It is a balance and smoothness issue. You can put your trailing foot where it feels natural and balanced. You can slow go from level pedals to having the outside foot anywhere between 9 o’clock (level with front pedal) and 6 o’clock (straight down). Sometimes your outside foot will go slowly from 6 o’clock to 7:30 other times quickly from 6 to 9 and every combination in between. With the outside foot forward it usually only feels comfortable in either 3 o’clock or 6, everywhere else just feels awkward! This also provides a smooth transition from equal weight on both pedals to all on the outside pedal. For most of us a subtle difference, one day at the world cup level it might matter!