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!
Stop being one with your bike!

Mountain Bike Your Best, Every Ride, Mental & Physical Warm Up Plan

Ever struggle at the beginning of ride? Wish you could mountain bike your best, every ride? I received the following question from a student and it lead to a this article on warming up.

“I have a question about getting into the groove. It happens to me a lot that when I start out on a trail it takes a while for me to get into riding smoothly and comfortably. Even on trails I know very well. Sometimes it takes 20-30 minutes of riding before I feel comfortable. Darn good thing I’m an endurance racer and not a downhill racer, but it is frustrating. Can you give me some help as to how to overcome this? Is it common?
Karen”

This is quite common for many riders and I (and many of my students) have the same problem. I always like to warm up for at least 20 minutes before I hit the trail. For a trail ride or before my first downhill run of the day I usually warm up by doing my cornering and skills drills in a parking lot and riding a mellow trail or road. Recently I have added a dynamic warm up (jumping jacks, dynamic stretching) before I ride and this has really helped my focus (by lengthening my warm up a bit) and my body (by opening up my body, especially my back).  As I often state in my coaching sessions most of my crashes happen within 5 minutes of getting on my bike when I don’t warm up (because I am not focused).

 

Mountain bike your best

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills! Great way to warm up!

Dan Millman (author of Way of The Peaceful Warrior and Body, Mind Mastery) recommends transition periods when going from one aspect/role of life to another (mother to bike rider, business person to bike rider, stressed out business person to patient, loving father, etc.) and this can really help you get rid of distractions and focus on the present. A pre-ride routine (see article below) is a detailed example of this. I have a short one that I do when I get to the trailhead. As I am changing from street clothes to riding gear I take a few breaths and think about: 1. The day I have had so far and then putting it behind me 2. How fortunate I am to be going on a peaceful mountain bike ride when there is so much turmoil going on in the world. 3. How beautiful the woods/mountain is that I am about to play in. 4. How much fun it is to ride my bike! 5. What I am going to focus on (vision, counter pressure, body position, etc.) to help me enjoy the ride even more. 6. Something Missy Giove told me, she makes peace with the mountain before riding. I believe she learned this from a native American tradition. She really looks around at the beauty of her surroundings and tells the mountain, thank you letting me play on you, you are beautiful, I am not here to harm you but enjoy your beauty and trails (probably slightly mis-quoted this conversation was about 20 years ago). It may sound a little new age but I have found it to be really calming and help clear my mind.

In conclusion, I stress to all of my students the importance of a warm up. It helps clear your mind and get you focused, helps loosen up your muscles and relax you and helps you get the most out of your ride. Remember that you want to do dynamic stretching before you ride, not static stretching (where you hold the stretch). Static stretching takes away up to 20% of the elasticity in your muscles for up to three hours, it should be done after exercise.

Creating a Pre-ride or Pre-race Routine

To make themselves feel comfortable and confident, top competitors in many different sports utilize a personalized pre-race (or pre-game) routine to help them perform at their best. Routines are not the same as rituals, a routine is a structured plan designed to help you reach your optimum performance while a ritual relies on superstition to control your performance (things like not washing your “lucky” socks or stepping on a crack). In other words a routine helps you take control of your performance while rituals assume fate (not you) will control your race.

I have added a night before the race routine to eliminate most causes of worry and allow you to get some sleep.

Your pre-race routine should make you comfortable in strange/new surroundings, build your confidence, eliminate stress, and prepare you to do your best. I have listed many common practices to get you started but you must experiment and find out what works best for you. This is another aspect of racing where keeping a journal can really help you find out what works..

Night Before Race (taking care of all these items really helps me sleep!)

1. Equipment

a. inspect and tune bike completely with checklist and put on number plate (how many racers have arrived at a race and realized that their # plate is back in the hotel?!)

b. prepare race clothes, shoes, pads, helmet, goggles, gloves. use a check list.

c. prepare bag to take to the start with you, spare goggles and gloves, walkman with charged batteries, food, drink etc. use check list

d. add your own topics

2. Mental

a. Know the course by heart, no missing sections, have a confident plan on how you will ride from top to bottom (worrying about how to handle that “big jump” will keep you up all night).

b. Image race run (at least twice) from standing in line at the start to your feelings of elation after crossing the finish line with a perfect run

c. Remember, only concern yourself with what you control (which basically is your equipment and your riding) worrying about how your competition will ride is a big waste of time because you have no control over their riding

c. add your own preparation (meditation, stretching, yoga, etc.)

Morning of Race

1. Physical

a. shower, stretching, what to eat and when to eat it, etc.

b. add your own

2. Mental

a. Imaging, stretching, meditation, etc.

b. find out what works for you

At Race Site

1. Physical

a. dressing routine (always dressing in a certain order can be almost like a meditation and make you feel at home even when miles away)

b. warm up

c. practice run (if offered)

d. find out what works for you

2. Mental

a. find out what your racing fears are and how to put them to rest (weeks before race) and put. Many people worry about their competition’s performance , remember only concern yourself with what you control

b. Image race run at least three times (good use of chair lift time)

c. Put yourself in optimum mental state for racing (again find out by experimenting while training) many people make a short list or mantra of why they will perform well, (i.e.. I have trained hard all winter for this, I know the course, I’m fast, I will ride my best etc.) also music is a big help to many racers

d. Create an abbreviation for the things that you need to remember to have a good run and tape it to your stem or bars. Mine is RAILUM which stands for Relax, Attitude, Intensity, Look Up, and Moto. Saying Railum and then thinking about each component of it really helps me focus.

e. find out what works for you

Use this as a rough outline adding what works and getting rid of what doesn’t through experimentation. A well thought out routine will make you confident at the start while your competition worries about their run and wonders why you are so confident.

What do you do for a warm up? I would love to hear your routines.

drops and jumps on your mountain bike

Mountain Biking, Winning, Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Mountain Biking, Winning, Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

At BetterRide we define winning while mountain biking as doing your personal best. Not just showing up to ride but doing the best you can on any given day. I learned this when I coached for the Steamboat Spring Winter Sports Club. Despite coaching more Olympians that any other city in America the SSWSC defined winning as, “Doing your personal best”. The wise coaches who shaped the SSWSC understood that 99% of their athletes were never going to make a living at the sport and there were bigger things to be taught than just coming in 1st place. This is a great lesson for life too. If you do your best at what ever you are doing (working, playing, learning, etc.) you will be satisfied and happy. If you slack off you will be disappointed, it really is that simple.

Mountain Biking, Stop Comparing Yourself to Others (How We Define Winning)

Our Mountain Biking Students Doing Their Best

Mountain biking can be very competitive, even those who have never raced and probably never will. Many mountain bikers compete to have the best bike, many group rides turn into the Wednesday Night World Championships, strava is all about competing and then of course there is actual mountain bike racing. The thing is, we can’t control other riders, they might be more skilled, more fit, more determined, etc. but we can control our own performance. If you give it your honest best shot, you should be happy with your performance, no matter how you did. An example from my life comes from snowboard racing. Back in 1991 my behavior confused a few of my friends/competitors, one weekend I won the race and was visibly disappointed and the next weekend I got second place and was elated. A few friends said, “Gene, I don’t understand it. You won last weekend and looked frustrated and this weekend you got beat but look really happy!” I had to explain to them I don’t race to win, I race to push myself, learn and improve. The first weekend I won but I didn’t ride my best. In other words, I got lucky, my competitors didn’t ride their best either. The following weekend, even though I took second place I had the best run of my life! It was amazing, to this day it was my best athletic performance of my life. “But you got beat my Del”, one of my friends said. I remember my reply, “Del, is god! I had the best run of my life and Del smoked me! Did you see my run?! It was amazing! I booted every gate (meaning I went so straight that the only thing going around the gate was my board, my boots hit every gate)! That was the best run of my life!”

What I can’t understand is people who are okay with not doing their best. They spend 4, 6, 10 thousand dollars on a bike yet are okay riding way below what they are capable of. A restaurant manager years ago told me, “Gene, whether you are a janitor or president of the US, if you do your job to the best of your ability you will go home satisfied”. To this day that might of been the best advice I have ever received.

Stop comparing yourself to other and just focus on being the best you can be. You don’t need a carbon bike or a carbon wheelset (and neither of those will make you happy) what you need to do is focus on being the best you can be, that will always lead to happiness. When I turned pro at 29 I actually thought I could make a living at it. I quickly realized most of my competitors were younger, fitter (I have asthma) and more experienced I wasn’t likely going to make it to the top of the sport. That didn’t dampen my enthusiasm though, I loved pushing myself to see how close I could come to the best in the world. Be realistic and set performance goals not outcome goals as you can’t control how others perform but you can control how well you perform! Be your best and nothing else matters. Doing your best while mountain biking, winning!