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!

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!

 

Mountain Biking at Your Best in All Situations (when you’re scared or the pressure is on)

Ever “choke” while riding? Despite all the mtb skills you have developed sometimes, often when fear or nerves take over you can’t rely on those skills. It’s like you suddenly lost your mountain biking skills. My goal is to get you mountain biking at your best in all situations and this article will help you do that.

I received this email from a student:  “Hi Gene, I’ve really started to feel the effects of your camp and my technique has got a hell of a lot better, when I’m racing i feel so confident and fast in practice

But then when it gets to seeding and race runs this all goes out of the window and i just end up falling off, I’m not riding outside of my limits and i know that i can ride well enough to be threatening the top spot in my category but i just seem to not be able to manage the pressure and the mental side of things.

Any tips on race mentality etc??”

I also get similar questions from many students when it comes to something on the trail that they know they have the skill to ride but they are too scared to ride it.

This a tough thing for many racers and riders when they pushed to their limits. As I often mention in my camps, what good are all the skills if you can’t use them when needed?

To ride at your best you need to toughen up your mental game (and learn to get off your bike and walk when you can’t confidently ride that section of trail, riding something aren’t confident you can do can really set your mental game back and end in injury). Here are two articles I wrote for Dirt Rag a few years ago that will help you get mentally stronger:

http://wp.me/p49ApH-7G and
http://wp.me/p49ApH-7A

Here are a few books that can really help you step up your mental game. Your goal when learning isn’t to gain as much knowledge as possible, it is to be able to effectively use good knowledge that you have learned. Pick one of these books, do the work the book recommends and master the skills from that book before searching for “more”.

The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental, Emotional, and Physical
Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists
by James E. Leohr, Chris Evert, Dan Jansen,

Excellent book with work sheets to help you practice what it teaches.

The Mental Edge: Maximize Your Sports Potential with the Mind/Body Connection
by Ken Baum, Richard Trubo,

Excellent book with work sheets to help you practice what it teaches.

Body Mind Mastery: Creating Success in Sport and Life
by Dan Millman,

Really, really great book that goes a little deeper into why you
compete in sports and helps you integrate sport and life (helps you
see and create balance in your life so the sport does not take over
your life).

Most importantly have fun!  That’s what keeps Rachel and Minnaar on top.