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.

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 cornering foot placement

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners:  Another question I get all the time is some version of, “how is my technique different in a bermed (banked) corner than in a flat corner?”

As I explain in my camps a bermed corner (banked) is still a corner. That means everything depends on traction, speed and your goal. If I feel I’m going slower than the max speed that berm will allow and I want to gain speed, I’m going to keep my feet level and pump that berm to gain speed.

Depending on the steepness and traction I might even lean with my bike! But, those berms are rare, especially at your favorite local trail or in a downhill race, usually a berm in a downhill race is there to “save” you. You are hauling tail into the corner and just hoping to eek out enough traction that you make the corner without sliding your tires (sliding scrubs your speed). In a berm like this (where you simply want to make it) you are going to use proper, outside foot down and weighted, “flat” cornering technique. More on that here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-15o , here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-15P , here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-159 and here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-18L

Many riders want to think that ALL berms are magically different than a flat corner but in reality, some berms are massively different than a flat corner (steeply banked, perfectly placed and either tacky or hard-packed, grippy surface) and some are the same as a flat corner (barely banked or really loose).

Many berms are simply “push piles” of dirt that won’t hold your tires and some good looking berms are no where near the optimal line for that corner. I remember a race in the late 90’s at Big Bear where they built these massive, beautiful berms but they taped the inside of the corner about 8-10 feet inside of the berm. Most of the amateur racers were target fixated on those berms and enjoying them while all the pros were cutting way inside of the berms shaving 30-50 feet off the distance around those berms saving time. Those berms were fun but useless if you wanted to do your best in the race.

Recently I have found some outright dangerous berms.  Last summer we were riding some fast trails with a few newly built berms in Oakridge, Oregon . Unfortunately, many of the berms ended about 60-75% of the way through the corner, right as you really needed the added traction of the berm it either disappeared or flatted out too much to hold you. If you aren’t looking through the corner (looking well past the exit at the start of the corner) you might get caught by surprise as the bank decreased in size and steepness while you were relying on it for traction. In short, 60-75% of the way through the corner your traction got cut in half and if you were relying on the berm for traction (leaning into the turn a bit) when you hit the end of the berm you will slide out. If the berm was solid for the length of the corner you would already be standing the bike up straight when the berm stopped.

On a really steep berm with great traction (some of the ones on A-line at Whistler for example) I might even initiate my turn by dropping my shoulder and “throwing myself” into the berm. If I overestimate the traction in the berm this can put me on the ground, if there is enough traction I will rocket through and gain speed.

A great example of this is Greg Minnaar in one of my Bootleg Camps. We use the little BMX/pump track there to work on pumping and pumping corners. When Greg was flying into the first berm at top speed he ALWAYS dropped is outside foot and did what I would call a “perfect” in balance in control corner.

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp! With his outside leg straight and down with most of his weight on it!

When we were demonstrating pumping corners and Greg hit the same berm going quite a bit slower he kept his feet level so both knees would be bent so he could pump with both legs and gain speed. We (Greg and I) never taught the dip your shoulder technique because berms that allow you to do that are extremely rare and there are zero berms at Bootleg with enough traction to use this technique

LASTLY and more importantly, most riders (including many sub world cup level pro racers) fail to look through the berm which is Much, Much more important than all of what I just wrote! So there is a hierarchy of skills and most of us need to focus on the more important parts of corner (looking through #1, finishing cutting speed before the corner is #2). This is the problem with all the “tips” out there, they fill your head with “knowledge” but don’t get you doing that “knowledge” on trail because you haven’t trained your body to execute that skill tip.

First, learn, practice and master proper cornering technique. Then use that technique in every corner, especially the first time you hit that corner. If, after riding that corner and/or stopping to scope it out, you decide that the berm will add more traction than necessary at the speed you are going you can try out “bermed cornering techniques” that briefly put you out of balance but when executed correctly will increase your exit speed.