Challenge, the most fun part of life?

Isn’t it funny how we often seek the easiest path even when we know the tougher path will be more fun and more rewarding? If we look back at our life the easy victories are not the moments we remember and cherish it is then moments when we were challenged that stand out. After failing at climbing the “widow maker” in Grand Junction at least five times and walking it each time over two years it is the time I finally climbed it that I can remember like it was yesterday. Lets face it, anyone in reasonable shape can walk their bike off a tough climb but riding it is much more rewarding! So go out and challenge yourself on your next ride. Go 10 feet further on the widow maker climb, shave 2% off your fastest lap time on your favorite loop, clean that step up maneuver that keeps intimidating you, ride 4 mile or 30 minutes longer than you ever have, push yourself a little harder. You will thank yourself and feel better after meeting a challenge head on and conquering it.

I returned to Bromont, Quebec for the first time since 2002 for a race last weekend and nearly chickened out! The course was steep, rocky, with a fair amount of rocks, fun to ride and little scary to go race pace on. Then it rained! The steep sections were now an inch deep in mud and I was scared, “will I be able to make the steep turns in this muck? Will I be able to slow down? I am getting older, I don’t have anything to prove, maybe I should just take this weekend off…” was running in my head. I had to stop for a fallen rider in my first practice run in the mud and was scared to restart with muddy tires on the steep off camber rocks so I went a round. Well, that didn’t help my confidence, so despite being soaked and cold I took a second practice run and made it down slower than when it was dry but I made it down clean! Well by the time my race run rolled around 3.5 hours later the course had been torn up by over 150 riders and when I hit the steep section it looked really ugly and fear hit me again but the enthusiastic fans (I love racing in Quebec, quite a few fans braved the rain and mud and had hiked up to the toughest sections of the course) urged me on and I dropped in and railed the steep, muddy and off-camber section! Wow, that felt good! I haven’t been that scared of a downhill course in years and it felt great to look fear in the eye and go for it again! I am not recommending you do something over your head (which even if you make it you will just feel lucky) but go out and challenge yourself.

The Ideal Confidence Inspiring Mountain Bike!

I just received a great question from a newsletter subscriber: “Hi Gene, I’ve been following your blog posts and emails. After recently moving and having to sell my old hardtail, I am now in the market for a new mountain bike. I would like to get one that would be ideal for improving my skills. I don’t care much about performance at this point. I know from you that wider tires, shorter stem, wider bars and an adjustable seat post, all improve confidence and control, and I’ll make sure I get all of these. But since I am not dealing with an existing bike that I’m riding — since I’m in the situation where I can pick any kind of mountain bike — which characteristics would you recommend? E.g. large vs short wheelbase; what kind of suspension and how much travel; type of breaks; size of frame (go smaller, go bigger), etc. Thanks! Alon

A lot of this really depends on the goal/s of the rider and Alon gave me his goal/s: “…ideal for improving my skills. I don’t care much about performance at this point.”.  So we will go from there.

Unless you are a cross country racer and/or really care about being as absolutely fast as you can on climbs I feel most riders would greatly benefit from a 5 or 6″ travel “all-mountain bike”.  They tend weigh a little more than a 3-4″ travel bike but have a lot of features that make them more fun and confidence inspiring.  The number thing they have is a slacker head angle (which means the front wheel is further in front of you).  There is a tired out standard of 70 and 69.5 degree head angles on “cross country” bikes. These angles make descending terrifying compared to the slacker (68.5 to 67 degree) head angles on “all-mountain” bikes. The steeper head angles do help on really steep climbs though so you must weigh how often you do really steep climbs and if you want to have a bike that climbs those climbs a little better but descends scarier (steep head angle bike) or a bike that causes you to worry about body position a little more on a steep climb but is confidence inspiring on the descents.  Yeti is one of the few companies that make 4-5″ travel bikes with 68.5 or slacker head angles.

As far frame size my head coach Andy (who is 5’6″ a great technical climber and pro downhill racer) likes to ride bikes on the big side.  He likes the longer wheel base of medium because it makes the bike a little more stable and predictable.  He also likes the longer top tube allowing him to run a 40mm stem for greatly control. He feels this worth giving up the ideal amount of stand over height for. His weapon of choice, a medium Yeti 575.  I too like longer top tube bikes and being 6’3″ that means I ride a large or XL depending on the company (some XL’s are just a little too long for me, more fitting for 6’4″ and up).  The bike I ride most is my Specialized Enduro SL set in the low bottom bracket/slack head angle position. The low bottom bracket keeps my center of mass lower (making the bike corner better) and I love the 67 degree head angle (with an adjustable fork I can slacker the head angle and drop the bars two inches for steep climbs).

As for suspension design, most companies make great full suspension bikes now and there is definitely not one way to go.  As long as you do your research in general the more you spend (within each company) the more you will get (the shocks themselves will be better). Spend enough to get at least rebound adjustment on both front and rear suspension.  As for brakes you definitely want hydraulic disc brakes.

I hate to but a price on this because nearly all bike store bought bike are pretty darn good these days but if look at $2,000 msrp bikes and up you will get a lot of nice features such as good components and quality shocks and forks

Well that sums up what I am looking for in a 26″ mountain bike.  The two main things are a slack head angle (67-68.5 degrees) and a longer top tube (over 24 inches for a large).

Another option is definitely a 29er. I love 29ers and feel that they are a great bike for many riders.  Since this is about confidence inspiring bikes first I will mention where 29ers really shine, going over obstacles! Their taller tires just plain roll over things easier. The only real down fall (confidence inspiring wise) is many 29ers have steep head angles to keep their wheel base short (this is slowly changing at some companies) which has made many of my students say that they were intimidated on steep descents.

The pro’s of 29ers: They get over obstacles easier, they hold their momentum well, they have better traction do to a larger contact patch, they plain ride smoother and with less effort

The con’s of 29ers: Their big gyroscopes (wheels) make going from tight left to right turn slower and more difficult, their longer wheel base makes tight switchbacks more difficult, they are a bit more cumbersome, especially in the air, they don’t fit shorter riders well (they make them to fit short riders but the handle bars end up way to high for good body position), they are bit slower to accelerate.

In short for riders who really enjoy cornering and jumping 29ers are not the best choice (yet). For most other riders, especially riders that really enjoy long rides and want to make getting over “step up” type obstacles easier, 29ers are great.

What good are skills if you can’t use them under pressure?

I just 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??”

This a tough thing for many racers and as I mentioned a few times in
my camp, what good are all the skills if you can’t use them when
needed?

You need to toughen up your mental game. First, remember there is
no difference between a race and a practice run, same track, same
racer, same bike, same goal.  The only difference between your race
run and a practice run is the pressure YOU but on the run. Treat your
race rub=n as another practice run (especially if you are doing timed
practice runs using a stopwatch)  then read these two blog posts:
http://betterride.net/blog/2010/are-you-tough-part-1/ and
http://betterride.net/blog/2010/are-you-tough-part-2/ and most
importantly ready, study, practice, master one of these books from
your homework assignment:

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 Steve Peat and Minnaar on top.

Mountain Bike Descending body position 101, video demonstration

As you may have read in my mini-course the correct descending body position involves standing and staying centered with your weight on the pedals (not getting way back), legs relaxed and bent (not squeezing your seat) and arms bent in a half push-up position.  Remember, I didn’t invent these skills I have been fortunate enough to learn from the best (World Champions Marla Streb, Greg Minnaar, etc.) and learn from the great riders that I coach (Ross Schnell, Mitch Ropelato, etc.).  I am simply passing on what I have learned.

New Video!

In these videos taken by a student in my Philly mountain bike camp a few years ago you can really see one huge reason (there are many) why centered is good and getting back is bad.

In this how to mountain bike video, it shows me riding off a curb with my weight back and arms extended. Notice how I get “pitched forward” as my arms are yanked down the curb.  Also notice how my entire body weight drops the same height as the curb, Ker plunk! Imagine if the obstacle was a little bigger and I was on steep hill! Imagine how much worse this would of been if I was  squeezing the seat with my thighs. Have you ever had the feeling of being pitched forward on a descent?  

In this video,  I am centered on my mountain bike with all my weight on my pedals and my arms bent, ready to extend my arms and legs so my entire weight doesn’t drop off the curb. I simply extend my arms and then my legs and the bulk of my weight (from my hips up) just keeps moving forward on the same plane. This is a much smoother, in control and in balance way to descend. Again, imagine if it was a steep hill and bigger drop.

Here is a shot of me staying centered on a much bigger drop in Moab in 2004.

Mushroom Rock in Moab

Gene with Weight centered!

Now go out and do the same two drills yourself and compare the results!