Mountain Biking and Coffee, and Beer?

Mountain Biking and coffee go together like mountain biking and beer!

Ever wonder how coffee (or any other caffeine filled stimulant, Redbull, Monster, various teas, etc) gives you energy? I have, being extremely caffeine sensitive I only use it a few times a month for the powerful drug that it is (it really helps me focus when I am trying to get stuff done!). Many of our coaches and students however can’t get through the day without a cup (or six of coffee), especially if they plan on mountain biking. I found an interesting article on how caffeine doesn’t actually give us energy (which makes sense, energy come from the right combination of exercise and recovery, how could something give you energy?) it is all in the mind! The article also talks about how mountain bikers second favorite beverage, beer affects us too.

Before I get to the article though a few reasons caffeine can be bad for mountain biking and some experiments you may want to try.

1. Caffeine can make you jittery and tense causing you to not ride as smooth and relaxed as you can without it, this often counters the extra energy effect as you are now less efficient and possibly even a little clumsy.  With no caffeine in your system practice trackstands for a few minutes and note your longest, calmest trackstand. Then drink your caffeine of choice, wait 15 minutes and practice trackstands again. After the caffeine can your trackstand longer? Are you more or less twitchy on your bike after the caffeine?

2. Caffeine allows you work a little harder than your body really wants to work. This can be good by pushing you to new heights on your mountain bike but can also lead to feeling sluggish or worn out and next day and possibly even over training your body if you don’t manage your recovery. I once heard a trainer describe using caffeine as “borrowing energy from tomorrow”! After reading the following article I believe he may be right!

https://ooomf.com/blog/coffee-vs-beer-effects-on-creativity/

What has been your experience with caffeine and riding? Do you drink beer while or after riding?

A Quick Mountain Bike Tip to Improve Technical Climbing

A Quick Mountain Bike Tip to Improve Technical Climbing  article by Gene Hamilton

Climbing is an often over looked skill in mountain biking, we often assume more power will do the job, which is not always true.   This article is about picking a line that works! For physical climbing skills Andy Winohradsky wrote a great article on climbing skill here:  http://betterride.net/?p=1426

One instinct, especially when not looking far enough ahead is to avoid obstacles. This often leads to “micro-managing the trail” and taking twisty paths that are much longer and often harder to ride than going over the obstacle.  When turning, your rear wheel tracks inside of your front wheel so you can hang the rear wheel or derailleur up on a rock, you can lose traction as you try to cut across the fall line and then turn back up it, your pedal clips a rock as you apply power or your line itself has less traction causing you to stall. In the photo below it is actually easier, faster and more efficient to go straight up the rock (in this case the rock acts as a paved ramp, great traction!) than weave around it in the lose sand.

 

Ride over the rock, it is easier.

 

Have you ever made it part way through a rock garden by avoiding obstacle one and two and then get trapped behind obstacle three, or stall while trying to wiggle between obstacle two and three? This often happens because we are not looking far enough ahead and will instinctively avoid obstacles if there is a clear path to the right and/or left of the obstacle. Unfortunately this sets us up for failure, often if we tackle the first obstacle the rest of the rock garden will be easy! Check out my amazing drawing skills in this Paint document I created!

 

Mountain Bike Rock Garden

 

I see this all the time on Rustlers Loop in Fruita. Instead of going up the “gut” of a rock move riders avoid the rock (avoiding the rock  is faster and easier for 7-10 feet) then they have to wheelie while turning over a bigger edge of the same rock (something that is nearly impossible to do). Going straight up the rock (which often looks tricky or rough) is faster and easier in the long run run. Both examples above require simple, core skills, nothing “special”, an effortless wheelie, correct weight placement and good vision skills.

Lastly, weaving takes our momentum across the fall line (the fall line is the path a ball would roll) instead of up it. Once our momentum is going sideways it is often really hard to getting it going straight up again, you can lose your balance, spin out or simply stall as you try to head up the hill again.

When climbing technical sections the fastest and easiest path is often the straightest! Avoid the temptation to weave as it usually ends poorly. Focus on the line with the fewest direction changes and the best traction.

Note: I use the word “often” in this how to mtb article because there are way too many variables in mountain biking to say, “always do …”, in this case, sometimes a weaving path is better, it all depends on the trail.

What Is It With Some Mountain Bike Riders Today?!

What is it with some mountain bikers these days? In the early days of mountain bike riding only intrepid people who were self-reliant and had a sense of adventure got into mountain biking. Now people full of fear are entering the sport (and we are trying helping them overcome those fears) and after a year or so of riding they are changing the sport. They are trying to make the trails easier to ride, “All trails should be able to be ridden by all riders.”, was posted on one of our facebook posts this spring. Another rider wrote, “if the trail has advanced features (like roots and rocks) it should be signed and have a “squirrel catcher (mtb speak for a tough move that only someone skilled enough to ride the trail can do, keeping the “squirrels” from venturing further) ” on all entrances to the trail so only experts ride it.” He went on to say, “in reality all trails should have easier go-around options on the tough sections”. What on earth makes someone feel this way?!  Many of these trails are 20-50 years old and they are way out in the woods. Who exactly is going to spend their days fixing these trails that aren’t broken? How do you make a go-around when there if a cliff going up on one side of you and cliff going down on the other?  You know what we called those trails in 1993 while riding on our fully rigid mountain bikes? “Trails”, we didn’t call them beginner, intermediate or expert, we just called them trails. You know what we did if we got to a section we could not ride? We tried it once or twice and if we failed to clear it we simply walked over it and then continued our ride. We called these sections “challenges” or “hike a bikes” they were simply part of being out on a narrow trail 10-500 miles from town. We didn’t get angry at the trail when we couldn’t make something, we didn’t call our local trail sanitizers and say, “please come make a go-around for the rock on Seven Bridges trail” and have them come out and take every “challenge” out of the trail. We laughed, yelled or screamed but we were smart enough to get off and walk before putting ourselves in danger (and sometimes our egos were bigger than our skills and we got hurt, mountain biking can be dangerous when you exceed your skill level!) we used “common sense”. Sometimes we even turned around, “that trail is too tough!” was heard more than once. Then a friend would ride it and tell us how great it was and we would give it another try.

Again, we love helping riders improve and some of our students are much better riders and racers than we are and some aren’t as good, who cares, it isn’t a contest, it is mountain biking. Doesn’t “mountain biking” make you think of nature while “road biking” conjures up images of pavement? Is nature safe and manicured or is nature harsh and rough?  Believe me famous mountain biking destinations like, Moab, Bootleg Canyon, Durango, Sedona, Squamish and Whistler are harsh and rough in places.  Doesn’t “mountain biking” sound tougher than “road biking”? Are mountains smooth and soft or jagged and gnarly? Don’t get me wrong, I love the sweet beginner trails that are being built. Many of them flow so well even “expert riders” enjoy them. Keep building sweet beginner trails, they help grow the sport and get more people riding “mountain bikes”. Even people who formerly thought mountain biking was dangerous and not for them are starting to ride. This is great, except, mountain biking is dangerous, it involves riding a bike in the mountains (remember, mountain are jagged and gnarly)! Many trails, especially older and harder to reach trails are not manicured, they are wild. All mountain bikers can ride these trails just the less skilled are going to walk many sections. At that point they can choose to not ride that trail again or challenge themselves to improve, not dumb down the trail! I would love to be able to score a goal playing ice hockey but they are not going to make the hockey goals as big as soccer goals so I can do it! They are going to make me earn my goal scoring skills, the same way they did, with good coaching and lots of deliberate practice! Heck, I might even feel good about myself. I might feel like I faced a challenge and overcame it! Aren’t growth, learning and pushing your personal limits things that make you feel good? Ski racers didn’t dumb down the slopes, they educated themselves, trained hard and they actually ice down their race courses to make them harder! There are still beginner trails for their fans, foes, friends and family but there are trails them too!

When did we get so soft? We meaning the “US”, have you ever ridden in Canada? In Quebec and British Colombia the local trails are so hard many pro cross country racers from the US could not ride them. You know what they call these super hard trails in Canada, “trails”. They rode some of these trails 20 years ago on hardtails and they ride them now on their full-suspension bikes. Some trails were built more recently and are even harder, designed to challenge riders on their “cheater” 4-6” travel bikes.  In Canada (like in the US in the early 1990s) they know some sections are harder than others so they walk the hard sections until they learn to ride them. That is part of mountain biking.

Get out and ride and challenge yourself to improve!

 

How To Use MTB Gear Selection to Save Energy and Go Faster

There is a lot of miss information on gear selection and cadence for mountain biking and I would like to clear some things up for you.

As for cadence we are mountain biking, not road riding! This means we have a lot more variables to deal with (than road riders), roots, rocks, loose conditions, etc often requiring us to use a slow cadence to maintain traction and balance. While Lance Armstrong popularized the idea of spinning an easy gear I have never seen a study that proves this is the most economical way to climb for all body types and it can be every hard to maintain control on trail why spinning a high rpm. Many of the best mountain bikers (Tinker Juarez comes to mind) and even some road racers (Jan Ullrich) push really hard gears. So use a cadence that is comfortable for you, taking into account your fitness, power to weight ratio, traction and balance demands.

Always while riding adjust your gearing to the speed you are going!

When going from a downhill to uphill do not shift into an easier gear before necessary as you will lose precious momentum while coasting (unable to pedal) uphill and often lose your balance (by pedaling with no resistance throwing your weight forward).  This means if you are in your hardest gear at the bottom of a hill stay in that gear as you start climbing to keep your momentum up! Then, shift as needed (do not shift under power, do a “soft pedal” (a full revolution with no power to the rear wheel) when shifting on a climb) maintaining your momentum!  By only shifting when needed you can often maintain a much higher pace while using less energy on a climb (see previous article on going faster with less energy).

To accelerate a bike we need to be an an easy gear, not a gear we are straining to push. As you are slowing to enter a corner (where you will be coasting through) shift into a gear to match your speed on the exit of the corner (this takes some practice to learn what gear feels good at what speed).

Power modulation is also important! Sudden surges in power can cause wheel spin (wasting energy and possibly loosing balance/control) while climbing as can just plain applying too much power for the conditions. I often see super powerful riders crank uphills at speeds I am envious of but I can hear their rear slipping, if they backed off on power just a little bit they would climb just as fast or faster using less energy! Have you ever spun out on slippery root while climbing? Next time trying slowly increasing your power for a pedal stroke or three before the root then doing a “soft pedal” over the root and getting back on the power once passed the root. In short, producing a lot of power is great but relying on power instead of finesse wastes energy and often causes you to stall or crash.