MTB Skills

MTB Skills, How We Actually Learn/ Why “Experts” Often Make Poor Coaches

There has been an amazing amount written about MTB skills and our students are always asking me to write a book on mtb skills. My book is in the works but it is taking a lot of time because I want the book to actually help you become better, not fill your head with knowledge. Knowledge is worthless if you can’t put that knowledge into action on your bike!

Why is so hard to actually do a skill you understand? You read a well written article on the skill, you know Exactly how to do the skill, yet you still struggle, why? Put simply that is because the wrong part of your brain understands the skill. The part of your brain that read that MTB skills article has absolutely zero input in doing a physical skill, a completely different part of your brain handles physical skills. What you need to do is train the correct part of your brain to do the skill, which is hard/impossible to do by just reading or listening.

The book “Choke” covers this well and I will explain what 26 years of coaching people just like you and what Choke has taught me. I have always noticed a disconnect between “knowing” something and being able to “do” what you know (both in me and in our students). Choke explained the reasons for this better than anything else I have read on the subject and they actually use riding a bike as an example!


mtb skills

When Greg Minnaar works with us he makes me sign a contract saying that he is not a qualified mtb coach as he realizes he isn’t the best at coaching.

According to “Choke” as an expert gets better and better at doing a skill they start to forget stuff. Their example: “Think about riding a bike. How exactly do you do this? Well, yes, first you have to get on a bike and pedal. But there is a lot more to it than that. You have to balance, hold on to the handlebars, look at what is in front of you. If you miss any of these steps, falling is a real possibility. This usually doesn’t happen when proficient bike riders are actually riding, but if you were to ask a bike rider to explain the “how tos” of this complex skill, he would forget details. This is because the proficient bike rider is trying to remember information about bike riding that is kept as a procedural memory, as we psychologists term it.”

“Procedural memory is implicit or unconscious. You can think of procedural memory as your cognitive tool box that contains a recipe that, if followed, will produce a successful bike ride, golf putt, baseball swing …. Interestingly, these recipes operate largely outside of your conscious awareness. … because when you are good at performing a skill, you do it too quickly to monitor it consciously. …”

“Procedural memory is often distinguished from another form of memory: our explicit memory that supports our ability to reason on the spot or to recall the exact details of a conversation we had with our spouse the week before. … Simply put, explicit and procedural memories or largely housed in different parts of the brain …” More on those different parts of the brain in this article: You Aren’t Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do!

So, how to we train our “procedural memory? Drills, with a focus on quality, not quantity! Remember, perfect practice makes perfect! Not just any drills of course, drills designed to get you doing the correct recipe. Our free mini-course has quite a few of these and our three day skills progressions are designed around specific drills to get you actually doing what we teach you.

What gets in our way when learning the correct way to do something? Our experience! If we are experienced but doing things incorrectly we have solid (but in correct) procedural memories. In this case being a complete beginner is better than an experienced rider when learning as the complete beginner has no procedural memory. The experienced rider has to weaken their incorrect procedural memory while strengthening the new, correct procedural memory.

So, do the drills from our mini-course and/or take a skills progression camp but most importantly do your drills!

Lastly, this why “skilled” athletes rarely make good coaches, they can’t access their procedural memory to articulate what they are doing. Think of the great athletes who have made lousy coaches, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson, Mike Singletary, Ted Williams, Mike Ditka, Isiah Thomas, etc. as a matter of fact goggle “why “skilled” athletes rarely make good coaches” and there are a lot of articles on the topic!

Long time student and now coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

Why Do You Treat Your Mountain Bike Better Than You Treat Yourself?

Why do you treat your mountain bike, car and house better than you treat yourself? To mountain bike at your best don’t you need to have your body functioning perfectly?  I had the pleasure of training and working with our newest BetterRide certified coach Brian Buell this weekend and he made a comment that really resonated with me! We were explaining to our students the importance of taking care of our bodies as mountain biking alone is terrible for us physically (muscles imbalances, tight IT bands, over use injuries, twisting of our legs and core as 99% of us favor a forward foot, etc. (see article, “Is Mountain Biking Wrecking Your Health?” ) when Brian mentioned something his massage therapist or Chiropractor had asked him. His body worker asked, “How much time do you spend working on your mountain bike, cleaning it, making sure it shifts right, the brakes are working properly, the tires have the right pressure, the suspension is working correctly, etc.?” To which Brian replied, “at least two to three hours a week.” Then he said, “Wow, you love your bike more than yourself. I mean, you certainly spend much more time fine tuning your bike than you do your body!

Long time student and now coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

Long time student and now BetterRide certified coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

So why do you spend more time making sure your bike works properly than making sure your body works properly? My guess, if you are like I was, is that is feels decedent to “treat yourself” to a deep tissue massage, physical therapy or chiropractor visit.  Society seems to think that a new car every four to five years, a bigger house, marble counter tops, 70″ TV’s and $10,000 bicycles are fine things to spend our money and time on but if we spend money and time on improving ourselves we are being wasteful or extravagant. Not sure why this is but you might want to reevaluate your thinking if you feel that way. Your body is the most important bike “component” so make sure it is functioning at it’s best! Make taking care of yourself a priority!

This goes for how you fuel your body too! It saddens me to think people spend extra for high octane fuel for their automobiles but eat pesticide laden non-organic apples, heavily processed foods and junk that your body can not even convert to fuel. If you aren’t eating a healthy diet start fueling yourself with high octane “whole foods” and treat your body like the fine tuned machine it can and should be.



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:

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.

A Simple Way to Go Faster On Your MTB While Using Less Energy!

A simple mountain biking technique to go faster while saving energy!

Often there is not enough detail in mtb advice or it is flat out wrong. This is an example of not quite enough detail. When I first started riding I was taught to rest on the descents (by coasting) to save energy for the climbs. This is partially true but it leaves out a Huge speed adding and energy saving technique. Won’t you like to complete your ride in less time while using less energy?!

The technique is simple, pedal some downhills and rest on the uphills! How is this possible? On sections of trail that are rolling (short downhill into short uphill, possibly repeated multiple times)as you crest the hill continue pedaling over the top and down the downhill then coast the uphill and repeat! It takes way less energy to accelerate from four miles an hour to 15-20 mph than it does to maintain ten mph uphill.

One reason I quit racing cross country years ago was it was frustrating being held by riders who were fitter than me but seemed to lack this seemingly common sense skill as well as riding skills. On one rolling section of trail at the Iron Horse Classic in 1994 I was able to maintain what felt like 20 miles an hour over a section of 12-15 rollers without pedaling (after the first downhill) in practice. In the race a physically stronger but less skilled rider was in front of me in this section and we managed about 10 miles an hour while working our tails off!  Frustrating to say the least! The ride in front of me was only looking about 10 feet in front of him (aka looking down) so he braked on the descents and then pedaled the uphills and repeated! In practice I simply pedaled down the first downhill and pumped the rollers to maintain 20 and have a lot of fun! Unskilled riders in race kill fun (and waste a lot of energy).

If you aren’t clear on how this work I will break it down for you. Let’s say you and fellow rider both crest the first hill (in the series of rollers) a little out of breath at four miles an hour. You decide to rest the dowhhill by coasting as soon as possible while your riding buddy sneaks in a few pedals. The hill makes you accelerate from four mph to eight, you have doubled your speed! Meanwhile, your buddy accelerated from four to 16 or 20, pretty easy to do with a few pedal strokes on a downhill. Now, yes, at the bottom of the hill he is still a little out of breath and you have recovered but, he is going more than twice your speed! (and he is already quite a ways in front of you). Now for the uphill, you attack it (because you have recovered) and manage to maintain eight miles an hour. Your riding buddy (being still out of breath) coasts up the hill and slows from 16 to 11, reaching the top of the second hill recovered, ahead of you and going much faster into the next descent (where he will just pedal once or twice down to double your speed again.

In short,when possible Pedal the Downhills and Coast the Uphills! (on certain uphills, obviously this doesn’t work on 1,000 foot climbs, although it still will be faster for the length of the descent and the first part of the climb).