The $1.99 Investment That Will Greatly Improve Your Mountain Biking!
By: BetterRide Coach Andy Winohradsky
Most of us spend thousands of dollars on our bikes, equipment, fitness, nutrition, you name it, in order to have fun riding bikes and becoming better at it. Let’s face it, whether you’re a competitive athlete, a weekend warrior or you just want to start living a bit more healthy lifestyle and figure MTB’ing would be a good way to help do it, being able to improve your skill on the bike makes the whole deal a lot more enjoyable. Whether you’re trying to get faster or simply trying to not-crash as much.
Arguably, all of the above-mentioned stuff does help us to have a good time on our mountain bikes as well as aid our ability to ride. (Hey, I like nice bikes and gear and good food just as much as the next guy!) But there are a lot of things out there that very few riders do that will drastically elevate their riding levels. Some are big undertakings, some are tiny and simple. I believe that one thing riders need to do if they’re serious about learning is to take some formal instruction, obviously. Another thing? Start using the following piece of equipment: its super inexpensive; extremely accessible; user friendly; portable; durable; and not only important, but I’m going to say MANDATORY, if you want to really improve your riding…
Ready?!?! (drum roll)…
Start keeping a Riding Log.
A riding log, riding journal, whatever you want to call it… For $1.99 at your local Walgreen’s, you can pick up one of the greatest pieces of mountain bike gear/equipment known to man.
What?!?! Read on…
In pretty much every endeavor in life that people are half-way serious about, they keep a written record of what’s going on: business; fitness training; expenses; heck, many of us keep “diaries” of our extremely interesting and dramatic personal lives.
If you’re reading this, you’re fairly serious about improving your MTB skills, so why wouldn’t use this incredibly useful tool in this important area of your life? And, yes, it is important. Physical and mental health are paramount to life-happiness. (and a MTB is way cheaper then therapy…)
And, who can benefit from this? EVERYBODY! Whether you are brand new to riding or a pro racer, you need to do this if really want to improve on the bike.
So how do we go about doing this riding log thing and WHY?
Let’s talk about the “WHY”, first. When I work with people on fitness training, the first thing that I have them do is to start keeping a food journal (you’re not serious about fitness unless you’re also adequately addressing nutrition). Everything that passes their lips, for at least three days, has to be written down. Am I interested in their diet and eating habits? Of course I am. But, invariably, what happens is that people will alter their eating habits when they have to write everything down, and they admit this. How many calories did you take in while doing laps of the free samples at Whole Foods after your ride? Oh, never used to count those, huh? Or, when you cooked dinner, and you “tested” every dish…repeatedly… And, those seven pieces of your kid’s Halloween candy you snatched throughout the day? A handful of chips…or three? A post-ride beer…or three?
In this case, educating clients on nutrition is important, but more importantly and what I find extremely useful with the food journal is that clients become AWARE of what they are actually doing. Around 800 -1000 extra (and “empty”) calories a day can happen real quick if you’re just unconsciously shoving crap in your face all day long. The same holds true for riding bikes: by having to sit down and think about what happened on your ride; by having to PROCESS things and write (or type) them down, you become far more engaged in what actually happened out there on the trail. You become consciously AWARE of your riding.
Most of us aren’t very aware of our riding, it happens on the trail and then it’s gone! Out there on the trail, during our ride, we win some, we lose some, we scare ourselves a bit…and then we’re in the car, driving home, on the phone asking about what we need to pick up for dinner or speeding through traffic to try to squeeze in a shower and rush off to meet with a client or grabbing the kids from practice or whatever…
Then, on our next ride we go out and make the same exact mistakes again! I’ve hit the same exact bad line, then hit the same exact rock and crashed in the same exact place on a few occasions – lots of this comes from learning the hard way… And, maybe worse, any “victories” that we may have had on the previous ride—opportunities to learn and improve—were lost because we never took the time to commit these things to memory; to process the techniques that worked; to understand WHY we succeeded.
Keeping a riding log will SLOW YOU DOWN and force you to become much more AWARE and CONSCIOUS of you’re riding – this is how you will learn most effectively.
What if you really don’t know squat about riding technique? (Well, take a camp!) But, what if you’re brand new to the whole thing? You don’t understand terms, techniques…Nada! In that case, your riding log will probably start to accumulate a lot of questions, but these questions will become more and more specific. You’ll understand that certain types of trail conditions give you more problems then others, you’ll notice certain things you feel pretty comfortable on. You’ll start to be able to create similarities with other sports and other activities in life. Often, new students will describe certain things that give them problems, certain types of crashes they’ve had as well as areas where they feel confident, and without ever seeing them ride, or seeing the specific trail feature that they’re talking about, I have a pretty good idea where their issues lie and how to remedy them. Sometimes students say, “I don’t know, I suck everywhere…” Well, don’t worry, I can help you, too. The previous student is a lot further along with their awareness of their riding then the latter, and thus, a lot nearer to improvement. Become the previous student.
In my camps, I stress the riding log HUGE with my students. If you’ve just received instruction, you now have a whole new bag of tricks! These are tools that you are not entirely familiar with yet, so the opportunities for learning in the riding immediately following (and not so immediate) the instruction will be immense! Process it! Write it down!
What if you’ve been at the game forever? Say you’ve been riding for 35+ years, racing professionally for 15 of those (kinda semi-retired), you’ve worked as a factory race team mechanic, years of bike shop experience, built trails for a living, shot photos and written articles for magazines and have been a professional MTB instructor and coach for the past 5 years? What could a person like that (me) possibly learn by keeping a riding log? Hasn’t the ship already sailed? Haven’t I probably done it all and seen it all? There isn’t much else that I’m going to learn at this point? Isn’t it time for me to let the riding regress and take up golf? Haven’t I hit my head enough times that it doesn’t really retain much anymore, anyway? The answer:
Not even close. I learn something or at least confirm something new EVERY TIME I RIDE! I’ve recently started keeping riding logs again and it has helped my riding tremendously! Even at this point in my riding life! During my serious racing years, I had volumes upon volumes of riding/racing records and logs. Admittedly, for a bunch of years I slacked on the riding logs (the semi-retired racer guy decided he didn’t need them anymore). I could go into detail about my last month of riding and the awesome stuff that I’ve come up with, but I’ll just say that I pick up on something new every time I’m out. By breaking it down, I come up with the real reasons why something either worked or didn’t, as opposed to saying, “Ah, I’m just a little rusty…” or “…haven’t ridden there in a long time…” and on the other side, crediting successes to, “…just felt good today…” or “…traction was perfect, could do no wrong…”
Keeping logs again has helped my MTB, my motocross, my dirt jumping, my coaching and instructing. It’s helped me make advances in the types of off the bike training that are really relevant to riding. My bike riding logs will probably even help my snowboarding…if it ever snows!
So what the heck should you write down in your log, specifically? Well, that’s up to you. An entry doesn’t have to be super detailed or ten pages long. Don’t make it such a stressful hassle that you give it up because you dread it so much that it ruins your day. Definitely write down your “victories”, the positive learning experiences. When you have success on the trail, break it down: why were you successful, what techniques did you use (providing that they were proper techniques)? If that’s all you enter, good enough! Just by processing that event and recording it, you’ll “re-live” it a bunch of times. Repetition is a huge part of learning. Now, you are also conscious of why you had success. BAM! You just quite thoroughly learned something! Focus on the positive.
As far as dealing with negative experiences (crashes, riding like crap) turn them into steps that you can take to move into a positive direction. Know why that crash happened: what did you do wrong? What should you have done? You may come up with more questions then answers if you are new to riding (or even not-so-new), but at least you are being proactive, and the answers to the questions are out there.
In my racing days, my logs were incredibly detailed: nutrition, training, how I practiced at races, how I traveled, equipment settings… Lately, not so much; mainly focusing on one prominent issue per ride. Sometimes super crazy detailed bike-dork stuff like suspension settings in relation to body position, line choice and riding style. Sometimes simply noting that I felt tight and didn’t warm up and “feel it” until an hour into the ride. This reminded me that I hadn’t been stretching and hitting the foam roller enough… and now I am! But if I wouldn’t have sat down to write and “taken note” on how old I felt at the start of my rides… I would have mentally been on to something else as soon as I got off the bike instead of making it a point to take care of myself. Awareness…
So, like anything else, start simple, start slow, but make this a habit! I guarantee it will pay off, big-time!