Does Your Mountain Bike Feel Good? Why Test Riding MTB’s is a Waste of Time!

Does your mountain bike feel good?  Testing riding mtn bikes is a waste of time! Now that I have your attention this post is also about how to test ride a mountain bike and make the most of it.

This is one of the most amusing concepts I have ever come across. So often I hear/read riders talking about how good their bike feels. Sometimes I hear racers talking about how they tuned their suspension until it felt good. Often they talk about how they love their bike (because it feels good) and recommend their exact bike to friends based on their feelings. Sometimes they will put down another bike saying they test rode it (for all of five minutes in a parking lot) and it felt weird, slow, twitchy, tall, etc. and they say stay away from that bike. How knowledgeable on mountain bike handling is your friend? How many bikes has he ridden (for more than an hour) so can he really give a good opinion? Does he ride with proper body position and technique?  Don’t believe the hype!

Why is this amusing? For many reasons! First, you know what feels good? What you are used to. Change always feels weird! If I took your bike and rolled the bars just one degree forward without telling you you would say that your bike suddenly feels weird! If I did that plus added 15 pounds of pressure to the tires, stiffened the rear shock, softened your fork and moved your seat .5 inch forward on the rails you would say your bike feels really weird! So when you test ride a bike with different geometry or that is set up different than your bike (wider/skinner bars, longer/shorter stem, steeper/slacker head angle, higher/lower bars, etc.) it is going to feel weird. Conversely, when you test ride a bike with the same geometry that is set up exactly like yours it is going to feel great.

When the Giant Glory downhill bike first came out I was one of the first people in the US to ride it (a writer from the New York Times writing an article about my camps was loaned one) and it was set up perfect for me (the writer and I weighed the same and were almost the same height). I thought it was a great bike and was surprised eight months later when two of my teammates test rode it at Interbike and said it stunk. I immediately went to the Giant tent to test ride the bike they had demoed to see what was up. Halfway down my first run on Snake Back (one of the same runs I tested the bike on seven months earlier) I was questioning my judgment as the bike wasn’t performing well. The suspension didn’t feel nearly active enough for the rough terrain but the rebound and sag felt about right. I pulled over to adjust the suspension and realized that it was way under-sprung for a large (and it takes a lot of time to switch out a coil spring) so the mechanic had cranked the compression damping on both the rear shock and front fork to stiffen it up for riders my and my teammates’ weight. I turned the compression damping way back on both shocks and rode the next section of Snake Back, and although the suspension was way to soft the bike rode much better. I told my teammates to try it again and they were surprised at what a difference that made. Imagine what we would have thought of the bike if we had the time to put the right spring on the fork and rear shock! Imagine if we had a whole day of tuning it and riding it instead of one run!

Joey Schusler railing a turn at Bootleg Canyon, March 2007 Camp

Weird can often end up being better once you get used to it or understand why/how to use your new setup. A great example of this is “dropper” seat posts. No one can argue that descending with your seat at the height that is perfect for power production when climbing is as good, safe or as efficient as lowering your seat, you simply can not stay in a neutral and balanced position with your seat that high. Despite knowing and understanding this the first time you descend with your seat lowered it feels weird, because you are used to the seat giving you feedback by tapping against your thigh, now it either doesn’t do that or does it in a different spot.

You know what else feels really good? The ride of a Cadillac! Now I wouldn’t want to take a Cadillac off-road or race it on the road, but wow, it feels great. Ever ridden in a high performance car like a Porsche? High performance cars feel really harsh, kind of like riding a fully rigid mountain bike, but boy do they handle well. So feeling “good” doesn’t always translate in to performing well. I want my bike to perform well so I have made changes to my bikes to make them climb, descend and corner at their best (more on this in a future article).

After 24 years of riding mountain bikes, 14 years of studying bike handling and coaching skills to riders from advanced beginners to the best pros in the world and 17 years of racing the pro class I still can’t tell much about a bike from a parking lot test ride (except obvious things like steep head angle or feels short for a large, etc.). Even on trail it is tough for me to really get the feel for a mountain bike, unless I take the time to set it up similarly to my bike. Even then, what if the bike I am testing is revolutionary? A revolutionary bike is going to feel weird, I might not like it…. at first.

Have an open mind when test riding bikes. Set the bike up similar to your bike and really give it some time before passing judgment!

Stay tuned for my article on suspension tuning!

 

Is Your Bike Loud?

Is your mountain bike loud?

A year and a half ago I was sitting on top of Bootleg Canyon watching the start of the pro downhill race (before my start). The fourth or fifth rider to start was a kid I am fortunate enough to coach named Mitch Ropelato. After Mitch disappeared from sight the racer next to me exclaimed, “wow, I wish my bike was that quiet!”. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his bike is that quiet, it is the rider that is making it loud. While all bikes (especially downhill bikes on tracks as rough as Bootleg Canyon) make some noise (a little chain slap, the tires hitting rocks, rocks thrown from the tires hitting the frame, etc) when they are ridden well that noise should be at a minimum.

How to use bike noise to improve your mountain bike riding:

Something we really stress in our skills progression is being smooth. We stress this because, the smoother you are the more in control, efficient and faster you are! Your bike provides you with great feedback on being smooth. If your bike is making a lot of noise (loud chain slap, loud pings and noises coming from your frame, suspension and/or tires) as you ride you aren’t being as smooth as you could be. Use this feedback to remind yourself to relax, breathe and flow with the trail instead of fighting it! Don’t just rely on your suspension, use your arms, legs and especially your ankles to smooth out the trail.

 

Greg Minnaar looking smooth!

If you get a chance to watch (and listen) to a great mountain bike rider like Mitch or Greg Minnaar pay attention to how smooth and quiet they are on their bikes. They are excellent examples of economy as they smoothly flow down the trail, often taking rougher/faster lines, but taking those lines cleanly. Often, they are so smooth they look slow as they aren’t getting thrown around by the trail.

This ties in with the article on Mountain Bike Rides That Feel Fast but Are Actually Slow!

http://betterride.net/?p=2827

 

 

 

 

Another Upgrade That Can Help Your MTB Riding!

An upgrade that can help your mtb riding!

I had a fellow mountain biker email me a great question the other day.

“I do have one question. I’m wondering what your opinion is on the importance of a really good rear hub. I tried to find something on the web page but I couldn’t. Personally I find that a quality rear hub is one of the best improvements you can make on a Mtn bike. It might be because I ride trials but I fell there is a huge difference between instant engagement and near instant engagement, weather climbing or descending. I was just curious what your opinion might be. I don’t often get to ask questions of bike experts..

Thanks again,

Jim Loughlin”

The exact Chris King Hub I run

The answer is, yes in many situations.

When climbing a technical climb with lots of rocks and ledges the near instant engagement makes timing of pedal wheelies and weight shifts much easier and precise. These hubs eliminate the “dead spot” when you pedal 10-20 degrees with no engagement. This dead spot can cause your weight to move forward before your bike moves forward often shifting you out of position. Better engagement also allows you to keep your feet more level when ratchet pedaling, requiring less downward movement to achieve the same amount of forward progress.

Even while descending the quick engagement allows you to apply power to the pedals a hair quicker coming out of corners. This leads to a feeling of being more precise and in control.

Hadley Rear Hub

Here is a list of some hubs with quicker engagement and number of points of engagement (I am skills coach not a bike part nerd, I am sure there are quite a few I am leaving out) XT 36pt., DT Swiss 36pt, Hadley 72pt, Chris King 72 pt, Industry 9 120pt, Halo Supa Drive 120pt. For me it feels like the Hadley and Chris King work great with 72 points of engagement which I believe is every 6 degrees and the Industry 9 and Halo are about every 3 degrees. There is also a newer company, Stealth Hubs that claim less than a degree of rotation for engagement but I haven’t heard much about them (which only means I can’t give you my opinion on them). Do your research and find the hubs you like and that fit your budget, some of these hubs cost almost as much as our three day skills progressions!

Personally I am a big fan of both Chris King and Hadley Hubs. I have a Hadley rear Hub on my practice wheel set and it has lasted six years so far. My race wheelset has Chris King hubs and they have lasted two seasons so far and still work great.

 

Mountain Bike Rides that Feel Fast but are Actually Slow!

If it looks fast or feels fast it is probably slow! How to go faster while riding safer and more efficiently.

Ever have that descent on your mountain bike where you felt like you were flat hauling?! At the bottom you were thinking (or telling a riding buddy), “wow, I nearly hit two trees, a big rock and that huge stump! I was flying!”. Believe it or not, despite feeling like you were right on the edge of your skill limits that was probably not near as fast as you could ride that descent (with your current skill).

I first stumbled upon this phenomenon as a snowboard racer. I had a super fast training run and asked my coach, “Nick did you see that run? What was my time, that was my fastest run yet!” Nick replied, “that was 30.2, your fastest run so far was a 29.1!” I was shocked and thought Nick was lying and trying make me mad to motivate me to go faster. A few runs later I had what felt like a technically perfect run but it felt kind of slow. “Nick, did you see that run? My hips, knees, and shoulders were perfect! I know it was slow but did you see my form?!” Nick’s reply, “slow?! That was a 28.3, you fastest run yet!”. I was really confused and didn’t really understand why the run that felt fast was slow and the run that felt slow was fast. It wasn’t until about 10 years later as mountain bike racer that I figured it out. It all had to do with vision and technique.

With good technique and looking as far ahead as you should riding will feel slow as you stay in you comfort zone and have plenty of time to pro-act to the trail. With poor technique and not looking far enough ahead you have to quickly react to the trail. This does a couple of things to you. First, it feels fast as heck as you are making one neck saving move after another (and probably pin-balling all over the trail, not exactly taking the most efficient line) all these reactions cause the body to go into the fight or flight mode which jacks up your adrenaline and tenses you up. This combined with not looking far enough ahead makes it feel like you are flying when in reality you are not going as fast you could be and not taking good lines down the trail. Ever look down at the dashed white lines when you are doing 75 miles an hour in your car? It feels like you are going 200! Then look up at a mountain a few miles away, it feels like you are crawling. Well the same thing happens on the trail! If you look at rock four feet in front on you, you are going to be there (at the rock) in a fraction of a second, if you see the rock when it is twenty-forty feet in front of you you have plenty of time to go around the rock and you stay calm and relaxed.

So, learn to look much further ahead down that trail! This will make riding much more fun, faster and safer!

This video reminded me of that. Notice how tense you get when the helmet cam is pointed down (you don’t know what the trail is going to do next) and how you almost breathe a sigh of relief when the rider looks further down the trail (and you know what the trail is going to throw at him).