Andy Cornering

Mountain Bike Better By Riding and Racing More? Advice from an Olympic Champion!

Can you Mountain bike better by riding and/or racing more? I sure thought so and it worked for a few years! I realize you might not have any competitive ambitions but bet you want to ride at your best. Wouldn’t you like to confidently ride the toughest trails in your area? In Whistler and Moab? This article is for all riders who would like to mountain bike better! Some Advice from an Olympic champion with way less riding and racing time than the competitors she beat!

Mountain Bike Better With Skills!

Mountain Bike Better With Skills!

When I first started mountain bike racing in 1993 I wanted to race every weekend as that is what everyone said would make me faster and better. It kind of worked, I turned pro two years later and I had gotten much faster. Then, the strangest thing happened, I felt like over my first three years in the pro class I barely improved, I hit a plateau despite riding and racing as much as I could. I realized one of the biggest things holding me back was cornering, no one entered corners faster than me but many racers exited a lot faster. So I asked more experienced, faster pro racers how to corner faster and they said things like, “let off the brakes you wuss!” which really didn’t help. There had to be an actual technique (like in ski racing and snowboard racing) but no one could teach me and after 10 years of riding at that point I had not managed to just stumble upon the technique. So in my first five years of riding my “skills” seemed to grow by leaps and bounds then just stopped growing in the next five years. This was frustrating!

I which I read this article, “The Secret of Mikaela Shiffrin’s Success: Always Practice, Never Compete” when I started riding:  http://www.slate.com/blogs/five_ring_circus/2014/02/21/mikaela_shiffrin_sochi_the_secret_to_the_18_year_old_s_success_was_to_practice.html So Mikaela’s advice is to practice more, not ride more!

Turns out, riding everyday does make you “better” at first then you quickly reach a plateau as you reach the limit of the habits you have developed. As stated in the books Outliers, The Talent Code, Talent is Over Rated and Mastery just doing something over and over again doesn’t make us better. What you need is deliberate practice! Deliberate practice is the opposite of going out and riding out in the wilderness, it is short, focused practice sections with a focus, making mistakes, figuring out why/what mistake you made, correcting it, practice with purpose. This is done in all sports by being coached in the proper, often non-intuitive skills and then doing drills to master those skills! So if  you want to ride at your best follow Mikaela advice, invest in solid coaching and practice your way to success. Then you will be able to confidently ride the toughest trails in your area, in Whistler and Moab!

Sure, Mikaela’s competitors probably had a lot more fun (and possibly more frustration) over the last few years but who is having more fun now?! Practice can be fun and confidently riding trails that once scared you is really fun!

Mountain bike myths

BetterRide Coach Chip assisting students in a cornering drill designed to ingrain the right habits.

Don’t make the mistake I made and ingrain bad habits when you could be creating new, correct, in balance and in control techniques! Start practicing more and riding trail just a little less and your quality of ride will greatly improve!

 

Mountain Bike Descending Switchbacks Line Choice

Mountain Bike Descending Switchbacks Line Choice by BetterRide Certified Coach Andy Winohradsky

Hi everybody! Coach Andy, here. I’ve put a few riding-tip videos together, hope you like them…

This video deals with proper line choice while descending switchbacks. What you’ll see in the video is that it is very important to use the whole trail in order to put the bike in the correct spot (take the correct line) if you want to successfully descend tight switchbacks. This applies to all levels of riders. Very often I’ll see “good” riders run into problems on switchbacks simply because their initial line selection was off. Sometimes this is a result of being in a hurry: trying to go fast without being patient enough to slow down and do things right; sometimes riders get lazy (this often happens when fatigue sets in); but more often than not, most riders simply don’t understand the degree to which they need to get away from the main line, use the whole trail, and properly set up for an extremely sharp corner on a very steep (usually) section of trail.

Unfortunately, most riders are guilty of following the main line down the trail or the “people’s line” as I jokingly refer to it in camps. The main line is usually the path of least resistance, however, most of the time it is the path of least resistance ONLY for what is immediately in front of us on the trail. It isn’t formed by taking large chunks of trail, or what is further down the trail, into consideration. And, again unfortunately, this is how most riders see and ride the trail: looking for solutions for ten or twenty-foot sections of trail at a time instead of looking for solutions to sixty or even a hundred foot sections at a time. What’s important is the point where you want to end up on the trail and finding a solution to get there, hence, setting up with the proper line at the beginning of the switchback (in this case) in order to get to where you need to be at the end of the switchback. Also, proper line choice, as it is addressed in the video, obviously only works if it is possibly to get the bike to that particular part of the trail. If there is an obstacle in the way that is unridable then you have to look for a different solution/different line (usually deviating as little as possible from the optimum line). However, the way most trails are built and maintained these days (for better or worse), this line choice is almost always possible in switchbacks.

As I state in the video, proper line choice is just one part of descending switchbacks that has to be done correctly in order to have success out there on the trail. Switchbacks are tough and require a rider to do everything almost perfectly in order to get down them in one piece. We spend about an hour on this topic in our full instruction camps and cover body position, weight placement, vision, line choice, braking, etc… all the aspects of riding, how they relate to descending switchbacks, and how they need to be applied to ensure success on these difficult trail features. Obviously, we can’t give you that type/volume of information in a couple of minutes via the internet in a short video…

But, hope you do enjoy the video. Hope it helps you out… I’ll have plenty more so check back soon!

Skeeter and his cockpit set up for his bad back.

Mountain Bike Cockpit For Riders With Back Issues and/or Tight Hips

Mountain Bike Cockpit For Riders With Back Issues and/or Tight Hips

Most mountain bikers are tenacious but riders who refuse to quit or even start riding with major back issues like fused vertebrates, degenerative disk disease, bulging disks, etc. really inspire me! I was fortunate enough to coach just such a rider this weekend, Skeeter is a 57 year old mountain biker who has been riding dirt bikes for years and has degenerative disk disease. His cockpit set up is really tall which will compromise the bikes handling a bit but it is way better than not riding or riding a bike set up for performance that makes your back hurt.  A 58 year old woman with four fused vertebrae that I coached in a camp with us in 2003  had her bike set up similarly and I explained she might have to walk a few steep climbs (because it is nearly impossible on a steep hill to keep your weight centered with your bars 3-4 inches higher than your saddle) but those climbs are only a small fraction of her riding miles. At least she is out riding! The fact that she was starting to ride at 58 blew me away, she never had a bike as a kid even!

Here is Skeeter’s cockpit setup for his back issues:

Skeeter's Mountain Bike Cockpit For His Bad Back

Skeeter’s Mountain Bike Cockpit For His Bad Back

 

This will compromise the bikes handling a bit (because it is nearly impossible when climbing a steep hill to keep your weight centered with your bars 3-4 inches higher than your saddle and your bars will be too high descending putting you in a tall and upright position) but it is way better than not riding or riding a bike set up for performance that makes your back hurt worse. See these articles on body position for more on that: http://betterride.net/blog/2011/mtb-skills-tip-w-pic-technical-climbing-wandy-winohradsky/ and http://betterride.net/blog/2010/mountain-bike-desending-body-position-101-video-demonstration/

Great to see riders of all shapes, sizes and with various performance reducing injuries/conditions still out riding and having fun on the trail!

ControlsBars

Mountain Bike Cockpit Setup For Better Handling, Bike Industry Slowly Catching On! (Lucky You!)

If you are in the market for a new mountain bike you are luckier than ever! Over the years it as been amazing how slow the mountain bike industry has been to leave tradition and embrace new ideas on how to make a mountain bike handle better. We have been pushing for change, especially in the mountain bike cockpit set up department (longer frames, shorter stems, wider bars, slacker head angles and dropper posts) since those products were developed and finally all those things are mainstream! This is great news for you as rider, you now have bikes that are much more fun to ride and safer right from the factory!

Few things are as important on a mountain bike as the length of your stem and width of your bars. Your “Mountain Bike Cockpit” is your control center and we have been stressing wide bars and short stems since the beginning of BetterRide in 1999. The resistance from bike manufacturers and riders stuck in “traditional” bike design was amazing and it has taken years for riders and the industry to catch on.  Just a few years ago bikes with 110mm stems were standard and riders said we were nuts running 50 and 60 mm stems. Now we run 35-50 mm stems and they give us so much control that a 60 mm stem feels a little long! Wide bars were once 28 inches wide, now we ride 29-32″ wide bars for even more control. See this article from 2010 on why wide bars and a short stem give you more control, the stem lengths and bar heights now seem a little dated:  http://betterride.net/blog/2010/2-things-you-can-buy-and-instantly-improve-your-bike-handling/

The crew at All Mountain Cyclery putting a 50 mm stem and 780 mm bars on a XC Race bike!

The crew at All Mountain Cyclery putting a 50 mm stem and 780 mm bars on a XC Race bike!

Taller bikes (29″ and 27.5″ tires and longer travel suspensions) have also changed our bar height guidelines to having the bars 1″ higher than the seat (at full climbing height) to 3″ lower than the seat (height is a big factor here, taller people tend to have a bigger drop from their seat to the bars while shorter riders often can only get the bars down to 1″ higher than the seat.

Saddle height is important too as it needs to be at the optimum height for power when climbing yet the heck out of the way when descending (so you can stand in a centered, balanced and neutral position). This is a common formula for road racers: Saddle height (cm) = inseam (cm) x 0.883 This is measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the low point of the top of your saddle. For mountain biking lower your saddle a little from this number, 10-16mm lower makes you feel much less “tippy”.

Then buy a “dropper post” so you get the seat out of the way almost instantly when descending! Gravity Dropper was the first company to make “dropper posts” and boy, the resistance we got from our students, “it weighs too much”, “I don’t want/need another gadget”, “I’ll never use it”, etc. Now, Gravity Dropper is just one of 10 companies that make dropper posts because they work! Even Thompson is making one and stud cross country racers like Erica Tingey are using them!

XC Star Erica Tingey with a Dropper Post on her race bike!

XC Star Erica Tingey with a Dropper Post on her race bike!

The fore-aft placement of your saddle and saddle tilt can also have a big impact on your riding. Mountain biking is quite different from road cycling as bike handling is much more important off-road (we face conditions road cyclists don’t; wet roots, loose gravel, deep sand, steep rock faces, etc.), we tend to climb and descend steeper pitches and we are not in a static position for the entire ride. Most of the rides I do I am either seated and climbing or standing and descending so I have my seat set up for climbing. This means I have the seat a little forward on the rails and tilted nose down a bit. This can be a little cramped and put some pressure on my hands on flat ground but feels great when climbing !

When we are climbing we should be “hinged” forward at the hips. I have tilted my seat slightly forward and it really helps me hinge! By sliding my seat a little forward on the rails it is easier to stay centered enough to keep the front wheel on the ground while having enough weight on the rear tire for traction.

Everyone is built a little differently and mountain biking is a very dynamic sport so there is definitely some personal preference with your cockpit setup, experiment and find out what works best for you! This might take some testing, often what feels good in the parking lot doesn’t work best on trail! Make adjustments, make sure you understand good body position (AND are IN good body position) and then test how the bike climbs and descends after making adjustments. A stop watch can be handy here as what feels faster often isn’t.

Get your bike dialed and create a great ride!