Fear when mountain biking is good!

Mountain Bikers, How to Brake More Effectively, Video Tutorial

Using your front brake effectively is one of the most important skills on a mountain bike. Proper use of the front brake gives you much more control making you safer, faster and more confident. Now, when braking to cut speed (the main reason we use our front brake) you also want to use that weak rear brake to assist that powerful front brake. Watch my video tutorial and then read below for more detail on this important mtb skill.

An important piece I left out of the video is that you always want to cut speed in a straight line! Using that front brake and cutting speed in a corner is a recipe for disaster!

Your body position while braking is crucial and this often taught wrong (I taught it incorrectly from the start of BetterRide in the spring of 1999 until the fall of 2005)! What I taught and what I recently read from one of the best downhill racers in the world is, as you are braking get your weight back. This is terrible advice for a number of reasons (that I will address in a moment), so why did one of the best downhill racers in the world recommend this position? Because it feels like you are getting back when you are braking hard, what he is actually doing is bracing really hard so he doesn’t get tossed forward.

Granted, I used to get my weight back while braking and because it was such an ingrained habit! I still start to scout back sometimes when braking hard. It is also human instinct to move away from danger so it feels good to scoot back (until you crash :)).

There are a few reasons pushing your weight back while braking is bad (or pretty much any time except when manuling) :

  • It puts you in an off-balance and non-neutral position that I call the flying catapult! As your arms straighten and your butt goes back you end up at the end of your range of motion, with no “sag” in your body’s suspension. In this position, if your front wheel were to suddenly descend (drop or roll) more than a foot you will get yanked forward and downward causing your weight to get tossed forward. If you have ever had an endo where it felt like your bike catapulted you into the ground, it did (catapult you into the ground). Please check out this blog article on the importance of neutral, centered position on your bike: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/mountain-bike-desending-body-position-101-video-demonstration/
  • It greatly decreases your control and increases your braking distance (by taking weight off of the front wheel, not allowing you to use as much of that powerful front brake. This is easy to test (though a bit scary), simply to do the braking drill in my video on a dirt road or looser surface with your weight back. Instead of quickly coming to a stop, your front wheel will skid! See 6 second video below.
  • Usually, you are braking for a trail feature, most often on the straightaway into a corner, do you want to enter a corner with your weight back (no weight on the front wheel?). If the top downhill racer who recently said that you should shift your weight back while braking actually did that you would see him scoot back as he was braking for the corner, then, all in one motion, let go of the brakes, shift his weight forward and initiate the turn!
  • For more on this please read this article: http://betterride.net/blog/2014/braking-on-your-mountain-bike/

Speaking of the importance of using your front brake and braking in a straight line before a corner, a few years ago Cody Kelly (https://www.alchemy.bike/cody) was really excited to tell me that he is wearing out two sets of front brake pads before one set of rear brake pads! After hearing this I bowed to him and he said, “why are you bowing to me, you taught me to do that”. I replied that I may have taught him that (he took 5 or 6 of my camps) but I have 20 years of bad habits to overcome so I don’t exactly do that. In other words, I wasn’t practicing enough! The idea of wearing out two sets of front brake pads before one set of rear pads did inspire to practice more and while I don’t have Cody’s ratio for the last two years I have been wearing out one set of front pads before wearing out my rear pads!

Are you wearing out your front brake pads before your rear pads? Feel free to comment and/or ask any questions below.

Please share this article with anyone you feel could benefit from it.



MTB, How to Optimally Set Your Suspension & Tire Pressure (beyond sag & what friends do)

You understand how to set your suspension sag (if not go to your bike brand’s website, they will tell you for your specific model), you know what the rebound adjustment does (again go to your bike brand’s website or your suspension brand’s website for more on this if you don’t know what it does) but you want to get your bike dialed in exactly for you, your speed, your trails, the way you ride them. I’m here to help!

This article is on how to optimally set your suspension and tire pressure for descending at your best, so you have as much control as possible descending at the speeds you like to ride. It should also set it up well for technical climbing too on most bikes too (especially with the use of the adjustable “platform” or “threshold damping control” (the green lever on a DVO Topaz, see photo, the lever is blue on many other shocks) with three settings, descend, all-mountain and climb).

DVO Topaz

I was practicing for the first South African National Downhill race (on my 130mm travel trail bike, this article is not just for downhillers!) the other day and I had a great time getting my bike dialed in. I thought I would share this process with you and how your suspension and tire pressure (and even tire type) can vary greatly depending on your goal.

Where I live when I’m in South Africa I don’t have the best trails for descending nearby and have a lot of steep fire roads to climb. So I bought a 29r wheelset with lighter tire casing to use here (instead of my usually 27.5 plus tires with “enduro sidewalls” (sidewalls that are a little thicker, stronger and cut resistant than normal trail tires but not as heavy or stronger as downhill tires)). The 29er set up with light, narrower tires is a little sketchy on the descents (which actually makes mellow descents more fun as they now require more skill) but much more enjoyable on the long and steep climbs.

After watching a GoPro video of the track it looked smooth and flat, the perfect track for my lighter 29r tires even though their cornering is poor. That’s why I hate GoPro footage! Turns out the track was much steeper in places, the corners were sharper than they looked in the video and loose as heck, after one run I switched to my 27.5 plus tires! It took a few runs to get used to those tires, their low pressure and added weight again (I usually run them at 13 psi in the front and 16-18 psi in the rear) but I was instantly impressed with how more traction they had for braking and cornering.

After that, I noticed that the softer tire pressure made the bike “bounce” a bit off some bumps so I slowed my rebound 2 clicks front and rear and it felt much better. I spent the rest of that afternoon just learning the track and picking lines.

The second day was fun but nearly all business as my speed on the track really picked up and every single run the bike did something I didn’t like and it needed some fine-tuning. The first run I dinged my front wheel and the tires felt a little squirmy in the berms so upped the pressure to 15 psi in the front and 18 psi in the rear (remember these are plus size tires on a track with only two small rock sections, at a rockier place like Bootleg Canyon I would up the pressure a bit).

Upping my tire pressure encouraged me to push a little harder and this time it was my rear suspension that felt a little soft (when pushing into the corners it would compress too much causing the rear of my bike to squat and then rebound), making cornering a bit unpredictable. First, instead of increasing my rear shock pressure I switched the “pedal platform” from “descend” to “trail”. This enabled me to keep the low pressure I was running (about 33% sag instead of 25%) for the steeps but firm it up a bit in the corners.

Whenever you adjust the rear suspension it affects the front suspension too. By stiffening my rear suspension I was riding a hair higher in the travel and more centered over my bottom bracket. This slightly steepened the head angle of my bike and put more weight than previously on the front of my bike. Now my front fork that was too soft, it was diving at the bottom of a steep g-out and in some corners. So I upped the high-speed compression damping by six clicks and took another run. That wasn’t enough, my fork was still diving so I increased the air pressure from 110 to 120 and backed off those six clicks on the high-speed compression knob.

That felt much better but my speed had increased a little more and now the rear suspension was a little too soft, so I upped the pressure by 5% (200 psi to 210 psi, one click slower on the rebound to keep the rebound the same as before the pressure increase) and it felt much better! I did one run with the damper switch on “trail” and one on run on “descend”. With the extra air pressure descend felt better. Finally dialed and ready for the race.

Here is a summary of what I did, why I did it and how you should do this.

  • I was fortunate to have a perfect two-minute test track with a paved shuttle! This enabled me to ride the same trail 10 times and make adjustments to my bike after every lap in only hours. A one to two-minute test tracks is awesome for testing bike setup! You can use longer trails and make adjustments on the trail but the trail may change (go from rough to smooth, fast to slow, etc) so you aren’t sure if your setup is better or the trail just smoothed out. By using the same trail you are hitting the same bumps and corners at the same speed when comparing adjustments.
  • I would do this on what you feel is your “typical” trail, similar to what you ride most of the time. Then set it, write it down and don’t spend too much time worrying about it unless your speed changes greatly or you are riding a trail with a big difference in speed and/or surface). For most of us, it isn’t our suspension that holds us back, it is our skill!
  • An example of speed and terrain differences is Porcupine Rim in Moab. On that trail, there are spots where you are hauling tail through rock fields, much higher speeds than most other trails in Moab. I always want to increase my tire pressure by 10-15% for that trail and usually stiffen my fork a bit too. Last spring I was so excited for my first Porcupine lap that I forgot to add that tire pressure and destroyed my rear rim and tire!
  • Write everything down in your journal. What the current settings are, how they felt, what you changed and why (was bottoming out so I increased rear shock pressure from 200 psi to 210 psi) then how the new setting felt. You might be surprised how often you return to these notes.
  • Adjust one thing at a time, if you adjust two things at once and it feels better you don’t know which change made it feel better. The only exception is with rebound if I increase the air pressure in my shock I need to slow the rebound a click or two so it stays the same speed.
  • Warm up before doing any testing! Our main suspension is our body and when we are cold it doesn’t move as quickly or as fluidly. If you start cold as you warm up every adjustment will feel better as your body is working better!
  • Once you find perfect, write it down including conditions (fast, dry trail with lots of braking bumps and loose corners). That way you know where to start if the conditions change, your speed changes or you lose air pressure and/or accidentally change your rebound or compression adjustment. In general, the faster you go the more you want to stiffen up the suspension and tire pressure (as you hit things harder the faster you go) and the slower you go (or trail forces you to go, you want to soften your suspension and tires pressure (as you hit things softer and put less force on the tires in corners).
  • After setting sag and/or initial air pressure in your suspension you are in the ballpark of where your air pressure should be but it may still need a 5-15% change in pressure to get it dialed. What you are shooting for is getting full travel (bottoming out) at two to three times on a rough two-minute descent. If you aren’t getting full travel you aren’t using all of the suspension available to you if you are bottoming out harshly, or more than three times in a short downhill you need to increase the pressure.
  • Always set sag/air pressure first, as changing air pressure greatly affects your rebound speed.
  • Many forks and more expensive rear shocks also have low-speed and high-speed compression damping. The speed, in this case, is the speed the shock is moving. This usually has to do with the size of what you are hitting, small bumps like gravel work the slow speed damping. If you notice your bike feels like it isn’t hooking up as well as it could be, try decreasing the low-speed damping (or decreasing the air pressure). If your suspension feels too linear (like the last bit of travel moves as easily as the first bit of travel) or is bottoming out try increasing the high-speed compression
  • Coil springs are becoming more popular on trail bikes and have always been very popular on downhill bikes. Getting the right weight spring is very important. If you need more than three full turns of preload on the spring you need to go up in spring weight. Increasing preload will also speed up your rebound speed.
  • Rebound speed is largely personal preference.  A great starting point is to have the shock and fork rebound at about the speed your arms and legs would move to return to the “ready” position. from there if after the shock you have absorbed it feels like the bike wants to push back against you like a pogo stick try slowing the rebound. If it feels like the suspension gets harsher with each successive bump try speeding up the rebound (this will allow your suspension to return to it’s “ready” position before the next hit. To make you bike feel predictable it is nice to have the same rebound speed front and rear.
  • As for tire pressure, in general, you want to run as low a pressure as you can without, burping the tires, dinging your rims, having your tire squirm in the corners or flatting. Lower pressure gives you better traction and better small bump compliance.

Lastly, spend some time on this! Bikes, suspension, and tires are amazing these days, but I have felt some riders suspensions setup that were terrible. I had a student who hated is new, $5,000 bike. I rode and realized why the rear suspension was way to stiff for him and the front shock too soft. By simply spending a few minutes setting the correct air pressure and adjusting his rebound he went from hating the bike to saying it was the best bike he had ever ridden!

Feel free to share this article with anyone you feel could benefit from it. Post any suspension or tire pressure comments below.

MTB Foot Position, Video Tutorial

Mountain bike foot placement is a skill that will make you smoother and give you better balance. Check out my video below and then read my deeper break down of this important skill.

I can’t stress enough how important this is! Greg Minnaar and Aaron Gwin have their cleats mounted like mine (well, I copied them actually) for the optimum combination of power, balance, and smoothness on the bike. Please do the jumping drill and realize how bad it is to ride flat footed! Again, I like both pedal types for more on flat pedals vs. clips read this: https://wp.me/p49ApH-1ci

I took a balance class from Jim Klopman and Janet Miller (authors of a great book on balance, Balance is Power and owners of SlackBow, a balance training facility in Park City, UT) and I learned a lot (like my balance is decent but can get much. much better with practice, more on that in a future blog article) and a few things that I knew were reinforced. Both Jim and Janet really stressed that a big component of balance is being on the ball of your foot. I specifically asked if that was important on your bike’s pedals and they said something to the effect of, “if you want to be in balance it does!”

Famous motocross coach Gary Baily stresses being on the balls of your feet to be smooth on a dirt bike with 12″ of suspension travel! The jumping drill sums it up well. I have tested this on my bike many times and honestly, you lose ALL of your smoothness when you are standing on your arch. At places as rough as Bootleg Canyon or South Mountain, it makes riding downhill on rough trails nearly impossible.

Some riders tend to ride with their toes angled out a bit and others with their toes in. I think this is more about how your body is built and doesn’t affect performance.

When coasting you want the pedals relatively level and in the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock position. Often, on flat pedals, riders will drop the heel of their front foot a bit and raise the heel of their trailing foot creating a “cradle” to help keep their feet from sliding on the pedals. Of course, some good, 5.10 shoes and a good pair of flat pedals like the Canfield Brothers Crampons really help! Many, many great riders have told me that they drop their heels, other than dropping the heal on their front foot sometimes I rarely see them doing this, I think it feels that way to them (and we certainly don’t want our front heel up!)

Spend some time on mellow descents, or better yet, paved mellow descents focusing on keeping your weight on the balls of your feet! Your body, rims, and shocks will thank you!

Now, go out and practice! Let us know how this has affected your riding by posting below. Feel free to share this article with anyone you feel could benefit from it.

MTB Body Position

Mountain Bike Body Position, The Fundamental Movement Video Tutorial

Mountain Bike Body Position, The Fundamental Movement

Body position is your riding foundation, and it requires a fair amount of effort and a strong and stable “core” (your core is more than just abdominal muscles, it also includes your lower back muscles, oblique muscles, and hip flexors). Every physical part of riding starts from proper body position and it protects your body.

That brings us to the proper Hip Hinge, something I didn’t learn about until 1999 (5 years into my pro career and 10 years after purchasing my first mtb!). Whether standing and descending or sitting and climbing I have always had a habit of bending at the belly button and rounding my back. Probably the only time I didn’t round my back was when standing and climbing.

Bending at the belly button is a weak, not athletic position that causes us to ride poorly and leads to massive back pain. The Hinge is your power center, it helps you stay centered and neutral and it protects your back.

How to practice the hinge:

  • First practice off the bike, find your hip crease, push slightly back on the crease and lower your chest by hinging.
  • Shoulders back and down, belly button pulled toward your spine, back flat
  • Hold that position, feel it in your hamstrings (if you can’t hinge so your torso is parallel to the ground your hamstrings are really tight! Stretch and roll them out!), feel it in your lower back, it should feel comfortable but require effort.
  • Now, bend at your belly button and compare how that feels, probably weak and painful.
  • Notice that the further you hinge the further forward your chest and head go and the further back your hips go, this is crucial to staying centered! When you bend at the belly, not only does it strain your back and make you weak but it doesn’t automatically keep you centered either.
    mountain bike body position, video tutorial
  • Once you have practiced it and felt it off your bike, find a mellow hill, preferably off trail, on a paved section ideally (whenever you are on a trail you tend to lose focus on what you are practicing as you are now more concerned with staying on the trail!) and practice this both seated and climbing and standing and descending.
  • Focus on exaggerating all the pieces of this like I am in the video. Notice my elbows are even more forward than they need to be and my chest while climbing is much lower than it needs to be for the grade I’m climbing. Exaggeration is a great learning tool, you will usually end up halfway between your old way and the new way, so if you don’t exaggerate you will end halfway on the trail.
  • Once you feel like you have created a “circuit” for your body to follow, take this to a mellow trail and practice. Check out this post on how we learn physical skills: https://wp.me/p49ApH-19s
  • Then take it to increasingly steep hills and notice it gets harder to do as you start becoming more concerned about the trail than what you are practicing.
  • You will find that without a lot of deliberate practice the second you relax and stop thinking about this you will bend from the belly! It takes work.

Go work on this crucial body position piece and have fun.

Please feel free to post any questions are comments and share this with anyone you think could benefit from it.