Riding a Steep Roll In for the First Time is Less Scary With Proper Technique!

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide?

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide? As someone who preaches that a short stem and wide bars will give you much better handling on a mountain bike (both climbing and descending) I get asked that question a lot. The short answer is, of course your mountain bike handlebars can be too wide, but most likely your’s aren’t wide enough!

The reasons we have been preaching about wide bars since 1999 are that they simply give you more stability, more leverage to fight sudden jerks to the side and more leverage for cornering. A quick baseline to start from is to do a push up and experiment with hand width and find out where you feel most stable and powerful. From this starting point go out a bit wider and start working your way in. What we are looking for is for your forearms to slope outward slightly from your hands to your elbows when you have lowered your chest in a “half push-up” position (see photo below). At the widest your forearms should go straight up to your elbows when in this position.

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Correct Width

This width will give you the optimum amount of control. From this position you can absorb shock, keep the wheels on the ground over a small drop, resist twisting/jerking forces and power you way trough a corner by getting enough counter pressure leverage to give you the right lean angle.

Unfortunately as this trend has caught on I have seen a few riders who are too short (or narrow shouldered, short armed) for the widest bars made and they look like this photo below:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Wide!

I saw a lot of young riders at Whistler last summer with a setup that looked like that. Really hard to control the bike when you are stretched out like that! Those riders need to cut their bars down a bit!

Most riders, especially cross country/endurance oriented riders run bars on the narrow side (perhaps because of tradition?) and they look like this:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Narrow

This also severely hampers control (really twitchy with no leverage to fight sudden bar jerks, and no leverage for cornering pressure) and collapses the lungs a bit making it hard to breathe! It is more aerodynamic though, which unfortunately doesn’t help much at the speeds you travel at on your mountain bike and aerodynamics are not worth sacrificing control over.

The widest bars I have found are the SMAC innovations SW820 Moto Bars ( http://smacinnovations.com/bars.php , 820mm wide) and at 6’3″ I run these uncut on both my xc and dh bikes. BetterRide coach and one the best technical riders I know, Andy Winohradsky is 5’6″ and runs 30.5″ wide bars on both of his bikes. We put on camps all over the country and have not yet found a trail with trees too narrow for these bars. The tightest trees I have found are on the East Coast, in Texas and in the Mid West. In some of these places there were two to four spots an hour where I had to slow down and wiggle through some tight trees. Four, even six times an hour is no reason to compromise your handling though, I would rather you have the most control 99% of your ride and have to slow down a bit a few times an hour than be out of control for 99% of your ride and be able to go faster over about 20 feet every hour! If you honestly live in an area with more than six tree gaps less than 32″ wide in an hour ride, cut your bars!

There is not yet a scientifically proven perfect mountain bike handlebar width as there are so many variables; height, shoulder width, arm length, stem length, top tube length, reach measurement, etc. The easiest way to find out what is right for you is to start at the widest width available to you (or that you feel is appropriate, if you are 5’1″ no need to start at 820mm!) and ride at that width (on a trail without narrow tree gaps at first!) and then keep moving the grips in a bit until your arms look close the “correct” photo above and you feel like you have the most control (not necessarily what feels best as what often feels best is what you are used to which may not be correct).

 

drops and jumps on your mountain bike

Hit Big Drops and Jumps on Your Mountain Bike!

Disclaimer, drops and jumps on your mountain bike can be dangerous, make sure you are wearing the appropriate safety gear and have the basic skills I mention below wired before practicing them. Always practice with a friend in case you do get hurt!

A common email and/or phone call we get starts off like this, “Hey guys, I’m a really skilled mountain biker, I don’t need your whole curriculum,  I just need to learn how to do bigger drops and hit jumps better.” So, since that is a common question I will give you a detailed answer so you can got out and hit those big drops and jump better!

Drops and jumps on your mountain bike are not really hard so I have to ask this question to those emailing us claiming to be experts who simply can’t do drops, “If you are a really skilled rider, why can’t you hit big drops and jump better?” I mean isn’t that what skilled riders do? Could it be that you are not as skilled as you think you are? Maybe your ego is getting in your way? I mean you basically said, “I can ride really easy trails well but I struggle with more difficult trails” but at the same time you called yourself a skilled rider! I’m confused! Seriously, not trying to be a jerk, just being realistic. Maybe you feel drops and jumps are separate skills from “riding skills” as most/all of the trails you ride don’t have jumps are bigger drops. You may be saying, “Gene how can I become good at drops and jumps if I never encounter them on trail?” The simple answer is to become a better rider (on the ground).

Drops and Jumps on Your Mountain Bike

Gene Hamilton hitting the 48 foot gap jump at Sol Vista, 2009 US Mountain Bike National Championships

So, how does a 47 year old rider like me (who doesn’t have near the “nerve” he used to have) hit 10-30 foot drops and 48 foot gap jumps? Through coaching and lots of deliberate practice I am very good at the basic skills of body position and vision, not near the most skilled rider in the world but good enough at the basics to hit this 48 foot gap when I was 43. Not saying that to impress you but to impress upon you the value of core skills as it doesn’t take “balls” to do a jump like this, it takes confidence in your core, basic skills. We teach how to do drops and jumps in our camps without doing them (we do do small drops). Which often leads to this question, “How can you teach me to jump with no with no jump?”. Which I fully understand it would seem at first thought that, “you need a jump to teach someone to jump. duh!” On further thought you might realize that that is like teaching someone Karate while they are fighting! Remember “wax on, wax off”?, you first need to not only understand the basic skills required to do a drop or jump but also be really good at doing them!

Drops and jumps are pretty easy actually, you just ride off them, in balance and in control. This is something any “skilled rider” can do! The 15-25 foot drop below is no harder than going off a curb correctly. It was a lot scarier as the penalty for failure is pretty massive but it really didn’t take much skill. Here is how to do a big drop like “Mushroom Rock”.

Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton Mushroom rock

Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton dropping Mushroom Rock

First learn to ride in control, in balance and in a neutral position why looking ahead 100% of the time (and get so good at it that you do this all the time, even on the steepest, scariest mountain bike trail, drills are the best way to do this). See this video tutorial on body position for help with being in balance, in control and in a neutral position: http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT  . This is something any “skilled rider” should already being doing but if you go to a place like Whistler you will realize that 75-95% of the riders are not doing this. Those riders are easy to spot as they just look a little off balance, they aren’t smooth, they are stiff, their head is moving a lot (the head of rider in balance and neutral almost never moves), herky-jerky is a great description of the majority of mountain bikers. If your view keeps changing, your head is moving or you are getting “eyeball jiggle” you are not in balance nor in control.

Once you can ride in balance and in control baby step your way up by using the drop techniques we teach (As a matter of fact they are barely techniques, we teach them on the first day of our skills progression and 8 to 78 year old students have an excellent grasp of them by the third day) on smaller drops (such as a curb) and working your way up to bigger drops. What are these techniques? Well, at speed, above 12-15 miles an hour you simply ride off the drop in balance (all your weight on your pedals). Going below 12 miles an hour you will have to do a little baby manual or coaster wheelie off the edge of the drop. I say little because you aren’t actually trying to lift the front wheel, your goal is to simply keep the front from dropping quickly. On drops with a flat landing your goal is too decrease the angle of incident that you hit the ground at (and land in a centered, neutral position looking ahead, ready for the next thing the trail throws at you). This means slightly front wheel first or both wheels landing at the same time is best.

Once you are consistently landing both wheels at the same time, in balance, in control and looking ahead off a curb find small drops with a steep downhill landing (you can often find these in the local elementary school playground or if you are fortunate enough to have a bike park near by at the bike park) so you get used to landing on a “transition” (which will ease you back to earth, much less jarring than a flat landing). A big focus should be looking past the landing! Must crashes on drops don’t actually happen on the drop, they happen after the drop! On a drop with a downhill landing your are going to being going much faster when you land than when you take off so knowing what the trail looks like after the drop and looking where you want to go after the drop (not at your landing) is very important. Also, as you work you way to bigger drops that will have a blind landing (where you can’t see the landing before you take off) make sure your thoroughly inspect the landing and make a plan of where you want to go after the landing before you do the drop!

What “technique/s” or skills am I using in the photo above? None, I am simply rode off the edge in control, in balance and in a neutral position. Then I stayed in control and in balance throughout.

Jumps are pretty similar, at least the jumps you will be learning on, steep “dirt jumps” are not the best place to learn. Find table top jumps (no gap to clear) without steep take offs to practice on. Once you have found a safe jump to practice on (safe is a tricky word as any jump can be dangerous, wear your helmet and safety gear) set your bike up for jumping by stiffing your suspension a bit and slowing the rebound (so it doesn’t “buck” you on the take off or landing). Then simply ride off that jump slowly in balance, in control and in a neutral position. Pretend there is a clear piece of plexiglass under you and you aren’t actually leaving the ground, just riding over an arc. Focus on how would stay centered and neutral as you ride over that arc and look past the landing (where you want to go) once you take off. Once you are comfortable slowly increase your speed until you are landing both wheels at the same time or slightly front wheel first on the “backside”.  That is really all there is to it but many people get hurt jumping as they aren’t doing those seemingly simple skills. Mountain bikers get hurt jumping when they ride off balance, ride off the back of their bike, try to do something as they leave the jump (like yank up on the bars or pedals), ride stiff and let their suspension buck them, aren’t looking where they should be and don’t “baby-step” their way up to bigger jumps.  There are advanced jumping skills that I didn’t mention because you need to master these basic skills first!

Hitting bigger drops and jumps on your mountain bike isn’t hard, you just need to have a few core skills wired. Once you are consistently riding in control, in balance, in a neutral position and looking ahead you are ready to practice small drops (start with a curb and baby step your way up to bigger drops as you feel comfortable). Jumping is a little more dangerous but if you find the right table top jump and start slow you figure it out.

Create a great ride,

Gene

 

Ready To Podium at Your next mountain bike race?

Ready to Podium at Your Next Mountain Bike Race? Our Skills Progression alumni Dominated in BC!

What a weekend in Boulder City! BetterRide mountain bike skills progression camp alumni dominated at the Nevada State Champs at Bootleg Canyon! From 13 year old racers to guys in their 50′s and the pro classes our skilled racers kicked some tail! Are you ready to podium at your next mountain bike race?

Congratulations to the following racers for training smart and hard and racing at their best!

Ready to Podium in your next mountain bike race?

Cody Kelly in 3rd place at the Nevada State Championships!

The King of the Mountain had to go to Cody Kelly who won the pro Super D (tying the course record despite the course being about 150 yards longer than ever), earned a 3rd place finish in the Pro Downhill (behind Aaron Gwin and Kevin Aiello and ahead of Mikey Sylvestri pretty good company!) and took second in the chainless downhill! Congratulations Cody! BetterRide alumni behind Cody in the pro class include Chris Higgerson in 7th place, Trevor Trinkino in 13th and Graeme Pitts in 15th (and 3rd in the Chainless!).

A slightly dazed (from a crash the day before) Amber Price earned a second place finish in pro women.

Mountain bike skills coaching

Kendall McLean on the top step of the Jr. 13-14 podium!

AFD racing’s (all the way from Victoria, BC) Kendall McLean won the 13-14 year old downhill class, his brother Matthew earned a big victory in the 15-16 Cat 1 Downhill class and their sister Kirby won the Cat 1 19-29 class! Their teammate Carter Paschinski was 2nd in Cat 2 15-18 and their team manager Syd Jacklin was 3rd in Cat 2 men 40-49, just ahead of Colin Beech in 4th and Jason Krause in 7th and Joe Dondero racing for the first time in eight years took 9th.

Ready to podium at your next mountain bike race?

Tyler Krenek ripping the track at Bootleg.

In the future pro class, Cat 1 17-18 Galen Carter earned a second place finish, Niko Kilik took home 4th place and Tyler Krenek finished 6th.

Bobby Bondurant rounds out our podium finishers with a 3rd place in Cat 1 50-59!

Are you ready to podium at your next mountain bike race? We can’t guarantee a podium finish but we can guarantee that you will be much faster while being in more control. Invest in yourself today!

Action Photos courtesy of Ian Cook.

Stop being one with your bike!

Mountain Bike Way Better! Guaranteed!

Wow, what timing. We have been trying to simply explain why there is no other mountain bike coaching like BetterRide and why our students love us so much and then we got this email from a potential student (and yes, we wish all mountain bike riders were as astute as this guy):

“I’m thinking about taking the three day camp, but I have a couple questions. I have taken other training sessions with other organizations and they seem more like a group ride, which is not what I’m looking for. Are yours actual training and instruction? How many kids per instructor? I have taken scuba and kayak group trainings and they are painful. I see the benefit in watching and learning from others successes and failures, but I don’t want to be sitting in a line of 20 people waiting my turn wasting time. I guess I just want to make sure I’m getting the bang for my buck. Also, is women’s only training the same? My spouse may be interested if I’m successful. Thanks”

Our reply, “Thanks for writing.   I LOVE your email.   You will love our camp.  We teach a 19-21 hour curriculum spread over three days that is a large quantity of specific theories and drills that add up to the core skills of mountain biking.  We don’t just show you good riding or even just tell you to have proper body position.  We teach specific drills that will make things like proper body position become automatic for you on the bike. (you have to do the drills though!) We offer a money back guarantee if this is not the best investment you ever made in your riding.  We aren’t out to create the funnest three days for you, we strive to make those three days the best use of your time towards drastically improving your bike handling skills. The women’s curriculum is largely the same as the Co-ed camps.  Most co-ed camps have multiple women in them.  We coach 8 students at a time (occasionally 11- 14 with a second coach).

Gabe

Better Ride”

His reply to our email: “Gabe, thanks for all the info. Sounds like this is exactly what I want. I consider myself an advanced beginner rider that can’t turn. I’m still trying to find something or someone that has something negative to say about these camps and I can’t. So I will be signing up for one in the next couple months, just need to pick the place. I’m in Phoenix, but would not be opposed to going somewhere close.”

Well, that pretty much sums it up, structured, drill based coaching, low rider coach ratio and no bad reviews! (tons of extremely positive ones though) We really want to help you mountain bike way better and get even more enjoyment out of your riding and/or racing. Our money back guarantee and glowing reviews from riders just like you*, riders way better than you**, other coaches*** and riders not as good as you are testament to our passion for coaching. Do yourself a favor and sign up for a three day skills progression today!

** World Champ Ross Schnell, “I learned more today than in my 11 year career”

**National Champ and World Cup podium finisher Mitch Ropelato in an interview with Dirt Magazine

Dirt Magazine: “You seem to be able to turn amazingly, what do you put that down to? Got any special tires on there?

Mitch Ropelato: ” Ya, Gene Hamilton is to thank for that, I took is clinic last December in Bootleg Canyon and he was able to show me the correct technique I needed to pull them off.”

 

 

Students Doing Cornering Drills To Ingrain Skills Before Hitting the Trails

Students Doing Cornering Drills To Ingrain Skills Before Hitting the Trails

* Here is what two passionate riders had to say after one of our camps:

Hi Gene,

Thank you for creating what has been one of the best learning experiences of our lives.  We traveled all the way from Australia to attend your camp in Golden, Colorado and it was worth every penny! Andy was a fantastic teacher with great personal skills. He has our highest commendation for creating a safe, exciting and fun environment for learning.

It is refreshing to find someone who understands their field well enough to be able to deconstruct difficult and often hard to pinpoint concepts. This is a rare talent. We appreciate all of the careful thought that you and Andy have put into creating the mountain bike skills curriculum. The content was well-organized into different sections, and logically progressed from foundational skills (like body position and braking) to more difficult skills (like cornering). It is obvious that you have spent a lot of time not only thinking about how to mountain bike, but also how to teach it to others.

Learning these mountain biking skills has truly made us “betterriders”.  Thank you for the opportunity to attend your camp and we look forward to attending a core skills camp #2 !

Sincerely,

Tracy and Matt from Canberra, Australia      September 28, 2010

*** Another coach’s perspective:

“Gene,

      I took your Core Skills clinic from Andy and Chip 2 years ago and it changed everything about my riding. Without going further I want to thank you sincerely. My riding is more fun, safer, faster, in more control, and better in all ways because of you. I wear your shirt and bumper stickers proudly and tell anyone that sits still for too long about it. Since then I’ve purchased multiple books and taken multiple skills clinics. I recently got certified by IMBA as a level 2 instructor and teach for Boulder Mountainbike Alliance. After all that I finally feel ready to take a Core Skills 2 in 2014 (near Boulder?? please!!…;) In all the clinics I’ve taken and all the books I’ve read (2 from Lee and 1 from Shaums) it’s your class that has been the standard that no one else has reached. I’m totally psych’d to hear you finally plan to write a book. Sign me up for a copy, no matter the price.

David Holshouser”    from an email dated Oct. 19, 2013