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The Most Confidence Inspiring Mountain Bike (most fun too!)

Whether you consider yourself an expert, a beginner or somewhere in between the must fun and safe bike will have some the same important  characteristics. Even if you are a serious cross country racer wouldn’t a bike that made steep and technical descents feel less steep and technical (without any sacrifices, i.e. extra weight, poor climbing, slower rolling) be a huge advantage?!
For some reason many bike shops tend to send  riders (especially those new to the sport) out on bikes that are very unforgiving and confidence crushers, as well as bordering on dangerous. They feel the fun and confidence inspiring bikes are only for aggressive riders, not beginners or less aggressive riders. This is odd because if a really skilled rider needs a confidence inspiring bike to feel as comfortable as possible it MUST be more important for a beginner! For the last 17 years I have been scared and sadden by students who have been sold the wrong Kool Aid, the show up on hardtails and short travel bikes with mid-90’s geometry that scares the heck out of me! And I spent 18 years racing downhill in the pro class! If those bikes scare me, they must really scare less skilled riders but how would they know?
Less skilled riders don’t know how much easier, safer and MORE FUN these bikes are because they often haven’t ridden them. They think of the bike shop employees who recommend the 90’s XC geometry bike as experts, which they are, on knowing the geometry, components, prices, etc on about 15 bikes from 2-4 bike companies, that is an amazing amount of info they have to keep track of! My expertise, what I spent the last 22 years of my life doing, studying, learning and teaching is how to ride at your best and what will help you ride at your best, a completely different set of skills from a bike shop employee. Some bike shops and employees do understand, a great example is the crew at All Mountain Cyclery in Boulder City, NV, many Moab bike shop employees and I hope hundreds more!
My view is this, when someone is learning a new sport they want the equipment that will make them the safest and give them the most confidence. For mountain biking this is a 27.5 plus, full suspension bike with a slack head angle (67.5 or less), long reach measurement, dropper post, short stem (35-60mm) and wide bars bars (750mm-820mm). This bike will inspire confidence and be much more fun to ride than a hardtail as well as being safer. Great examples of this are the Pivot Switchblade, Trek Fuel 9.8 27.5 plus and Santa Cruz Hightower.
Trek Fuel 9.8 ex with 27.5 plus tires

Trek Fuel 9.8 ex with 27.5 plus tires

Hardtails are great for challenging yourself but tough to learn on as pretty much everything is harder on a hardtail and mistakes are punished harshly. A full suspension bike is much more forgiving and will often save you from a crashing after making a mistake (it won’t keep from realizing you made the mistake, you will still learn from the mistake you simply won’t be harmed by your mistake.
Why is the bike I mentioned above safer and more confidence inspiring? I will break it down piece by piece.
Plus size tires give you much more control as their tall sidewalls allow for lower tire pressures which conforms to the ground better (on a small root or rock much of the tire will be contacting the ground instead of being on top of the root or rock) this also dampens your ride, smoothing out the trail a bit and it creates a much larger contact patch putting more rubber on the ground giving you much better traction.
A slack head angle (67,5 degrees or less) puts your front wheel out in front of you more than a steep head angle bike, giving you more stability and acting as a lever making it much harder for the rear to lift unexpectedly and therefore making it harder to endo than on a steeper head angle bike. Hills just feel less steep with a slacker head angle. You will need better body position for climbing with a slack head angle but I teach that and it is somewhat intuitive. Most downhill race bikes have 61-63 degree head angles for these reasons.
Santa Cruz Hightower with 29" tires (like the Trek and Pivot it can run both 29 and 27.5 plus)

Santa Cruz Hightower with 29″ tires (like the Trek and Pivot it can run both 29 and 27.5 plus)

A long reach measurement (compare your reach to the Pivot Switch Blade or Trek Fuel 9.8, they have excellent reach measurements) gives you a bigger sweet spot to be in balance and allows you to run a short stem without feeling cramped. In other words, the shorter your reach measurement the harder it is stay centered and neutral on the bike, hit the slightest bump and your weight can get too far forward. There is a great article on Pinkbike about designing the XXL Santa Cruz V 10 (same size as a Pivot or Canfield Brothers XL, Santa Cruz bikes are notoriously short which is why they made an xxl for a rider who is 6’3″) for Greg Minnaar that covers this in detail.
Short stems make it easier to get and stay in proper body position (centered on the bike with all your weight on the pedals and in a neutral position), corner with much more precision (as it is a short lever) and manual easier (by keeping your arms bent instead of stretched out). Contrary to popular belief they climb better too, way less twitchy!
Wide bars give you much more control, stability, open your chest for breathing and help “put” you in correct body position. More control and stability comes from more leverage to resist the bars twisting (right or left) when hitting a root or rock. As an experiment do a push up with the outside of your hands about 24″ apart and think about trying resist someone from knocking you over to the side. Then do a push up with your hands 32″ apart and think about the same thing. Your are much more stable with a wide platform than a narrow platform!
Pivot Switchblade w/ 27.5 plus tires

Pivot Switchblade w/ 27.5 plus tires

Dropper posts are the best device ever invented for mountain biking! On a descent you can not achieve a centered, neutral, in balance and in control position with your seat at climbing height, you must lower your seat to get in this position. However, you do need the seat at proper height for climbing or you will use a huge amount of power and damage your knees. Dropper posts allow the best of both words, nice high seat for climbing and power and a low seat so you can stay centered and neutral while descending! All without stopping, getting off your bike and making that adjustment before and after every descent.
Not only are 27.5 plus bikes with the “aggressive” geometry I’ve mentioned great for learning they are great for riders like me (really aggressive former downhill racers) I love mine! They also climb fine!
Now many shops will say a bike like I described is for “aggressive riders” and they are right, that is who the bike was designed for. The interesting thing is, if a really good, confident aggressive ride NEEDS that geometry to feel comfortable and ride their best, then a beginner must REALLY need that geometry as they aren’t as good or confident. These bikes (and similar ones) are the most confidence inspiring mountain bikes on the market, for ALL riders. They are not necessarily the fastest or lightest but, boy, they sure are fun to ride!

 

Mountain bike cornering foot placement

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners:  Another question I get all the time is some version of, “how is my technique different in a bermed (banked) corner than in a flat corner?”

As I explain in my camps a bermed corner (banked) is still a corner. That means everything depends on traction, speed and your goal. If I feel I’m going slower than the max speed that berm will allow and I want to gain speed, I’m going to keep my feet level and pump that berm to gain speed.

Depending on the steepness and traction I might even lean with my bike! But, those berms are rare, especially at your favorite local trail or in a downhill race, usually a berm in a downhill race is there to “save” you. You are hauling tail into the corner and just hoping to eek out enough traction that you make the corner without sliding your tires (sliding scrubs your speed). In a berm like this (where you simply want to make it) you are going to use proper, outside foot down and weighted, “flat” cornering technique. More on that here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-15o , here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-15P , here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-159 and here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-18L

Many riders want to think that ALL berms are magically different than a flat corner but in reality, some berms are massively different than a flat corner (steeply banked, perfectly placed and either tacky or hard-packed, grippy surface) and some are the same as a flat corner (barely banked or really loose).

Many berms are simply “push piles” of dirt that won’t hold your tires and some good looking berms are no where near the optimal line for that corner. I remember a race in the late 90’s at Big Bear where they built these massive, beautiful berms but they taped the inside of the corner about 8-10 feet inside of the berm. Most of the amateur racers were target fixated on those berms and enjoying them while all the pros were cutting way inside of the berms shaving 30-50 feet off the distance around those berms saving time. Those berms were fun but useless if you wanted to do your best in the race.

Recently I have found some outright dangerous berms.  Last summer we were riding some fast trails with a few newly built berms in Oakridge, Oregon . Unfortunately, many of the berms ended about 60-75% of the way through the corner, right as you really needed the added traction of the berm it either disappeared or flatted out too much to hold you. If you aren’t looking through the corner (looking well past the exit at the start of the corner) you might get caught by surprise as the bank decreased in size and steepness while you were relying on it for traction. In short, 60-75% of the way through the corner your traction got cut in half and if you were relying on the berm for traction (leaning into the turn a bit) when you hit the end of the berm you will slide out. If the berm was solid for the length of the corner you would already be standing the bike up straight when the berm stopped.

On a really steep berm with great traction (some of the ones on A-line at Whistler for example) I might even initiate my turn by dropping my shoulder and “throwing myself” into the berm. If I overestimate the traction in the berm this can put me on the ground, if there is enough traction I will rocket through and gain speed.

A great example of this is Greg Minnaar in one of my Bootleg Camps. We use the little BMX/pump track there to work on pumping and pumping corners. When Greg was flying into the first berm at top speed he ALWAYS dropped is outside foot and did what I would call a “perfect” in balance in control corner.

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp! With his outside leg straight and down with most of his weight on it!

When we were demonstrating pumping corners and Greg hit the same berm going quite a bit slower he kept his feet level so both knees would be bent so he could pump with both legs and gain speed. We (Greg and I) never taught the dip your shoulder technique because berms that allow you to do that are extremely rare and there are zero berms at Bootleg with enough traction to use this technique

LASTLY and more importantly, most riders (including many sub world cup level pro racers) fail to look through the berm which is Much, Much more important than all of what I just wrote! So there is a hierarchy of skills and most of us need to focus on the more important parts of corner (looking through #1, finishing cutting speed before the corner is #2). This is the problem with all the “tips” out there, they fill your head with “knowledge” but don’t get you doing that “knowledge” on trail because you haven’t trained your body to execute that skill tip.

First, learn, practice and master proper cornering technique. Then use that technique in every corner, especially the first time you hit that corner. If, after riding that corner and/or stopping to scope it out, you decide that the berm will add more traction than necessary at the speed you are going you can try out “bermed cornering techniques” that briefly put you out of balance but when executed correctly will increase your exit speed.

mountain bike coaching

Mountain Bike Coaching, Are you Wasting Your Money?

Mountain Bike Coaching, Are You Wasting Your Money?

I have uber-students, they take every opportunity to learn more about riding. They take a three day camp from me, three day camps from other coaches, 2-4 hour clinics from other coaches, etc. They ask me all kinds of great questions, they go online and participate in forums on mountain bike skills, etc. These students are stoked on learning and I love their enthusiasm! Sadly, most of them haven’t improved nearly as much have they could have with the amount of time and money they have invested in their riding (from me, and/or all the other coaches).

Now, don’t get me wrong, they possess a ton of knowledge, often jumbled and contradictory knowledge but there is a lot of knowledge stored in their big brains, “look at the big brain on Brad!” (Pulp Fiction quote) So, why are they wasting their money on that coaching (including my coaching)? They are wasting their money because they keep looking for that next piece, the little piece about cornering that is going to make them finally corner like Aaron Gwin, or wheelie like Robbie Root! The thing thing is, there is no little piece they are missing.

What they are missing is mastery of the core skills. The core skills that I and any other coach that is an actual coach taught them! Dan Millman (World Champion Gymnast, coach and author of “The Inner athlete”, Body Mind Mastery” and The “Peaceful Warrior Series”) state’s, “Athletes’ problems with learning or improving their skills are tied to weak fundamentals. To raise athletes’ potential you need to rebuild their foundation for success”. Famous Alabama Football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant would tell you the same thing as would all US Team Coaches (US Skiing, Tennis, Soccer, etc).

I understand, we want more! More skills, more $1,000 rims that make the trail feel rougher (whoops, different blog topic 😉 ) more little “tips” that will finally get us where we want to go!

The problem is, they (the uber-students mentioned above) may understand the fundamentals, and probably do them a fair amount of the time but, they are not doing them all the time!

They haven’t mastered the basics from their first 3 day camp with me. What they are missing is mastery of the core, fundamental skills! Which means when the trail get challenging their lack of mastery shows as they make mistakes and/or revert to old, bad habits.

Watch Greg Minnaar and/or Aaron Gwin (or any other top 10 World Cup downhill racer) what “advanced skill/s” are they using? None! They are just executing the basics flawlessly. Watch them through a gnarly rock garden, their head isn’t moving, watch Aaron Gwin or Minnaar in a corner, they are simply executing the basics, flawlessly.

Mountain Bike Coaching

Greg in 2010 at Fort William, centered, balanced , fast and consistent nothing fancy here, just executing the basics!

Are they also doing a little “thing” or two that maybe aren’t basic, fundamentals? Yes, but they are little things! Do those little things help Aaron Gwin win? Yes, they do. (the top three pro men were separated by less than a second in the last World Cup in Cairns, AU)  Will those little nuances help someone who rides at 80% or less of Aaron Gwin’s ability, NO! Why? Did I mention Aaron Gwin executes the basics flawlessly?!

There is hierarchy to skills and the fundamentals are the most important, advanced “little things” don’t work on a flawed foundation!

“What about in bermed corner, what is the difference in technique in a berm corner vs a flat corner Gene?” I get some version of that question almost daily and the answer for most riders/racers is, “nothing, if you aren’t looking through that corner” and nothing if you are going faster than that berms ability to help you (all berms aren’t created equally). (for the actual differences in bermed vs flat corners check out my next blog article)

In all “mature” sports (sports that have had coaching for 30+ years and top athletes make a good living in) such as ski racing, football, golf, tennis, basketball, etc.. The top athletes spend 80-90% of their time deliberately practicing their sport (doing drills with a focus on quality, not quantity) and only 10-20% of their time actually doing their sport. Football great Jerry Rice spent 99% of his football related time practicing and only 1% playing (as referenced in the book “Outliers”).

In those more “mature” sports athletes spend years/decades practicing the basics five to six days a week. Once they have truly mastered the basics they start adding in the more advanced skills to their practice but, the bulk of their practice continues to be the BASICS, everyday, using drills that they “mastered” 5-15 years ago.

The majority of us need to focus on the basics (that will make us 20-100% better) and get them wired before we work on the little nuances that might make us 1% better.

Are you honestly looking ahead 100% of the time? Looking past the exit of every corner? Always cornering in perfect body position? Are you always returning to a centered, balanced, neutral position after every rock garden, jump, drop and obstacle? If your answer is a resounding yes, then it might be time to add the little 1% skills to your foundation training.

Until then, work on mastering your foundation, your time spent/reward ratio will be much higher than working on skills you lack the foundation to execute.

Dirt Magazine to 2009 Pro 4x and Jr. Cat 1 Downhill US National Champion Mitch Ropelato (now on Specialized Factory Team) in a interview in the Oct. 2009 issue: 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.”

Mitch cornering back in the day, notice his vision and body position. Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

Mitch cornering back in the day, notice his vision (looking way past the exit of the corner) easy to talk about but takes a lot of quality practice to master). Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

That was after 1 or 2 “basic camps” with me. Mitch understood that he didn’t need to know more, but that we needed to know better. He did is drills, religiously! Mitch didn’t say, “now I know this, time to find something new”. He said, “now I know this, time to master this”.

Mitch went on to take a total of five basic camps, and then my downhill race camp and some private lessons (where I still focused on having him execute the basics). Can you corner like Mitch? If not, time to work on the basics!

Look, I could make a fortune if I offered basic, intermediate and advanced camps and sent students down the line through my series of three, three day camps but I’m in this to help people, not pump them up and lie to them. You don’t need an advanced camp, you need to master the basics.

Stop searching and wasting your money looking for “more” and focus on “BETTER”. I’m sure your favorite coach would love to continue to coach, critique and work with you on the basics instead of trying to coach you some little nuance that you lack the foundation for.

Master the fundamentals and you will reach your potential as a mountain biker! Keep trying to figure that “magic piece” that you are missing and you will never reach your potential.

 

Mountain Bike Your Best

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 3

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 3

Your body has NO idea how to ride a mountain bike correctly! Your brain might know some skills but your body doesn’t preform them. A great example of this is looking ahead, we all know to do this but 99% of mountain bikers fail to do this most/all of the time. You honestly aren’t riding as well as you are physically and mentally capable of because your body doesn’t understand how to consistently ride in balance and in control. I’m not trying to be mean or provocative, I have simply been fortunate enough to coach some of the best riders/racers in the world and none of them had a solid skills foundation. How would they with out first studying the correct skills and then doing a lot of deliberate practice using drills? That is how ALL great athletes get proficient, Michael Jordan was cut from his team his freshman and sophomore year because he wasn’t very good at basketball! The funny thing is we don’t know the name of any of those 10-11 players who were better than Michael Jordan. Why, because they didn’t do as much deliberate practice as Michael did.

The world's best, most respected skills coach agrees!

The world’s best, most respected skills coach agrees!

Why does your body have no idea how to ride correctly? You and your body aren’t dumb, I’m not putting you down, it is just comes down to practice, you haven’t done any deliberate practice! You might have thousands of hours of riding time but that does nothing to help your skills. As a matter of fact the more you ride without deliberate practice the more your survival habits/instincts get ingrained, making you technically worse! Much like Michael Jordan’s teammates who played basketball more than he did but practiced less.

Teaching yourself relies on instincts, and your (and all humans’) instincts are great at protecting you from lions, tigers and bears but not so good at cornering your bike on a loose surface. Example, what is your first instinct when you feel that you have entered a corner too fast? Hit the brakes, right? What is one of the worst things you can do in a corner? Hit your brakes!  For more on your instincts and learning read this:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-tD

You Aren't Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do! (on your mtb)

Wow, pro xc racer looking straight down at the entrance to an easy banked corner at the National Championships!

If you have noticed I said your” body” has know idea how to mountain bike, not your brain/mind. The reason for this is knowing something in your smart, logical thinking brain does nothing to help you ride better. A completely different part of your brain controls your procedural memory (often called muscle memory) which is what you rely on when you do a physical skill like ride a mountain bike. More on this here:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-18u

Coach Gene Demonstrating how to practice one part of cornering body position.

Demonstrating how to practice one part of cornering body position deliberately.

So, the main thing keeping you from riding your best is your body has no idea how to ride. This is why Olympic BMX silver medalist Mike Day and World Champions like Ross Schnell and Sue Haywood seek us out to improve their riding. They have more hours riding than almost anyone but they haven’t spent time practicing. They were fast because of fitness, not skill (although Mike Day was quite skilled at BMX but after three years of disappointing results as a downhill mountain bike racer he knew he needed better mountain bike skills). The only way to get proficient at anything is through learning the correct skills then doing deliberate practice using drills. We would love to help you ride much, much better and help you reach your potential. Look into one of skills progression camps, it will be the best investment you ever make in your riding!