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Student Joey Schusler practicing on trail

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position Part 2

Wow, I seemed to ruffle a few feathers with my Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position Part 1 post. I was simply asked a question from a student and I answered it. I was not intending to offend anyone and certainly it was nothing personal. A couple people said that I had “harsh criticism for Shaums March” which is interesting to me as I didn’t mention his name, and I simply stated my opinion (and Greg Minnaar’s) on cornering.  Shaums is a friend of mine who have great respect for and some of what I know about cornering is from getting friendly arguments with Shaums and then testing his theories verses my theories. I believe that a good deal of what Shaums and I believe about cornering is the same with two exceptions (that are closer to one exception explained two ways): 1. Shaum’s has said dropping and putting all your weight on the outside pedal is a bad habit, which I disagree with and say that sometimes your goal is 100% of your weight on the outside pedal (those times mentioned in my previous post) 2. Shaums has said (in his rebuttal of my post) that you always want your weight equal on both pedals throughout the turn, which I agree with A Lot of the time but NOT all the time.

Also remember, other than dropping your inside foot which is dangerous and off balance, foot position is not as important as vision (looking through the corner), braking before the corner, hip placement and upper body position. Focus on getting the BIG Picture skills dialed before the smaller picture skills.

What matters with foot position in corners is your goal in that corner. Sometimes your goal is to set an edge, other times it is to pump the corner and gain speed, other times it is to keep the wheels on the ground in a rough corner. I am defining a corner as being approximately 80 degrees of direction change or more. Often on trail there are wiggles (20-75 degree minor changes in direction) when your foot position doesn’t really matter (no need for foot down). The last thing I want a ride doing is thinking on trail, “is this a foot down corner or a foot level corner?” so we teach most riders to focus on dropping your outside foot and most/all of the time you enter a corner where foot down is not required your subconscious “auto-pilot” simply doesn’t drop your foot. Our goal is to get you to understand and do the skills we teach (there is huge difference between understanding and doing! Understanding is worthless if you can’t do!) and for students with limited practice time we have found this is the best way to get them to do (and think less). Rarely will dropping your foot when you didn’t need to hurt you but 100% of the time if your feet stay level when you should of dropped and weighted the outside foot you WILL Slide out!

Short recap, I (and Greg Minnaar) believe that when your goal is to set an edge like a ski racer and corner a full 90% or more at the highest possible speed in a smooth corner you want to drop the outside foot and put 100% of your weight on that foot. Doing this gives you; more traction, a lower center of mass, 155-175 mm of leverage, easier separation from bike when big lean angle is necessary and more leverage using your skeletal structure for support instead of your muscles (to fight the G-forces in a corner).

Mountain bike cornering foot position.

Greg Minnaar Cornering outside foot down.

 

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp!

I have been told by so many riders, racers and students that you keep your feet level in berms! Again it depends on your goal, berms have little to do with foot position. If your goal is dig the tires into the berm for maximum grip at max speed you are going to drop and put 100% of your weight on that outside pedal, like Greg Minnaar in the photo squence above (which, when we shifted our focus to pumping corners Greg entered the berm slow enough to not worry about traction, kept his feet level and he gain an amazing amount of speed!). If you are going slow enough that you want to pump the corner and gain speed (which means you obviously aren’t worried about sliding out) you will keep you feet level.

Much of the time, when you are on twisty trails with a lot of 50- approximately 79 degree “bends” you goal is to keep equal weight on each pedal and stay fluidly in balance (feet are level to the ground but outside foot moving “down” in relation ship to your bottom bracket). Also, in rocky, rooty or braked bumped corners where your goal isn’t to set an edge but to keep the wheels on the ground you will corner feet level. Again, there is no time to think on the trail so with enough drills this will become second nature, switching from foot down to feet level hundreds of times in a ride. Watch Danny Hart in this sick run alternate between the foot down and foot level in the corners on his World Championship winning run below.  At 21 seconds in (1:27.4 on the freecaster clock on screen), 41 seconds in and 50 seconds in (1:56.3 on freecasters clock on screen) Danny plants the outside foot for maximum traction. On quite a few other corners he is foot level.

Some examples. Saturday I rode the McKenzie River Trail and since it basically follows a river there weren’t to many full 90 degree corners so for at least a minute on one descent I realized that my feet were level through 8-10 “turns” then, a very high speed a 100 degree left turn appeared and I dropped that outside and railed the turn. On Sunday I rode the Alpine trail in Oakridge, OR which had many more 90 degree high speed corners so I was dropping my outside foot way more than I was on Saturday on the straighter trail.

Learning to corner feet level AND foot down is important to reaching your best as a rider. There is no one way for all corners but there is definitely a better way for each individual corner.

Next week, part 3 the advantages and disadvantages of riding switchfoot (switching which foot is forward in corners) for cornering.

We spend three hours on cornering in our camps! This is a lot of information and it is much easier to explain, demonstrate and have you practice it in person than over the web! This is meant to be brief and to the point, not every bit of cornering information I have.

 

Steve Peat cornering outside foot down!

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position Part 1

I just received this email from a student. “Hi Gene, how are you? Sorry for the FB message but I have a quick question. many years ago I did one of your courses and you taught cornering with one leg up and one leg down throughout the turn. I recently participated in an IMBA course and they promote even feet through turns. What are your thoughts on that?” Well, first off, poor coaching like this drives me nuts! 

I know that they are wrong! I didn’t invent a single skill we teach but I and our coaches have spent a lot of years studying, learning and testing what we have learned from the best mountain bikers in the world (and some top motorcycle coaches). In my case, I have been studying mountain bike cornering since 1994! If your pedals are supposed to be level in corners why do the top 100 downhill racers in the world corner foot down? For all the reasons we taught you! Now don’t get me wrong if you aren’t worried about traction keeping your feet level is fine but if there is any possibility of sliding out by simply dropping your outside foot you will DOUBLE your traction! Why? Because if your feet are level 50% of your weight has to be on the inside pedal! That means 50% of your weight is not above the tires! Which means you have half the amount of down force on your tires. If that isn’t enough reason there are several more. It is really hard to separate from your bike with your feet level so you tend to lean with your bike taking even more weight off the tires. Also by dropping your outside foot you get 155-175 mm of extra leverage on the tires and lower yourself to the ground. Because your bike leans when it turns you also get more ground/rock clearance for the inside pedal by dropping the outside.

Greg Minnaar can corner pretty good, he has won 3 World Championships and 3 World Cup Overalls he often corners foot down! As in the photo below from one of our camps with him.

Mountain bike cornering foot position!

Greg Minnaar looking smooth!

Now, before we go any further talking about foot placement when cornering, remember, the most important part of cornering is vision! If you are doing what 99% of mountain bikers do in corners, looking only a few feet ahead, foot placement is the least of your worries. Looking through a corner with incorrect foot placement is much faster and safer than looking only a few feet ahead with perfect foot placement!

Steve Peat cornering foot down on about the roughest surface possible, stairs!

Steve Peat cornering foot down on about the roughest surface possible, stairs!

As you know, we are famous for coaching mountain bike cornering to some of the best cornerers in the world*. Why? because we studied it! We didn’t say, “I corner really well and this is my opinion”. We studied the best mountain bike racers, we worked with World Champions like Greg Minnaar and Marla Streb, we took motorcycle cornering courses, we studied cornering like our life depended on it! Don’t believe me? Go to Red bull dot com and watch the world cup downhill races, you will see that on fast, loose corners 100% of the field is dropping their outside foot. When traction is not an issue or the speeds are slow they will keep their feet level, not because they have too but because there is no need to drop their foot. Now, if they are trying to increase their speed by pumping the corner their feet will be level (a skill we teach in our graduate camp and our downhill camps) as if you are trying to increase speed in a corner you are obviously not worried about traction. In short, we teach cornering foot down because it works, if you dropped your foot when you didn’t need to no harm if you keep your feet level when you should have dropped your outside foot you will crash! I hope this helps. You might think of asking for your money back for paying for coaching that puts you in danger.

Mountain bike cornering foot placement

Aaron Gwin cornering on a berm with outside foot down.

The long story, there are numerous different foot positions for cornering and for entering corners but we don’t want you thinking, “is this a foot level corner or foot down corner?”. By coaching our students to corner foot down we have found that they tend to simply keep the feet level when there is no need to drop the outside foot, much better than thinking!

Gee Atherton Cornering foot down at the world championships.

Gee Atherton Cornering foot down at the world championships.

* National Four Cross and Downhill Champion Mitch Ropelato, 2014 National Dual Slalom Champion Luca Cometti, 2014 Sea Otter Dual Slalom Champion Cody Kelly, Nation Downhill Champion Jackie Harmony, Collegiate Champion and Yeti Ace Joey Schusler, and over 100 more Pro Downhill Racers and Pro XC racers! As a matter of fact Dirt Magazine asked Mitch Ropelato how he corners so well and he had this to say: From the Oct. 2009 issue of 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.”

Mitch cornering foot down. Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

Mitch cornering foot down. Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

 

Stay tuned next week for part two cornering foot placement!

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).

 

Braking on your mountain bike

Braking on your Mountain Bike, Your Butt is Not Your Third Brake!

There is a lot of dangerous misinformation on the subject of braking on your mountain bike, I will clear some of it up for you. YOUR BUTT is Not Your Third Brake! We were horrified when one of our downhill camp students told us that in the high school league the coaches were teaching students to get their butt way back while braking and using the phrase, “your butt is your third brake”. After explaining to him why this was bad he said, “Wow, that is why my coach broke his corner bone! We were riding down a steep hill with a few ledges and he was braking over one of the ledges and got catapulted over the bars because he was yanked forward.”

As the sport of mountain biking has matured there have been huge changes in both equipment and the understanding of proper riding technique. When I started BetterRide in 1999 there were few people coaching technique and most advice was given by great racers who had created their own techniques. Often, these great racers were not the best bike handlers (simply really fit) and even if they were they weren’t great at explaining how and why a certain technique should be

used. So my task was to find out what worked, why it worked and how to get you to do that technique. Fortunately I had been doing that for 10 years as a snowboard coach and since my passion for snowboarding had faded I put all of my coaching energy into mountain biking. I sought out the best motorcycle coaches (Danny Walker, Gary Semics and Keith Code) to learn from and have worked with and coached some of the best racers in the world (Greg Minnaar, Marla Streb, Ross Schnell, Lynda Wallenfels, Mitch Ropelato, Chris Van Dine, Cody Kelly, Erica Tingey, Kelli Emmett, Jackie Harmony, Sue Haywood, etc.) As you can imagine I learned a lot over those years and I have often had to rethink the skill I was teaching and rethink my methods for getting you to master that skill. Which is polite way of saying that some of what I taught was wrong!

One of the skills I was teaching incorrectly was braking. I had a student wash out his front tire and crash doing a braking drill one day in 2004. Although he was doing the drill slightly wrong (he shifted his weight back before he braked, not as he braked) it made me question the idea of getting your butt way back while braking. It turns out that it didn’t jive with my in balance and in control philosophy (the student was obviously neither in control nor in balance when he crashed). I also noticed great racers like Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar were staying centered while braking. So in 2004 I threw out the little drawing that I had been using since 1999 to explain this (A rider with a an arrow driving from his butt through his bottom bracket into the ground showing the “physics” of getting your weight back while braking). It was a pretty handy and powerful in explaining the “physics” of why we get our weight back while braking! The problem was it doesn’t work that way in real life, on a trail with changing traction conditions, bumps, rocks and small ledges. You need to get low and stay centered while braking!

Forgetting about dangerous misinformation, it is plain instinctual to move away from danger, in this case moving your butt back as you brake. Unfortunately, as you probably know our instincts are terrible mountain bike skills teachers as they are thousands if not millions of years old! They became instincts to help us survive as bipeds in those times (before bikes, motorcycles and cars). For more info on this read this article: Why Our Instincts Fail Us On Our Mountain Bikes! http://betterride.net/blog/2011/why-our-instinicts/

Braking on your mountain bike

Jon Widen staying centered while descending one of the steepest lines at Whistler!

The first reason we don’t scoot our butt back when braking is the same reason we don’t do it descending (which by the way, most braking is done descending!). It will put us in a non-neutral position and cause us to get out of balance, greatly increasing our chance of flipping over or just crashing. As explained and demonstrated in this video:

The second and third reasons we don’t want to use our butt as the third brake are it will minimize the power of the front brake and put us out of position to do what ever we are braking for (a corner, a rock garden, a loose section, etc.). Which leads us to this interesting braking and cornering question asked by one of our students:

“Just a quick follow-up question.  I have been having a problem getting out of position before cornering, primarily caused by hard braking (especially if there are rough terrain before the corner or if I come in too hot).  As I brake, my body gets behind the center and lower as well, and by the time I start entering the corner, I am out of the “attack” position.  My front wheel feels light, and it becomes difficult to get in the correct cornering body position.

If you have suggestions as to how to properly transition from braking into cornering (especially under hard braking), I would appreciate it.”

Interesting question, I have been working on the same issue, especially last year at Snowmass. The problem stems from getting back while we brake, getting low is good but we need to stay more centered so when we release the brakes and the bike accelerates we are centered and ready to attack the corner.  I was taught the old school, “get way back while you brake” which does help the rear brake a bit but actually hurts the effectiveness of the much more powerful front brake (why maximize 10-25% of your braking power while minimizing 75-90% of it?).  Getting back also puts me out of balance and makes it hard to corner correctly.  My entire focus at the last two races has been to stay centered as I brake, use A LOT of front brake and then let off and attack the corner. Believe me, the entrances to these corners are really rough and brake bumped, but you can still stay centered. When working with Greg Minnaar he really stresses this. It sounds scary but once you do it you realize two things: 1. you can brake in a much shorter distance with more control (more front wheel traction and less front wheel slide) 2. you are in a much better position to corner when you let off the brakes.  Also remember to only brake to slow down in a straight line (before the corner). This is another reason to practice the braking drills from the camp you took. On a side note one of our fastest students, Cody Kelly told me that he is know wearing out two sets of front brake pads before one set of rear pads! That shows correct braking and is one of the reasons Cody is so fast (he won the Sea Otter Dual Slalom!).

Watch the World Cup downhill races on Redbull.com, you will not see Aaron Gwin, Greg Minnaar, Mitch Ropelato, Steve Peat or pretty much any of the racers getting back as they brake for a corner or challenging section of trail!

As always it comes down to doing the drills we taught you to master the skills, then practicing with purpose and a focus on quality!

A great braking and body position drill you can do to feel what is right and what is wrong with braking body position is the front brake drill. First a warning, if you are not confident descending and using your front brake do not do this (start with the braking drill in our mini-course)! If you are confident, find the steepest semi-loose dirt/hard packed sand hill you are comfortable going down and descend it the way you always have to make sure you are honestly comfortable. Once you have decided you are comfortable approach the hill slowly and gently, slowly apply just your front brake (letting off a bit and adding some rear brake if you get scared/feel out of control) and descend the hill low and centered (drop your seat, hinge at your hips to lower your chest and as your chest lowers your butt will scoot back a hair but you will be able to maintain a “half-push up bend” in your elbows). After descending it once front brake only do it a second time but this time focus on speeding up just a bit and slowing back down (again using just the front brake). Now you should have a great idea of what it feels like to be low, centered and neutral. Now do the descent a third time, this time slowly scoot your book back with the goal of getting your butt way back like a third brake. Well before you get your butt way back you will feel the front wheel start to slide as you start taking weight off it, this should be scary and to correct it move forward towards the centered position. You have now learned that by getting back you greatly compromise how much front brake power you can use, which is scary as on a steep hill your front brake is 90-100% of your braking power. Now, if you still are not convinced, try to do the same descent rear brake only! If it is as steep as the hills we use in our camps to demonstrate this you will not be able to descend in control using just the rear brake (no matter how far back your butt is).

 Focus on being centered, neutral and in balance when descending! Create a railed corner (or two)!