Posts

What Is It With Some Mountain Bike Riders Today?!

What is it with some mountain bikers these days? In the early days of mountain bike riding only intrepid people who were self-reliant and had a sense of adventure got into mountain biking. Now people full of fear are entering the sport (and we are trying helping them overcome those fears) and after a year or so of riding they are changing the sport. They are trying to make the trails easier to ride, “All trails should be able to be ridden by all riders.”, was posted on one of our facebook posts this spring. Another rider wrote, “if the trail has advanced features (like roots and rocks) it should be signed and have a “squirrel catcher (mtb speak for a tough move that only someone skilled enough to ride the trail can do, keeping the “squirrels” from venturing further) ” on all entrances to the trail so only experts ride it.” He went on to say, “in reality all trails should have easier go-around options on the tough sections”. What on earth makes someone feel this way?!  Many of these trails are 20-50 years old and they are way out in the woods. Who exactly is going to spend their days fixing these trails that aren’t broken? How do you make a go-around when there if a cliff going up on one side of you and cliff going down on the other?  You know what we called those trails in 1993 while riding on our fully rigid mountain bikes? “Trails”, we didn’t call them beginner, intermediate or expert, we just called them trails. You know what we did if we got to a section we could not ride? We tried it once or twice and if we failed to clear it we simply walked over it and then continued our ride. We called these sections “challenges” or “hike a bikes” they were simply part of being out on a narrow trail 10-500 miles from town. We didn’t get angry at the trail when we couldn’t make something, we didn’t call our local trail sanitizers and say, “please come make a go-around for the rock on Seven Bridges trail” and have them come out and take every “challenge” out of the trail. We laughed, yelled or screamed but we were smart enough to get off and walk before putting ourselves in danger (and sometimes our egos were bigger than our skills and we got hurt, mountain biking can be dangerous when you exceed your skill level!) we used “common sense”. Sometimes we even turned around, “that trail is too tough!” was heard more than once. Then a friend would ride it and tell us how great it was and we would give it another try.

Again, we love helping riders improve and some of our students are much better riders and racers than we are and some aren’t as good, who cares, it isn’t a contest, it is mountain biking. Doesn’t “mountain biking” make you think of nature while “road biking” conjures up images of pavement? Is nature safe and manicured or is nature harsh and rough?  Believe me famous mountain biking destinations like, Moab, Bootleg Canyon, Durango, Sedona, Squamish and Whistler are harsh and rough in places.  Doesn’t “mountain biking” sound tougher than “road biking”? Are mountains smooth and soft or jagged and gnarly? Don’t get me wrong, I love the sweet beginner trails that are being built. Many of them flow so well even “expert riders” enjoy them. Keep building sweet beginner trails, they help grow the sport and get more people riding “mountain bikes”. Even people who formerly thought mountain biking was dangerous and not for them are starting to ride. This is great, except, mountain biking is dangerous, it involves riding a bike in the mountains (remember, mountain are jagged and gnarly)! Many trails, especially older and harder to reach trails are not manicured, they are wild. All mountain bikers can ride these trails just the less skilled are going to walk many sections. At that point they can choose to not ride that trail again or challenge themselves to improve, not dumb down the trail! I would love to be able to score a goal playing ice hockey but they are not going to make the hockey goals as big as soccer goals so I can do it! They are going to make me earn my goal scoring skills, the same way they did, with good coaching and lots of deliberate practice! Heck, I might even feel good about myself. I might feel like I faced a challenge and overcame it! Aren’t growth, learning and pushing your personal limits things that make you feel good? Ski racers didn’t dumb down the slopes, they educated themselves, trained hard and they actually ice down their race courses to make them harder! There are still beginner trails for their fans, foes, friends and family but there are trails them too!

When did we get so soft? We meaning the “US”, have you ever ridden in Canada? In Quebec and British Colombia the local trails are so hard many pro cross country racers from the US could not ride them. You know what they call these super hard trails in Canada, “trails”. They rode some of these trails 20 years ago on hardtails and they ride them now on their full-suspension bikes. Some trails were built more recently and are even harder, designed to challenge riders on their “cheater” 4-6” travel bikes.  In Canada (like in the US in the early 1990s) they know some sections are harder than others so they walk the hard sections until they learn to ride them. That is part of mountain biking.

Get out and ride and challenge yourself to improve!

 

BetterRiders Dominate Mountain Bike Enduro Race!

Enduro racing is the fastest growing discipline in mountain bike racing as it is accessible to all mountain bikers and most closely resembles what most mountain bikers do for fun. Usually consisting of a big cross country ride with only the more fun and mostly downhill sections timed Enduro racing puts equal emphasis on fitness and skills. Basically, enduro racing resembles a big group ride with friends. So far, at least in the US BetterRide camp alumni are dominating it!

Ross Schnell and Joey Schusler on top!

The first Big Mountain Enduro race of 2013 was the weekend of June 14-16 at Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico. With big names from downhill, cross country and four cross all aiming to win the pro fields were stacked! Olympians, world champions and national champions in cross country, downhill, super-d and four cross were all aiming to come out on top. The pro men’s finish was tight with the top five racers separated by less than two minutes over nearly an hour of timed racing. Just outside of the top five in sixth place was Olympian Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, just 10 seconds ahead was Nate Hills in fifth who was only three seconds behind Chris Johnston who earned a fourth place finish.  In third place, one second up on forth place was veteran super-D and cross country champion Mike West who was 52 seconds back from second place finisher and BetterRide Camp alumnus Joey Schusler and the winner, just 36 seconds ahead of Joey was Ross Schnell, also a BetterRide camp alumnus.

The women’s pro class was also close with Sarah Rawley in fifth less than 5 seconds behind Jill Behlen in fourth. In third was World Champion Heather Irmiger with Krista Park in second and winning the race was by over two minute was BetterRide Alumnus Kelli Emmett!

It is exciting to see this new, accessible mountain bike racing discipline and equal exciting to see athletes we have coached dominating it! Congratulations to Kelli, Joey and Ross for their outstanding efforts!

Mountain Biking is an Offensive Sport

A Key to Riding Your Best! By: BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton

A real key to mountain biking at your best is to always be on the offense. Defensive riding gets you hurt! When you are on the offense you are riding at the limit of your abilities which improves your focus, coordination and allows you to reach the “flow” state. On the other hand, when you are riding defensively (thoughts like, “oh, don’t crash here”, “wow, this looks slick, don’t slide out”, “whoa, this is scary and steep, just don’t crash”, etc.) you are much less coordinated and actually focused on what you don’t want to do, crash!

One way to always be on the offense is simply focus on what you DO want to do. Thoughts like, “get to the bottom of this fun rocky section as smooth as I can”, “rail this corner as fast as I can”, “stay balanced and in a neutral position on this loose decent”, “climb this loose rocky hill like a billy goat, in balance and looking past all the obstacles”. These type of thoughts lead to confidence and riding at your best.

What do you do when you can’t focus on what you want to do? The trail is too steep, too exposed, too loose or just plain too scary for your current skill set. Get off your bike and walk! Then figure out what scared you and take baby steps to improve your skill and/or confidence. 50 feet of exposure on a narrow trail scares you, walk it and then find a trail with six feet of exposure and get comfortable on it. Then work your way up to 50 feet of exposure using small steps. Taking a giant leap over your comfort zone never turns out well. If you make it you just feel lucky, no increase in confidence and if you crash your confidence will decrease.

Challenge leads to the “flow” or “zone” state. That state of being when you are in the moment and everything seems to happen with ease. Reaching the state of “flow” is a big reason we ride but it is often hard to attain. In his book “Flow” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that one thing that must be present to reach the flow state is challenge. He explains that it must be a strong, but reachable challenge. Not enough of a challenge and your mind wanders, too much of a challenge and you get scared. Pick challenges within, but at the top of your skill set. The challenge can be to simply ride certain trails, be faster than before, smoother, use less brakes, etc. I have found that most of my crashes and mistakes have happened on an easy section of trail right after a hard section. I simply relaxed and lost focus when the trail got easy and suddenly was on the ground. Has this ever happened to you?

Here are a couple of examples from my own riding experiences:

 

Beginning of steep section on Horse Thief Bench (photo from mtbr.com)

During the Fruita Fat Tire Festival I led a group of riders on Horse Thief Bench trail. The entrance to the bench is steep, rocky and has a couple of big ledges, most people hike their bikes down. At the bottom of the entrance shoot the trail is flat and easy for a few hundred feet. The group I was leading wanted to see me ride it so off I went down the entrance shoot. Having lived in Fruita for four years I knew this section well and floated down it. As I got to the bottom I saw about 20 riders cheering on my effort! On the flat and easy section, feeling proud of myself and patting myself on my back for such good riding I hit a rock and flipped over right in front of those 20 riders and my group behind me. Now they were in disbelief, looking at the rocky trail I had just rode and looking back at the beginner trail I had just endoed on. I think I said something like, “I am a professional, don’t try this at home”. The funny thing is similar wrecks and near wrecks have happened too many times as I have gone from offensive to not focused or defensive.

Endo on Horse Thief Bench, this was beyond his skill set. photo courtesy of Time Piece Films

Wow, those photos are great testimonials to the importance of dropper posts! Had Rob, above lowered his seat he might have pulled that off!

Years before my crash I was heading to a race in Brian Head Utah and I stopped in Moab to pick up my friend TJ to come race with me. I was feeling really confident after practice and knew if I rode my best I should win (which would make this the second win of my pro career). Well, my run was amazing and I remember thinking to myself, “that run was amazing, no one could beat that, just make it through these last to corners and you have won”. Well, TJ beat me by a tenth of a second, for his first pro win. Now, to get that point (two corners before the finish line) was I thinking “just make it through these corners” or was I thinking “smash these corners, crush this track, attack!”? Yes, I was thinking attack all the way down the course, until the last two corners. Did I make it through those corners? Yes, but I slowly made my way through those corners. Had I attacked those corners like the rest of the course I would have won for sure, but by backing off I cost myself the race. I have seen great racers loose focus and crash in the last corner so many times, they simply switched their focus from attack to, just make it without crashing and down they went.

 

When Greg Minnaar demonstrates cornering in our camps he attacks them!

Always focus on what you want to do and always ride on the offense! As a matter of fact, stop riding your mountain bike and start driving your mountain bike. The word “ride” is passive, we ride roller coasters and amusement park rides, the ride is in control. The word “drive” is active, we drive cars, trucks and go-karts, we are in control. Drive your bike with authority.

How To Use Your Imagination To Mountain Bike Better!

How to mountain bike article by BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton

Your imagination is more powerful than you think it is and it can help you greatly improve your mountain bike skills! As a young snowboard racer I thought that the strongest/bravest/most naturally athletic person won, imagery was hocus pocus bs! Turns out, imagery is one of the most powerful learning tools that you are equipped with. Fortunately as a mountain bike racer I started to use imagery and it played a big role in helping me to not only mountain bike better but also consistently perform at my best.

If you are one of our skills progression students you know how much we stress imagery and have read the article I wrote on imagery. If you haven’t read the article or are still doubtful of the benefits of imagery please watch this short video and read the article below! (recommended by BetterRide student, Gregg Austensen)

Imagery article:

USING IMAGERY (VISUALIZATION) FOR MOUNTAIN BIKE RACING SUCCESS

Imagery or visualization is a great way to improve your riding and/or racing. Imagery has been proven in many studies to be more effective than actual practice in improving skill in sports. When using imagery you have no fear, can practice absolutely perfectly, can practice without fatiguing and simply rewind and correct any mistakes. Other than the fact that you won’t be physically tired from imagery your body can not tell the difference between imaging and actually doing. Consistent imagery will make a bigger difference in your riding than actually doing the drills I teach if you spend 20 minutes twice a week working on it. So add 40 minutes a week of imagery to your training program

Imagery can also help you improve and keep a positive attitude when weather or injury prevents you from riding.

I’m sure you have noticed that the most skillful or strongest rider doesn’t always win. This is because at the higher levels of competition most competitors have about the same skill. Winning races is a mental war and often a more prepared, focused and confident competitor will beat someone with slightly more “skill”. I have a few friends who are amazing bike handlers, definitely better bike handers than I, but I usually manage to beat them on race day. The key to winning any competition is being able to have a “peak” performance during competition. Consistently performing at your peak is easier said than done. One way to improve your consistency is to imagine or “visualize” you runs. Imagining is a very important skill and just like any other skill the more you practice it the better you get. If you haven’t imagined before or your imaging needs some improvement work on the information below.

What to Imagine (this isn’t just for racers if you don’t just substitute the word ride for race in the exercises below).

1. How you feel mentally in the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: excited, strong, confident, fast, elation after winning, etc.

2. How you feel physically at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: muscles relaxed your breathing, lactic burn in legs, steering and balance movements, absorbing shocks, etc.

3. What your eyes are focusing on when you are at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: looking ahead, reference points, course conditions, etc.

4. What you hear (or don’t hear) at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: wind rushing by, crowd noise, bike noise, and announcer screaming that you have just taken over the lead! (I recall Myles Rockwell saying that he imaged the announcer saying that prior to winning the Kamikaze years ago), etc.

5. Imaging can also be used to master a new skill and break bad habits. To do this imagine doing the particular skill perfectly using both first person and third person views. Start by imaging riding on a easy, predictable surface such as pavement then an easy trail, working your way up to doing it on a challenging section of trail.

How to Imagine

1. Imagine from 1st person, you are actually racing the course.
2. Imagine from 3rd person, you are watching yourself.
3. Imagine flawless runs, if you make a mistake back up and correct it.
4. Imagine in slow motion to learn new skills or master a difficult section.
5. Always imagine positive performances, feelings and thoughts.

How to Get Started

1. Imagine riding the 1st “section” (the 1st fourth or fifth of the trail, start new sections at major changes in terrain) of your favorite trail. Practice until your experience everything you experience on an actual run. For skills work on one skill three times then work on another skill three times (use the rule of three when visualizing too)

2. Start adding sections until you can imagine an entire 5-6 minute run.

3. Time your imaging sessions and compare their times to actual times on course. If your imaging is faster than real life you may being using to few reference points (physical features such as big rocks, stumps, ruts, or trees that you use to keep your bearing on the course (more on the use of reference points in my course inspection article) and skipping parts of the course or you might not be imaging all the steps it takes (braking, shifting, pedaling, jumping gaps) to get down the course. If your imaging is slower than real life you either have too many reference points and you’re getting bogged down on details that you don’t notice when racing or you don’t have enough RPs and are getting lost on the course. Figure out why you are not getting similar times and make corrections so you can image a perfect, fast race before race day.

Don’t be discouraged if you struggle with this at first. Imaging is a learned skill and gets better with practice. Mastering imagery will greatly improve your riding and/or racing.