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Mountain Biking Off-Season Fun!

As I write this, it’s late November out there. For most of us, riding-wise, we’re in some version of the “off-season”. While there are many important things that we can be doing in the off-season to get us prepared to go-for-it when the new riding season ramps up (which I’ll go into in future articles), a lot off us probably could use some much deserved time away from the bike.

If you’re a serious rider, this may mean that physically, you can use a little break. But, I feel that the mental break we get from riding during this time, is just as – if not more – important then the physical. Its very easy to get wrapped up in race results, training programs, fitness goals – or maybe just the stress of beating yourself up for missing those rides you promised yourself you’d do — losing the battle of time-juggling to real-life.

So, in this “skills article”, I’m going to give you a break. This is an easy one (and if it isn’t, then maybe we have problems!).

Take a deep breath and look back on this past year, and think about all the FUN you had on your bike.

We all had some great rides, some great days. We all had many “victories” whether that means a victory on a results sheet, or a personal goal accomplished with no one to witness but the trees and the rocks (often the best victories). You probably met some cool and interesting people out there on the trails. Maybe you made some new friends, or maybe you’ll never see that person again in your entire life, but because of that quick exchange, for whatever reason, you’ll remember them. Maybe you traveled and rode new places. No matter your skill level, there was a time when you felt like an animal out there (man, I’m killin’ it today!). Maybe you had the world’s most horribly-crappy day at work, or whatever, and then you were able to squeak a ride in and, next thing you know, your day wasn’t so bad … then decent … then, all of a sudden, you were laughing at yourself for letting all that meaningless BS get you bummed in the first place (Bike Therapy).

The list goes on and on. But we ride these things ‘cause it’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating… and sometimes we forget about that.

The following photos are from phenomenal photographer, Joshua Duplechian. Check out more of his stuff – and not just bikes – at: www.joshuaduplechian.com

Josh tagged along on one of the fairly regular, early-am-Friday-rides, that a bunch of us buddies managed to (usually) squeeze in before work (or before running damage control and catch-up-on-your-life after traveling and teaching bike camps for three-or-so weeks).

This was a perfect fall morning, just a few days before the first snow of the season. Nothing special, but still … one of those great rides … enjoy.

Andy Descending

Andy Explains MTB Tire Pressure

“What tire pressure should I run?” I get that question all the time.

If you personally, have ever asked me that question, instead of a quick and concise response, you probably received a long pause, combined with a puzzled and quizzical look. You may have then said to yourself, I asked this guy about tire pressure, not, “What is the meaning of life?”

If only tire pressure were that easy…

But, just like the answer to, ‘what is the meaning of life?’ the answer to, ‘what tire pressure should I run?’ really comes down to a few simple things… but it’s the way that these things mix together, work against each other, cancel each other out, and so-on-and-so-forth that makes it all very interesting, and thus, a real tough question to answer.

What I’ll try to do here, is explain the main factors (I can’t, of course, hit EVERY factor in the space of this article) that become relevant in the search for proper tire pressure and set you on you’re way to figuring out what is best for you. But, just like “the meaning of life”, the final answer most likely comes down to the priorities of the individual…

First, how do we measure tire pressure? “Should I measure my tire pressure with a gauge or by feel?”

Again, kind of asking the wrong question… The answer to this question is … YES!

Use both. Why? Because most small and inexpensive tire gauges (like the kind you and your buddy will most likely carry with you in your Camelback or gear-bag) are not very accurate when measured against one other (one may read 10 psi and another 13 psi on the same tire). However, they are usually pretty consistent with themselves (until the batteries start to go dead). So as long as you use the same gauge, you should have a pretty consistent reading. So why use your hand? Because you’re never going to accidently leave your hand on the tailgate of your friend’s truck or back at the hotel room (hope not, at least…). And, (when) the batteries in the gauge do start to go dead, you’ll know that even though the gauge is reading 38 psi, the tire is really right around 19. Also, when you use a new tire (same or different brand) your hand – gauging by feel – gives you a better idea of how hard you will actually need to hit an obstacle before that obstacle bottoms out on the rim of the wheel (flatting your tire, damaging your rim, or both) then a semi-arbitrary number on a tire gauge. Now, use the gauge to see what pressure your “feel” relates to and you can get more precise and consistent on what pressures you can run with your new tire. Like anything else, this takes a little time and experience, but two gauges are better then one… especially if you can never lose one of them.

Next, all tires are different brand to brand, size to size, different materials, construction, new to old… While 30 psi may be way to much pressure for a 135 lb downhill racer on a 2-ply Downhill tire, 30 psi may be half of what a 220 lb “not so smooth” fella on a super-lite Cross Country race-tire will need. There are a lot of variables in tire construction. There are also a lot of different uses and intentions. For instance, some of my students are endurance racers. Most endurance races are held on courses that are not very technically challenging and have a fairly smooth surface. A fast rolling, low profile, super light tire with a pretty high pressure (for minimal rolling resistance) would be a great choice for the intention of going fast for long periods of time on this type of terrain. If the same rider goes out to Bootleg Canyon (all jagged rock) for a fun weekend with their buddies, I would suggest a tire on the opposite end of the tire-spectrum: a large volume tire with big lugs and with great durability. This tire, when run at low pressures, would give the rider more traction (in this terrain and situation, traction is more important then the low rolling resistance in the endurance race) and give the rider a smoother and faster ride because of its ability to absorb bumps (more on this later). With the first tire, the rider may run something like 42 psi, the second … 27? Big difference…

So now we understand how to check our tire pressure. We understand that there are many different types of tires for many different types of riding. And we understand that a thick, heavy, large volume tire will need less air pressure to support a load then a thin, light, low volume tire supporting the same load (think monster truck vs. Corvette).

So let’s move a little further into the advantages and disadvantages of both low and high tire pressure.

I tell my students that, generally speaking, the lowest tire pressure that you can run without getting a flat will give you the most traction, the most bump compliance, and, thus, the most control (remember the generally speaking part). With low tire pressures, tires spread out on the terrain under load and create a larger contact patch – more traction. Also, the tire will absorb bumps – acting like suspension – and help the rider maintain a smoother momentum path over inconsistencies in the trail (and retain contact with the ground). The disadvantages of low tire pressures (especially if speed is one of your goals) are that on smooth sections of trail (where you don’t need great traction or bump compliance) the tires will have a lot of rolling resistance, and, of course, you stand a greater chance of getting flats by either “rolling” your tire off of the rim, or by bottoming the tire out on the rim on an obstacle, or both (very seldom do you hit an obstacle in perpendicular manner – usually its at an angle – so even riding in a straight line this commonly occurs, especially with tubeless tires run at extremely low pressures.). And, sorry, but tubeless tires aren’t a cure-all for this dilemma. In fact, I see just as many flats these days as I did in the days before tubeless because riders still push the limits of what they can run pressure-wise (as they should). Except these days, they (especially aggressive riders) often destroy their rim in the process and have to walk home. I do like tubeless tire set-ups, but they do have their limits.

The advantages of high tire pressures are low rolling resistance on smooth surfaces and very little chance of getting flats. The disadvantages: less traction because the tire doesn’t spread out on the surface of the trail (smaller contact patch), and once the surface of the trail is not smooth and has inconsistencies such as rocks, roots, off-cambers, etc (like all the fun parts of the trail) the tire – instead of absorbing these obstacles like it will with lower pressures – will now deflect off of the obstacles. Now, instead of maintaining contact with the trail and acting like suspension, helping the mass of the rider and the bike to move along the trail with a smooth momentum path, the tire will bounce and slide off of every obstacle offering a very rough and unpredictable ride.

In fact, regarding the last factor that I just described, a certain tire company did a study that proved that low tire pressures will actually roll faster on on-trail conditions, dispelling the myth that the higher pressures will always roll faster.

So always run low tire pressures, right? Better control and they actually roll faster…

Well, not necessarily. What all of the above doesn’t take into account is rider input. This is where you have to evaluate what type of rider you and what your intentions are on the bike, and factor those into the tire-pressure-equation.

For instance, I can take two 150lb sacks of potatoes, set them on identical bikes, and roll them down identical smooth surfaces (pavement, dirt road, smooth trail, whatever), one with 25 psi in the tires and the other with 50 psi in the tires. The one with the higher pressure will roll faster and further. If I do the same on a rough trail surface, the one with 25 psi will now roll faster and further. But now if I take a 150 lb sack of potatoes and a 150 lb skilled rider – same scenario and both with 25 psi in their tires – and roll the sack down the trail, but the rider is able to miss every bump. … the rider gets there first. Now same thing with the SAME rider, the rider misses every bump so he/she is essentially riding on a smooth surface, once with 25 psi and again with 50 psi. The 50psi run wins it.

Of course, these are hypothetical situations. No rider can miss every bump, and no rider rides exactly like a sack of potatoes. And to take this further with the above scenario, what if the rider is very skilled and instead of not only missing bumps/obstacles, he/she starts to use techniques to actually generate speed and momentum from these “obstacles” by employing techniques such as “bump jumping” and “pumping” (both are advanced levels of riding derived from very basic riding techniques). These techniques often involve fairly harsh contact with terrain features in order to generate momentum – so where my sack of tater’s riding style worked well with 25 psi, now I’m getting flats and destroying equipment because I’m pushing the bike harder.

(And, there’s nothing wrong with riding like a “sack of potatoes”, especially for a beginner rider, as long as you’re an in-balance and relaxed sack of potatoes practicing great line choice and proper vision on the trail. In fact, most riders would benefit greatly by doing this!)

So what tire pressure should you run? Put it this way: I, myself, have two “go to” tire set-ups, and I change them depending on my location, trail conditions, temperature, etc. I often change my tire pressure during the ride (I will drop pressure, I almost never add tire pressure, but there are some great hand pumps out there that do allow you to do this practically and quickly – most hand pumps don’t – and without wasting a CO2). I run enough pressure so that I can attack the trail with out getting flats. Also, the weak spot in my riding isn’t my technical ability; it’s my legs and my lungs. So, I’ll give up a little bit of control and traction (and make up for it with technique and by finding the smooth spots on the trail) and benefit from higher pressures and less rolling resistance. If you’re a rider whose fitness is your strength and technical ability is your weakness, you may want to go in the other direction.

Most beginner riders run too much tire pressure and could benefit by dropping it substantially. As riders advance, they usually will need to up the pressure a bit (adjusting equipment to be ridden harder) and learn how to ride their bike correctly. Not by coincidence, a very similar thing happens with actual suspension, especially in downhilling and motocross (which, in many ways, is quite similar to downhilling).

How do you find out what works for you? Hopefully this info helps out, but go ride a section of trail with 20 psi in your tires. Now go back and ride the same section of trail with 50 psi in your tires. Now ride with the pressure right in the middle. How did each different run feel? Take notes on all of this, especially as you’re learning. Evaluate what type of rider you are and what terrain you plan on riding.

Armed with the above knowledge, again, hopefully your pointed in the right direction. Oh, and learn how to fix flats before you go too crazy with this…

Next article: The Meaning of Life…

Gene’s article on tire pressure http://betterride.net/blog/2010/another-thing-you-can-buy-and-instantly-have-more-bike-control/

I Hate Getting Emails Like These From Mountain Bike Riders!

I Hate Getting Emails (and Phone Calls) Like These From Mountain Bikers!

So many injuries!  Three students who signed up for camps and one who wants a camp next year all injured themselves last month! One woman broke her right wrist and her left shoulder and some ribs, another thought he had broken some ribs (luckily they are only bruised but still super painful), one broke is femur and the last got 17 stitches in his leg!

I hate getting emails like these (especially the photo, ouch!):

Hi Gene.
My wife may have not been too clear, considering her condition, when you both talked ….
She’s making good progress, but since her right wrist and left shoulder were broken (along with several ribs), limiting their use and making certain tasks very difficult at this time …..
Thank you,

Steve

2 and a half weeks ago I did this to my leg practicing bunny hops in my backyard.  I came unclipped and my egg beaters became shin mutilators.  Haven’t been on the bike since.  I lost some confidence.  Try to explain this injury to the boss.  Hopefully you can view the picture just so you can say dude if nothing else.

Dan's Leg after the bad bunny hop!

 

Wow, that looks really painful (and expensive)! As he said it also cost him a lot of confidence. Now, not every injury could be prevented with better skill but this one could of been! If you are yanking up on your cleats to do a “bunny hop” you are really putting yourself in danger. I have never seen this bad a cut from poor bunny hop technique, it is usually an endo leading to a head, arm, wrist or leg injury (such a fracture, not a deep canyon opening up!). Simply learning how to ride in balance, in a neutral position, how to do a coaster wheelie and rear wheel lift (again without relying on your clips (which leads to being off balance and/or injuries like this)) would of eliminated this injury and saved Dan from: 1. Spending a lot of money 2. Feeling lot of pain 3. Missing a week or six of riding 4. Loosing a lot of confidence.

Mountain biking does not have to involve injury! Before my injury in July I had not been injured mountain biking in six years! Please take it from me, a 45 year old guy who rides six days a week and races pro downhill learn the correct techniques, drill them until they become second nature and every mountain bike ride will be more fun, faster and safer!


Why Our Instincts Fail Us On Our Mountain Bikes!

As a matter of fact our instincts fail us in most sports. Why, because fear and self preservation are much bigger motivators than logic and reason! You will always instinctively move away from danger, if your computer suddenly burst into flames would you stay right where you are or jump back away from it? Intuition also fails us in sports as we tend to use it  instead of logic and reason. In other words what feels good often isn’t correct and most people tend to learn by doing what feels good, they don’t spend hours studying how to stay in balance and in control.

Moving your rear end way back on a descent feels good, you are moving away from danger! Skiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers instinctively do this yet it puts them in an out of balance, non-neutral (once shifted/leaned back we can only move or react in one direction, forward) out of control position. Despite all the logic that says we should be centered without practicing staying centered and neutral we will naturally creep back on descents. Getting riders to stop leaning back into the “safety position” is  one of the skills ski and snowboard coaches work on the most. Especially in skiing where you actually want your weight pushing against the tongues of your boots which not intuitive at all!

Leaning into a turn also feels natural but again puts you off balance (you weight is no longer above your bike pushing down on the tires) and makes you likely to slide out. We are not on 350 pound motorcycles on swept pavement with 12″ wide sticky tires! Leaning works on street bikes but is a recipe  for sliding out on a mountain bike. Ever have your front wheel slide in a high speed corner? Fast corners tend to be downhill and we accelerate through them. The steeper the corner and/or the higher the speed the more your instincts want to get back off the rear of your bike which un-weights the front wheel (if you also lean with your bike this really increases the odds of having the front wheel slide).

Looking straight down at the trail to avoid rocks feels good and makes sense, “I have to see the rock to avoid it, don’t I?” Yes, it helps to see the rock but not stare at it when it is 5-10 feet away, by then (or sooner, when the rock is 15-30 feet away) we need to be looking past it. Wow, is that hard to do! Even after spending 40 minutes explaining to our students how their vision works and doing 5 different drills that prove to the students that they don’t need to look down they tell us it is still hard to look ahead (and many of these students are pro racers who have been riding for 10-20 years!), especially hard to look past rocks. That is why we have drills, to master our vision, logic alone is not powerful enough to overcome fear and the survival instinct, to overcome fear you need a lot of proof and practice over a long period of time.

Experiment, go ride a trail with rocky sections and see if you are looking past rocks when they 15-30 feet ahead of you. If you catch yourself looking only 3-5 feet in front of you you are not looking ahead correctly, causing you to, tense up, go slower, react and mirco-manage the trail and likely stall out. Watch videos of the best racers in the world like Greg Minnaar, Aaron Gwin and Steve Peat, you will notice that they are always looking 20-100 feet ahead and never glancing down. This is much easier said than done!

Other times instincts hurt our riding and endanger us:

Ever put your foot down in a corner?! Putting you foot down inside of you puts you off balance and makes you more likely to slide out yet we all do it. Even world champ Greg Minnaar does it occasionally, because it is instinctive, but Greg will be the first to say that putting your foot down is a bad idea!

Ever skid your rear tire because you are not using enough front brake? Again, until you master that front brake you will always be a little timid to use it to its full potential. Fear is powerful.

Ever get the death grip (a very tight grip) on your bars?  This just makes everything worse as you stiffen up and ride really rough but when at all scared (I don’t mean terrified, just a little concerned for you safety) riders instinctively do this (I know I do!) despite knowing that it is wrong.

This is the reason all top athletes have skills coaches (ever see an Olympic skier, tennis player, golfer, martial artist, wrestler, etc. without a coach/es? Nope, can’t master or reach you personal best at any sport without first understanding the fundamental skills and then doing drills to master those skills), I can’t think of a single sport that is intuitive and instinctual. Heck, even runners have stride coaches, what could be more “natural” for us than running? (well, if you ever see me run you will understand the need for stride coaches!)

If you are tired of letting your instincts rule your riding and put you in out of control and out of balance positions, looking only a few feet in front of you in technical sections (even though you know to look ahead) and want to start riding smoother, safer and faster invest in your skills and take a mountain bike camp from us that is guaranteed (or your money back) to greatly improve your riding.