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Mountain biking

Mountain Biking, Make Skill Improvements Stick! Forever! Starting Now!

When mountain biking we often overlook crucial mental skills that help us use our physical skills better and more confidently. The mistake we will work on today I have nicknamed, “Riding with Fully Rigid Eyes”.

I came up with the name, “Fully Rigid Eyes” when I realized I was looking at the trail with the same “eyes” as I did on my first mtb ride in 1989! It was 1998, nine years later and my skill and my equipment was head and shoulders better than it was in 1989 but I was looking at the trail like I did on that first ride (on a fully rigid mountain bike)!

Let me explain the situation and how you can use this to help make your mountain biking skill increases “stick” and become much more confident. From 1994-1998 (dates might be off my a year) the first downhill race of the year for me was down the Porcupine Rim Climb (Starting at the Top of “Lazy Man’s and finishing by the stock tanks on Sand Flats road). I always walk the trails I race and memorize them (where I do EVERYTHING, where I brake, where I let off the brakes, where it get’s rocky, the lines I take, where I shift, where I sprint, etc.) and to help remember the track I make up names for each section (the fast section, the steep section, the wooded section, etc). At this race there was a rock garden which I called the “gnarly section” and on my hardtail with 1.5″ of fork travel up front and a 120 mm stem it was kind of gnarly.  However, by 1998 I had a 6″ travel full suspension bike, a 60 mm stem and my skills were much better than in 1994 (and way better than in 1989!).

On to the race! There I was, blasting through the “Gnarly Section” on my sweet Yeti/Lawwill Straight 6 with a big grin on my face. As I crossed the finish line after my first run it occurred to me, it isn’t gnarly anymore! At this race I always got a minimum of ten practice runs and the promoter gave us two race runs so by my race run in 1998 I had 50 practice runs and 10 race runs on that track! In that time I never crashed in that “gnarly section”. If you can make something 60 times out of 60 attempts, it must not be too gnarly! But, I was still calling it the gnarly section! What do you think I was thinking as I railed the corner before it and said to myself, “here comes the gnarly section”? If you are thinking I might of tensed up a bit and slowed down a hair you are right! Why? With my improved skill and way, way better bike it was easy know! So I renamed it, “that fun, rocky section”. On my next run, as I railed the corner before the “fun, rocky section” instead of tensing up and slowing down I relaxed and threw in a few pedals! Five seconds faster and I moved up from 5th to 3rd!

You can put this into practice and make skill improvements stick and increase your confidence in you and your bike! Think about it, on a scale of 1-10 my skill from 1989 to 1998 had gone from a 1 to 7 and my bike had gone from a negative 1 to an 8, yet I was still looking at the trail like I was on that negative 1 bike with a skill level of 1! Don’t to this! It is hard not to do this though, do you have a rock like the one in the short video below or a section of trail that you have never made before? Well, you probably have a name for it, something like, “that gnarly section” or “widow maker” or that “f’ing. f’ing rock that always screws me up”. Well, let say your skills improve (because you took a BetterRide camp!) and now you ride that rock or section of trail for the first time. You didn’t get lucky, you know exactly how you did it, “I looked at the rock, spotted my line, looked to victory, manualed and shifted my weight” (just like in the video below). Well, now is the time to update your reptilian brain and make sure it knows how much better you have become!

Walk up to the rock/section of trail that used to riddle you and say to yourself, “wow, for 3/5/10 years I couldn’t make it over this rock, now it is easy, simply look at the rock, spot my line, look to victory, manual and shift my weight and I’m over it.” Then ride it again to cement in that it is now easy for you. This is a crucial step to making improvements stick! Think about it, for nine years I looked at the trail with the eyes of a beginner yet I had gone from beginner to pro racer! Simply because I had not upgraded my self-image as a mountain biker (despite great upgrading my skills and my bike!) I was not allowing myself to have the confidence I should of had!

A word of caution, often men feel they have way more skill than they actually do (especially when they are between 10 and 35ish) which is why about 90% of emergency room visits for traumatic physical injuries are young males, so over confidence is bad! Make sure your skill has honestly increased and your weren’t just lucky!

 

 

Luck vs. skill, update self image, crucial skill (that you can can start working on now!)

Practicing Cornering on Trail, Hurricane, UT Camp

Mountain Biking Advice from the Most Respected Motocross Coach!

What mountain biking advice does Gary Bailey have that can help you? What he says to all his students (which applies to all riders that want to reach their best):

“It all comes down to this; practice. What is it? Practice is not a race. It’s also not time to go out and just bust out laps. It’s time to figure out where your problems are and what you need to do to fix them. Then you must have the discipline to go work on that problem until you have it better. Like all other sports, practice is not going out and playing the game, rather, in practice, whether it be baseball, soccer, basketball or any other sport, practice is when you work on drills to improve your skills. In motocross too this is what practice should be. Unfortunately, for most though, they practice motocross by just riding laps and this not what you should be doing and will not improve your motocross skills. Rather, you will just repeat the same bad form and bad habits lap after lap. -Gary Bailey”

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills!

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

 

He even talks about Perfect Practice later in the article. This means it is time for you to stop just riding and actually start practicing! Soon you will be driving your bike (active) instead of riding your bike (passive)! Don’t know what to practice? Don’t know how to practice it? We are here to help you!

Practicing means focusing on one particular aspect of a skill using drills and quality repetition (not quantity, which can get sloppy) to master it. Can your corner on pavement (where there is no great traction and no fear of sliding out, hitting a tree or going off the edge of a trail) as well as our guest coach Greg Minnaar does on off-camber loose dirt? When we first coached many of our World and National Champion students they could not corner like Greg anywhere. Through understanding and practicing body position and vision first, then understanding how and why to do each of the 10 elements of cornering, doing drills on pavement and finally applying on dirt what they learned through their drills they now corner as well as Greg Minnaar on dirt! Of course most of our students don’t have world championship goals, they simply want to ride more efficiently, in balance and in control with more confidence on the toughest of their local trails. Deliberate practice is the way to do that!

 

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

 

Mountain bike myths

Mountain Bike Myths That Hold You Back. Are You Selling Yourself Short?

There are two big mountain bike myths that hold back many riders. The myth of the “natural athlete” and the myth of the “magic pill” have played a huge role in depressing riders confidence for years. Are either holding you back?

I will start with the “natural athlete” mountain bike myth. You may think (like I did until my late twenties) that the best people in sports are gifted or born with natural talent. This belief can lead you to not giving your all and/or not seeking out the best coaching available because you feel that you will never be as good as those naturals. While we all probably know someone who seems to do well in any sport that they try (which sure can be frustrating) these “natural athletes” were not born that way and sadly they rarely reach their potential. These “natural athletes” were often simply stronger at a younger age (Do you remember that kid who dominated every sport in junior high who had a mustache at 13?) or they got a head start on sports by receiving some great “basic training” in sports (especially those that require balance and coordination) when they were young, giving them more self confidence.

Mountain bike myths

BetterRide Coach Chip assisting students in a cornering drill designed to ingrain the right habits.

Reaching your potential requires work in the form of doing drills (which if done right can be fun) just ask Micheal Jordan. If anyone ever looked like a natural athlete it was MJ, wow, the man could fly. Micheal Jordan was far from a natural athlete though, did you know he got cut from his team in both his freshman and sophomore years? That’s right, Micheal Jordan wasn’t as good as 10 other kids his age in his town yet we don’t know the name of any of those kids who were “better” than him do we? Why is Jordan’s name etched into our brains? Because he worked hard at the fundamentals of basketball and worked hard in the gym and MJ reached his potential. There is an old saying, “amateurs practice until they get it right, pros practice until they can’t get it wrong”. MJ did his drills like a pro!

In the book The New Toughness Training for Sports, tennis great Chris Evert says “I was neither the fastest or the strongest in the game at the time” yet she was ranked #1 in the World! Golf great Tom Kite is legally blind without his glasses, describes himself as an average putter who drives the ball short yet he won the US Open at 42!  Anyone who has ever met me was probably under whelmed at first, I walk funny, have asthma and two massively separated shoulders. Heck I never came close to passing the “Presidential Fitness Test” as a kid. Yet despite not being a “natural athlete” I have done okay for myself in snowboarding and mountain biking.

If I had had Micheal Jordon’s work ethic and more importantly his belief system I would of gone even further in both sports. It was my belief in the “natural athlete” being better than me that kept me from giving a 100% in my training. Yes, even if I had given a 100% I would never be able to beat someone with Ned Overend’s lung capacity in a cross country race but it would of been fun to see how close I could of come. Luckily skills don’t take big lungs. So stop labeling yourself or using the idea that you are just not a natural athlete as an excuse to not do your best (as I did). If you focus on being the best that you can be everyday you will astound yourself.

The “magic pill” or “pros secret” does not exist. So many people think that if they just knew that “one thing” that Steve Peat, JHK, Sam Hill, Ryan Trebon, or whoever their hero is knew they could ride as well as them. Well I hate to break your heart but there is no magic pill or secret skill, the way to the top is the basics. Mountain biking, like martial arts, ski racing, motocross, auto racing, gymnastics, etc. requires mastery and maintenance of the basics to do well. Watch the UCI World Cup Downhill races on Redbull.com, Greg Minnaar, Gee Atherton, Rachel Atherton and Aaron Gwin aren’t doing anything special, they are simply executing the basics, nearly flawlessly.

Greg Minnaar mountain bike myths,

Greg Minnaar demonstrating the BASIC mountain bike cornering techniques we teach (after doing drills on pavement)

Unfortunately, just like in martial arts and ski racing these basics are not intuitive so first you must learn the basics. Learning them is easy with the right teacher, mastering them requires work (even with the best teacher). The Magic Pill? Knowledge and mastery of the basic core skills. If you, a friend of yours and I wanted to become great at Karate what would be the best path? Lets say your friend took those boring “wax on, wax off” lessons from a master teacher for 6 months while you and I “practiced”  everyday by fighting each other who would be better at Karate at the end of the 6 months? Despite having less “practice” time than us your friend would be head and shoulders above us in Karate skill. For more myths that may be holding you back check out our free course on the 10 most common mistakes made by most riders and how to fix them.

A little Zen: Try to look at life with a “Beginner’s Mind”, with a beginners mindset you are open to all possibilities, with an “expert” mindset your choices are very limited. Think how many “experts” have been wrong, experts once thought the world was flat and that no one can run a mile in less than four minutes. Having a beginners mindset really helps you put your ego aside, learn and enjoy life more.

Create a great ride!