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 biking too much

Mountain Biking Too Much?

For most of my thirties and forties I was mountain biking too much! How can that be you ask? Well, let me explain.

From the time I did my first race until very recently I was completely obsessed with mountain biking, it was my life. I moved into my van and took my summers off from work to race and train full time. Then I spent my winters coaching snowboarding during the day and DJing nightclubs at night to pay off all the debt I racked up in the summers chasing my pro racing dreams. I didn’t have time for things I used to love. Couldn’t go skateboarding (might get hurt and not be able to ride), no time for playing in rivers and creeks (all my time was spent training or recovering), not much time for a social life (have to go to bed early to recover and feel rested) basically, little to no time that wasn’t mountain bike focused. Eventually I quit snowboarding and moved to Boulder, CO to ride year round. Another way of thinking about this was I was completely focused on the future (except when riding) and often didn’t fundamentally enjoy my day to day existence. Don’t get the impression I was depressed or sad doing this, at the time I loved it, but, it was all I knew. Life can be better! I didn’t do intervals because I enjoyed the feeling of getting stronger and faster, I did them so I could hopefully win a race six to 12 months in the future. Oh, and you know what I did EVERYDAY? I rode my bike! For most of us, mountain biking is an escape, for me it was an everyday routine, that surprisingly I didn’t burnout on until years of doing this.

To some of you this might sound like a dream life and at the time, for me, it was a dream life. Looking back though, I missed out on a lot and became very unbalanced. Compare this to some of my former teammates like Ryan Sutton and Kain Leonard who were not only much faster than me, they had more balanced lives than I had. They spent the winters skiing and snowboarding, they made time for a social life. In the summers they still played off their bikes, playing in rivers, riding dirt bikes and they maintained a social life, sometimes, gasp, they missed a big race to stay home with their girlfriends. I remember thinking, “you’re missing your big chance! You could make it as a sponsored athlete!”. Kain is now married to that girlfriend and they have two kids, probably worth missing a race or two for that!

Would you miss family reunions for a bike race? I did, many of them and a few dear friends’ and close relatives’ weddings too. All so I could race my over priced kids toys! Are my three World Masters Championship medals worth all I sacrificed to get them? No way! Standing on those podiums was glorious, but, really, who cares? I honestly don’t even know where those medals are right now. Racing mountain bikes is great if you have the life balance that my teammates did or the balance of Steve Peat (who has found the time to get married, have a child and from his videos do silly and fun things off his bike too).


mountain biking too much

In Third Place at the 1999 UCI World Masters Championships, a moment of glory not worth what I sacrificed to get there.

I remember feeling guilty when I didn’t ride, sometimes I still do, “you’re a mountain bike coach, you should be out riding!”. Where, I know this might sound blasphemous but there is a lot more to life than riding bikes. Don’t be like me, focus on a healthy, balanced life and keep mountain biking as a healthy part of that life. Make time for friends, play in rivers, go surfing, travel without your bike, attend friends’ weddings and keep mountain biking special, not something you must do everyday. I realize that mountain biking can be addicting, for me and for most “lifestyle” riders it is our meditation (the only time time our busy minds go quiet and we are actually living in the moment) and that it keeps us sane and happy but, relax, learn to actually meditate and make time for friends, family and other pursuits.


Mountain Bikers

Mountain Bikers, Increase Your Power by 10-40% in Three Days!

Mountain Bikers are notorious for focusing on riding longer and/or harder to increase their fitness. I often think and act that way as do a lot of our students and, at first, it works! Sometimes it works for a few years even a decade, but it will come to an end and there are easier faster ways to get fitter. Since starting BetterRide in 1999 I have stressed the importance of functional strength (how much power you can consistently put to the pedals) and “gym” strength (how much you can squat or bench press) and I personally saw doing a good job on creating functional strength. Then, I got injured and slacked off on both my resistance training and my mobility routine (yoga and myofascial release using foam rolling and tennis ball rolling) and this winter (a year after the injury) I have been paying for that laziness. My back has gone out three times since Feb 6th and it has been rather depressing. Well, thanks to a link James Wilson shared my back problems are gone and I have more power on the bike than I did before my injury (when I was working out and doing yoga).

The culprit was my gluteus medius, it was tight, really tight! Probably 90% of mountain bikers have tight gluteus medius muscles which can lead to hip dysfunction and back pain. Always the skeptic I did a bunch more research on the good ole inner-tube and found a few more article advocating the same methods to fix this hip issue. So I simply followed the advice in the article James linked to and the next day my back was barely sore. For once I was patient, which is tough to do in Moab, but despite my better feeling back I took Saturday and Sunday off from riding to make sure my back pain was gone and hips were functioning correctly. Then, on Monday Dave and I did my annual Birthday ride on Porcupine Rim and I was amazed how good I felt. We stopped when ever my hips started to feel tight so I could loosen them up (every 20-30 minutes) and by the time we hit the pavement I was feeling better than I have in months! The real kicker was how strong I felt on the 4 mile ride back to town, strong as an ox! It was my 49th birthday but I was pedaling like I was in my thirties! I took Tuesday off then rode hard on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday! I’m back! With more energy than I have had in months!

So, without further ado please check out this article, do the exercises/rolls/stretches they recommend and take a day or two from riding and when you come back you will be amazed.

Breaking muscle is a great source of information! Thanks for sharing James!




BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton's first mountain bike

Rigid Mountain Bikes Are Better To Learn On? Another MTB Myth?

I read an article last week that claimed that rigid mountain bikes are the best bikes to learn on. I couldn’t disagree a more! While I agree that it is amusing to see riders who are struggling to ride sections of trail on their $10,000 carbon full suspension bikes with carbon wheel sets that cost $2,800 I don’t agree that a rigid bike some how “teaches” you to be a better rider. I bought my first mtb in 1989 and it was fully rigid and I had a blast on that bike! Unfortunately, a bike can’t teach you anything and just riding a bike (without the knowledge of correct skills and drills to practice those skills) tends to get you better at your instincts (which are old, hunter gather type instincts, mtbs have not been around long enough for us to be born with mtb instincts. Read more