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The Most Important Mountain Biking Skill

Have you ever been told you are really smart? Told/know that you have a high IQ? Are you really analytical?

Then you probably suffer from the same mountain biking skill error I have been fighting all my life, trying to think your way through physical skills!

This was written for a student who frustrated me because he reminded me so much of myself! They say people are mirrors of you and when something bugs you about someone it is a reflection of something about yourself. It definitely was in this case and I desperately wanted to help him overcome is reliance on his analytical, thinking brain. That part of your brain is great for solving math and engineering problems but terrible at athletic skills. It’s actually not so much that it is terrible at athletic skills it is that it has nothing to do with athletic skills.

Have you ever noticed that knowing a skill doesn’t seem to make you able to do that skill? That’s because you need to train your “procedural memory” not simply understand the skill. If understanding the skill was enough to get you to do a skill there would be no coaches, simply read a book and aha, you’re a great skier, snowboarder, surfer, mountain biker, etc.

I’ve had the same problem as this student all my life. I have to completely understand a skill before I will commit to it! Ever hear the phrase “dumb jock”? Well, most jocks aren’t dumb but often the best athletes don’t sound too bright when they are asked about their performance.

This has nothing to do with what we think as intelligence, the reason they don’t sound bright is the questions they are asked can’t really be answered. “What were you thinking as you took off for the double backflip?” Well, she wasn’t thinking, she was doing. Her conscious, thinking brain was shut off. So she has to make stuff up when asked that question.

You’ve experienced this, it’s called the zone. Where everything just seems to happen perfectly as when it needs to be done. It is a blissful state and one of the main reasons you enjoy mountain biking enough to read this article but, you wish you could hit that state more often.

Another hard question is, “how did you do that?” Often, top athletes have trouble with this question because they don’t know exactly what they are doing and have trouble putting it into words. This is because skills are stored in our procedural memory, where a circuit is designed for each skill. That circuit is called the cortex-basal ganglia-thalamus-cortex loop.

The book Choke goes into great detail about this. I noticed this the first time I worked with Greg Minnaar. I was explaining a skill and Greg kept saying, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s exactly what I do! You could tell he was astounded that I could break it down and put it into words. Greg executes most skills so well he has long forgotten or maybe never knew the mechanics of the skill.

You know what, Greg is very bright too! His good fortune is though he is bright in the IQ sense he also bright in the body sense (using his basal ganglia). He knows when to use his IQ (managing his career, businesses, and investments) and when to turn off that thinking brain and use his basal ganglia (all physical activities).

I’ve been a geek trying to be cool all my life. It all started one day when I was seven and came home really upset that I didn’t make the baseball team. My sweet mom trying to protect me said, “honey, your just not a natural athlete but, you are so much smarter than those boys, your IQ is blah, blah, blah ..”. Not exactly what this seven-year-old boy wanted to hear.

Looking back though there was a lot of truth in that statement. School was easy for me, I didn’t even buy textbooks my senior year of college, I just went to class and paid attention and got mostly A grades. Sports, they were a struggle though. I never passed the presidential fitness test (was often the slowest in the 50-yard dash) and in college, I learned that I had asthma.

So when it came to the two sports I actually did okay in, snowboarding and mountain biking, I knew I couldn’t out power the competition so I tried to outsmart them! Sometimes it worked a bit with strategy and “smarter” training programs but where it didn’t work was in the skills department. I tried to think my way through the skills.

Are you proud of your knowledge of skills? But, deep down you know that you aren’t always or perhaps are rarely doing what you know? That was me.

In 2007 I took a great motorcycle camp (American Supercamps) with the hope of learning more about bike handling. I was the only one who asked questions, out of 16-20 riders. When I asked questions all the other students just looked at me with that STFU look. They completely trusted the coach and just did what he said (lucky guys!). I had to know “why” before I would buy in, which, looking back was my problem all through my athletic career (or lack thereof!).

The athletes that just do what the coach says are the lucky ones, their mind doesn’t get in the way! Now, knowing why a skill works does help most of us buy in and I have spent the last 28 years helping students understand that why. However, my best students, aren’t focused on why it works. Once they felt a skill work that was all they needed, they practiced it until they couldn’t get it wrong.

There is hope for the rest of us though. We simply need to find ways to either shut off the over analyzing part of our brain or distract it.

I first experienced this in 1992 when my snowboard coach would yell multiplication problems at me when I was training. He said when I was solving problems I rode my best. Unfortunately, I didn’t truly understand it then, as a matter of fact, I was confused. How could being distracted be good?

That was before I knew about procedural memory. Once we have trained our procedural memory with structured practice (something I had plenty of as a snowboarder) when we shut off or distract our analytical brain our procedural memory takes over and we rip!

So far, the best way I have found to distract my analytical brain is to use music. I ride best with music at low volume (I have to be able to hear my tires, chain slap, and wind all of which give us cues to what is happening). My favorite riding song is the Gin and Juice cover by The Gourds.

I also practice meditation which also helps by focusing my analytical mind on my breathing, letting my body “just do”.

Your assignment is to drill, drill, drill the proper skills in (riding trail is not skills training as you quickly lose focus and return to any dominant habits you have (which are often, old ingrained bad habits)) in a controlled environment like an empty parking lot. On the trail work on shutting off or distracting your analytical mind and letting the drilled in skills take over.

Experiment, try singing, listening to music at a low volume, do multiplication problems, learn to meditate, anything you can do to let your procedural memory take over.

Do have a favorite way to shut off that overactive mind? Let us know below.

If you know anyone who could benefit from this article feel free to share it.

Shut that brain off and create your best ride yet!

 

 

 

dumb motorcycle camp guys asked zero questions

used to think I needed to know every little detail of how and why a skill worked to commit to it.

I have work with GM, very bright guy, was amazed I can but what he does into words so smarter than me because he knows when to use analytical brain and when to use body brain

For this article we have two brains, our “smart, thinking brain that solves math problems” and our “body brain” called procedural memory (book Choke?) when to use each… smart when stopped and figuring out a line, body while riding

Answers: meditation, music, distract the overthinking brain, math problems racing slalom  examples to prove my point but condoning these uses Doc Ellis , Wille Warren , Sutton,  ross rab, Jimi Scott

MTB, The Pros Use It, Why Maybe You Shouldn’t

MTB, The Pros Use It, Why Maybe You Shouldn’t

Just because an mtb pro (or a bunch of pros) uses a piece of equipment doesn’t mean you should make the same choice. Why not? Well, there are several reasons and I will give you some excellent examples.

A student of mine emailed me accusing me of being crazy for riding plus-sized tires. His argument was that Jared Graves and Richie Rude (two World Champion Enduro racers) tried plus tires and didn’t like them. My first question to my student was, can you corner as well and as confidently as World Champion racers? To which he replied, “well, I’m much better after your camp and I have been doing the cornering drills but no, I’m not that good.” Well, plus tires give me the confidence to corner much faster and aggressively than narrower tires I told him. Wouldn’t you corner faster if you knew you had Way More Traction?

Jared Graves cornering like the champ he is!

So, reason one why not doing what a top mtb pro does is, you are not Jared Graves! Don’t you think Jared Graves can corner better than you and that he rides with more confidence than you? So, Jared doesn’t need the extra traction from the plus-sized tires but, you sure could benefit from that extra traction and confidence!

Reason two why not doing what a top mtb pro does is, change feels weird, maybe if Jared and Richie spent more time on plus they would like them! It took me seven days of riding to get used to 812mm wide bars! My friends were joking me and asking me how much I was going to cut them down. After three days they still felt weird to me and was thinking I would probably cut them down but was smart enough to give them a few more tries.

Reason three comes from working with Greg Minnaar (three-time world champion and three-time world cup overall champion). Who do you think knows more about bike handling and bike setup, me or Greg Minnaar? Well, let me tell you about three separate conversations with Greg.

The first happened in a camp I was teaching with Greg about two weeks after getting my 812mm wide bars (in 2011 I think). I was explaining to the students that the ideal bar width (for control and good body position) was between 32″ (812mm) and 29″ (740mm) depending on height and width of your shoulders. Greg just laughed and said, “no one needs bars over 30″ wide. Well, Greg’s signature bar from ENVE is 808mm wide and he runs them uncut. It took Greg a while to come around but now his bars are much wider than 30”!

Greg Minnaar

Greg Minnaar’s 808mm wide bars

A few years before that, when Greg moved to Santa Cruz bikes from Honda, I told Greg is large V10 was way too short for him. Greg just laughed and said, “who’s the world champion here?” Well, the next year Santa Cruz lengthed the reach measurements on the V10s by 20mm. A year or two later they came out with an XL designed for Greg and Steve Peat (both of whom are 6’3″) that had a 25mm longer reach than the large. Then, two years ago they made an XXL that was another 25mm longer in reach and Greg added a 10mm headset spacer to that! Greg loved the XXL and it seemed to bring new life into his career. Greg’s bike has grown by three sizes since he told me his large was fine for him and I said it was too short.

Then there was the time I told Greg that I really wanted a 29r downhill bike! Greg couldn’t stop laughing at that idea! Well, now Greg rides an XXL 29r V10.

Greg Minnaar’s XXL 29r v10

Reason three is, pros are afraid of change! Ever heard the saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Well, think about it, if you are a multi-time World Champion and you are used to your current bike, why change to something different? It wasn’t until Greg started getting beat by racers on longer bikes that he decided to experiment.

Reason four, often a top pro racer is paid to use certain equipment. Greg has won racers on bikes from Haro, Orange, Honda and Santa Cruz. He gets paid quite a bit of money to do that and he might be riding a prototype, not what you can buy.

Do your own research and TEST (for at least a week!) various changes in equipment to see what works best for you. Keep an eye on what the pros are doing as you can learn from that but, what the top pros are doing isn’t always the best thing for you to be doing!

I hope this has helped you. Any stories about a pro doing something weird/different that worked for you? That didn’t work for you? Let us know below.

Feel free to share this with anyone you know who could benefit from it.

Create your best ride yet,

Gene

MTB, What I Have Learned from Working with Greg Minnaar That Can Help You, Part 1

MTB, What I Have Learned from Working with Greg Minnaar That Can Help You

I have been fortunate to do a number of skills camps with three time World Champion Greg Minnaar over the last 12 years and I have learned a lot from him. You can benefit greatly by doing some of the things he does and by not doing some of the things he does.

What? Not do what Greg does. Isn’t he arguably the best rider in the World? Yes, and you are not the best rider in the world so what works for Greg might work for you because he has way more skill than you do! In the following example, do what Greg does!

Lesson 1: Body Position and Cornering

One thing I have always stressed in my camps is being in balance. Greg really doubled down on this point in my camps and this really showed in this camp! I was explaining to the students that if you normally ride clipped in it is a good idea to also practice with flat pedals. Flat pedals let you know when you aren’t being smooth and force you to bump jump and bunny hop correctly. (Greg agrees with this)

Then I said, “it is also good to be confident riding flat pedals for when it is muddy” and Greg, said emphatically, “NO, even if I am using flat pedals for a race, if it gets muddy I always switch to clips.”

He went on to explain that when riding flat pedals in the mud he has the urge to put his foot down and “whenever you put your foot down you are out of position”. In other words, you are not doing what Greg and I teach, being centered over the bottom bracket. See Greg in great form below.

Notice how his hips are above his bike. Bike leaned to the left, body not leaned near as much keeping his center of mass (think belly button) over his bb and weight on the tires! Look how far ahead he looking too, this is cornering done really well!

When putting your foot down, your weight goes from above your bike to “below” your bike, taking the weight off your tires, causing you to slide towards the unweighted side. See a rare photo of Greg in terrible form below.

MTB, What I learned from Greg Minnaar

I have never seen Greg this out of position, in addition to being leaned in with his foot out he is looking down too! Even the best aren’t perfect!

A great example of this is Danny Hart’s world championship winning run in 2011. Watch the video below even though Danny is riding flat pedals he is cornering like he is clipped in  (both feet on the pedals, dropping his outside foot (to put more weight on his tires) and keeping his center of mass over his bb). In one little corner, he takes his inside foot off and puts it down. Then his rear wheel slides out and he nearly throws away that amazing run!

Watch at 1:11 into this video as Danny almost throws away a World Championship by leaning into one corner!

Long story short, don’t put your foot down in corners! Learn to keep your center of mass (think bellybutton or crack of your butt) over your bb while riding to stay in balance!). Sure, when you make a mistake and are leaned in, but your foot down but, remember that you were out of position which caused your foot to go down.

Another great example of this is Aaron Gwin’s winning run at Mont Sainte Anne last year. He rides it like it is dry!

Yes, I know Sam Hill put his foot down a lot in the last EWS. You aren’t Sam Hill, he is an exception to the rule. Sam rolls the dice a lot while cornering. As a matter of fact, he did throw away a world championship in 2008 by leaning in and sliding out in the last corner (see video below at 2:39 into the video he leans in starts to slide out) he still just missed winning by .53 of a second!

Sam Hill crashing while way up at the World Championships in 2008

Watch Minnaar, Hart, and Gwin in the mud, they ride like it is dry! You should too if you want to stay upright! Stay in balance and above your bike!

I hope this has helped you understand this vital part of body position. Feel free to comment or ask any questions below.

If you know anyone who could benefit from this feel free to share it!

Tune in next week to find out a few things Greg does and did in the past that you shouldn’t do!

 

 

Fear when mountain biking is good!

Mountain Bikers, How to Brake More Effectively, Video Tutorial

Using your front brake effectively is one of the most important skills on a mountain bike. Proper use of the front brake gives you much more control making you safer, faster and more confident. Now, when braking to cut speed (the main reason we use our front brake) you also want to use that weak rear brake to assist that powerful front brake. Watch my video tutorial and then read below for more detail on this important mtb skill.

An important piece I left out of the video is that you always want to cut speed in a straight line! Using that front brake and cutting speed in a corner is a recipe for disaster!

Your body position while braking is crucial and this often taught wrong (I taught it incorrectly from the start of BetterRide in the spring of 1999 until the fall of 2005)! What I taught and what I recently read from one of the best downhill racers in the world is, as you are braking get your weight back. This is terrible advice for a number of reasons (that I will address in a moment), so why did one of the best downhill racers in the world recommend this position? Because it feels like you are getting back when you are braking hard, what he is actually doing is bracing really hard so he doesn’t get tossed forward.

Granted, I used to get my weight back while braking and because it was such an ingrained habit! I still start to scout back sometimes when braking hard. It is also human instinct to move away from danger so it feels good to scoot back (until you crash :)).

There are a few reasons pushing your weight back while braking is bad (or pretty much any time except when manuling) :

  • It puts you in an off-balance and non-neutral position that I call the flying catapult! As your arms straighten and your butt goes back you end up at the end of your range of motion, with no “sag” in your body’s suspension. In this position, if your front wheel were to suddenly descend (drop or roll) more than a foot you will get yanked forward and downward causing your weight to get tossed forward. If you have ever had an endo where it felt like your bike catapulted you into the ground, it did (catapult you into the ground). Please check out this blog article on the importance of neutral, centered position on your bike: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/mountain-bike-desending-body-position-101-video-demonstration/
  • It greatly decreases your control and increases your braking distance (by taking weight off of the front wheel, not allowing you to use as much of that powerful front brake. This is easy to test (though a bit scary), simply to do the braking drill in my video on a dirt road or looser surface with your weight back. Instead of quickly coming to a stop, your front wheel will skid! See 6 second video below.
  • Usually, you are braking for a trail feature, most often on the straightaway into a corner, do you want to enter a corner with your weight back (no weight on the front wheel?). If the top downhill racer who recently said that you should shift your weight back while braking actually did that you would see him scoot back as he was braking for the corner, then, all in one motion, let go of the brakes, shift his weight forward and initiate the turn!
  • For more on this please read this article: http://betterride.net/blog/2014/braking-on-your-mountain-bike/

Speaking of the importance of using your front brake and braking in a straight line before a corner, a few years ago Cody Kelly (https://www.alchemy.bike/cody) was really excited to tell me that he is wearing out two sets of front brake pads before one set of rear brake pads! After hearing this I bowed to him and he said, “why are you bowing to me, you taught me to do that”. I replied that I may have taught him that (he took 5 or 6 of my camps) but I have 20 years of bad habits to overcome so I don’t exactly do that. In other words, I wasn’t practicing enough! The idea of wearing out two sets of front brake pads before one set of rear pads did inspire to practice more and while I don’t have Cody’s ratio for the last two years I have been wearing out one set of front pads before wearing out my rear pads!

Are you wearing out your front brake pads before your rear pads? Feel free to comment and/or ask any questions below.

Please share this article with anyone you feel could benefit from it.