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Setting Up to Rail a Corner On Your Mountain Bike

Setting up to rail a corner on your mountain bike! Interesting braking and cornering question asked by one of our students:

“Just a quick follow up question.  I have been having a problem getting out of position before cornering, primarily caused by hard braking (especially if there is rough terrain before the corner or if I come in too hot).  As I brake, my body gets behind the center and lower as well, and by the time I start entering the corner, I am out of the “attack” position.  My front wheel feels light, and it becomes difficult to get in the correct cornering body position.

If you have suggestions as to how to properly transition from braking into cornering (especially under hard braking), I would appreciate it.”

Interesting question, this is a common problem with riders of all experience levels. I spent a lot of time working on the same issue a few years ago and still practice braking a couple of times a week for this reason. The problem stems from getting back while you brake, getting low is good but we need to stay  centered so when we release the brakes and the bike accelerates we are centered and ready to attack the corner. Although we stress a centered braking position in our skills progressions I was taught the old school, “get way back while you brake” and it is plain instinctual to move away from danger. Staying centered while braking took me a while to master and if I stop practicing it I find myself reverting to scooting back as I brake. Scooting back does help the rear brake a bit but actually hurts the effectiveness of the much more powerful front brake.   Getting back also puts you out of balance and makes it hard to corner correctly.  A great on trail drill is to focus on staying centered as you brake for a corner. Use A LOT of front brake, only brake in a straight line before the corner and then let off and attack the corner.

 

Rail a Corner on your mountain bike

BetterRide student Matt showing proper body position (centered and neutral) for descending and braking.

Stay centered and you will brake more effectively. When working with World Champion Greg Minnaar he really stresses this. It sounds scary but once you do it you realize two things: 1. you can brake in a much shorter distance with more control (less front wheel slide) 2. you are in a much better position to corner when you let off the brakes. This is another reason to practice the braking drills from the camp you took with us.

One of our fastest students, Cody Kelly (who won the Sea Otter Dual Slalom this year) told me that he now wears out two sets of front brake pads for every set of rear pads! That should be every riders goal! The steeper and/or looser the terrain the more you have to rely on your front brake.

As always it comes down to doing drills to master skills then practicing with purpose and a focus on quality! Have you practiced the braking drill from our mini-course recently?

Pro Tip:  Now that you are in the right body position where and how you do you braking is very important. ALWAYS brake in a straight line! In other words, finish your braking before you start your corner! Your tires can’t multitask, asking them to slow you down in one direction while asking them to change direction at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Have you noticed all those braking bumps on the entrance to the corner? Well, why are you riding in them? Usually there is a nice smooth section of trail just to the outside of those braking bumps, use the smooth part of the trail!

Create a railed corner (or two)! Stay tuned for next weeks article on line choice for cornering!

Shawn Neer, Downhill switchback in Pemberton, BC

Some Mountain Bike Companies and Shops Want To Hurt You!

Some Mountain Bike Companies and Shops Want To Hurt You! Sounds unbelievable but it is true, James Wilson recently wrote this: ”

So what would you say if I told you that a major bike manufacturer was shipping all of their mountain bikes with a sticker that told riders not to use flat pedals? What if the sticker literally said that their bikes are supposed to be equipped only with toe-clips or clipless pedals?

And what if I told you that no one at that company can seem to explain why it is there? What if the company had been caught in several lies and that they were actually misquoting and misrepresenting laws in defense of the sticker?

And what if all of this was taking place while a lot of people in the mountain bike industry stood by and said nothing, deciding instead that a pro-clipless/ anti-flats sticker with no factual reason to be there wasn’t really a big deal?

Well, you’d probably call me paranoid and crazy. And, up until a few months ago, I would have agreed with you.

But then someone posted a picture on Facebook and I got sucked into a story that I still find hard to believe. Unfortunately, though, it did happen and the easiest way to start this off is to outline the events in the order they took place…

- A picture of a sticker was attached to one of my Facebook posts. The person who posted it said that it was off of a Trek mountain bike and that all of their mountain bikes – including their DH bike – were being shipped with them on the cranks. The sticker read:

“This bicycle is to be equipped with pedals that have a positive foot-retaining device such as toe-clips or clipless type pedals.”" More from James here: http://www.bikejames.com/strength/why-is-trek-putting-an-anti-flats-sticker-on-their-mountain-bikes/

How crazy is that? Toe-clips?! I can’t think of a more dangerous pedal type! Even clipless are quite dangerous until you train your feet/ankles to un-clip easily and consistently. Trek is openning themselves up to quite the lawsuit with this advice!

Here is an update on an article I wrote six years ago on pedals.

I get some version of the following question at least once a month and as I have continued to ride and learn my feelings on this subject have evolved.

“I do have a question, I’ve only been riding for 3 months, at what point do you think I should get clips? I’m not sure I am ready for them but I notice the people I ride with are all clipped in and they are so much faster than me. Is that a big factor in speed?

Thanks,
Ada”

This is a great question.  First you never have to get clipless pedals.  Clipless pedals (the ones you clip into) are simply a different way of doing things, barely better in some ways, not as good in other ways.  I have heard from students who say that their local shop told them they need clipless pedals and nothing could be further from the truth.  A good set of flat pedals and sticky soled shoes is a better system for many riders.

Yes, I usually ride clipped in but it took me a lot of time to get used to clipping in and out and a lot of time to get used to riding clipped in (a year before I became honestly as comfortable being clipped in as I was on flats!).  The more I ride, coach and learn the more I see the advantages of flat pedals.  I have been riding flat pedals the last few weeks and each day I like them more.

Pros of running flat pedals (with 5.10 Shoes)

Some Mountain Bike Compaines and shops want to hurt you!

Thin Flat pedals like the Canfield Brothers Crampon with 5.10 shoes is a great combination!

1. More Confidence! You can take your feet off quickly and easily making trying technical sections and learning important skills like track standing easier. I have a lot of friends who always ride flat pedals (for cross country riding) and like being able to put a foot down at will.  They say this enables them to try more technical moves and sections (especially going uphill) that they would be to scared to try clipped in.

2. Less fear for many riders (which allows the rider to stay in their comfort zone and relax!).  Fear and learning do not mix, you can not learn when scared.  Muscle Tension (which fear produces) and riding do not mix well either.

3. Flat pedals provide more feedback, giving you an idea of how you are riding. Because you are not attached to the pedals if you are riding stiff and relying on your suspension to soak up the bumps (instead of using your body) you will notice that your feet bounce all over the pedals. This is a sign that you should be more relaxed and supple on the trail.

4. Flat pedals don’t allow you to cheat when doing lifting maneuvers such as rear wheel lifts and bunny hops. This can be valuable when learning proper technique. “Proper technique” is in control, in balance and much more efficient than “muscling” or yanking your way over the obstacle.

Pros of being clipped in:

Steve Peat cornering hard and fast while clipped in!

Steve Peat cornering hard and fast while clipped in!

1. I like clips for the “attached” to my bike feel (although they have made me less smooth because of this). When you foot lands with the heel or instep on the pedal (instead of the ball of your foot) you lose the use of your ankle (which is a big part of your shock absorption) and you start plowing into the trail instead of floating smoothly.  So being attached to your pedal keeps you on the ball of your foot no matter how stiff you ride. This is the main reason I and World Champion Greg Minnaar clip in, downhill tracks are rough and it is easy when running flat pedals to have your foot bounce and end up in an awkward place on the pedal.

2. Being clipped does make pedaling a little more efficient.  Again let me repeat myself, a little more efficient, there have been no studies done that I know of.  If pedaling at 100% efficient vs. 99 or 98% efficient is more important to you than having a little more confidence clipped in might be for you. Remember, being efficient on mountain biking is more than just pedaling, smoothness, cornering ability and confidence will also help you become more efficient.  Turns out I was wrong about that, I still haven’t found a study that shows that clipless pedals or more efficient, I did find an article that shows that “pulling up on the backstroke” is a less-efficient way to pedal (it adds power at the sake of efficiency). Study here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-73

3. Being clipped in encourages you to ride and corner with correct technique and body position keeping your feet on the pedals (usually when you take a foot off your pedals you end up in an out of balance position often causing a slide out). World Champion Greg Minnaar always uses clips when racing in the mud for this reason. He said in one of our camps, “with flat pedals you take your foot out instinctively, often when you don’t need to and putting your out of position. Riding clipped in forces me to stay in balance and use proper technique”.

4. Although clipless pedals may not be more efficient they do allow you to produce more power by pulling up. This can be handy when you are climbing a super steep, challenging trail and need that extra power to help you get over the top! Sure, it isn’t quite as efficient but at that point making the climb is more efficient than stalling!

Which pedal type should you use?  Experiment!  find which pedal system you fill most comfortable on and confident riding on.

After 18 years of riding clipped in 99% of the time I now really enjoy being unclipped about 30% of the time. Riding flat pedals keeps me honest (efficient, smooth and relying on technique instead of power)!

Flat or clipless pedals are simply a different way of doing things neither is better than the other and clipless pedals are certainly not an upgrade!

Mushroom Rock in Moab

Mountain Bike That Trail that Scares You With Ease! Faster Too!

I think almost every mountain bike rider reading this will admit they are not as skilled or as fast as Aaron Gwin, Steve Peat or Greg Minnaar, yet many of us would like to be! Often I hear riders say, “That guy is ballsy! I wish I was as fearless as him!” The thing is Aaron Gwin, Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar aren’t “ballsy”, they are skilled!

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp!

So what do we do, we try to ride trails that scare us and/or go faster nearly every time we ride! Which is fun and challenging, two things mountain biking is great at! There is nothing wrong with challenging yourself and having fun, I encourage that. The problem with that approach though is it is very hard, I would say impossible to ride the most challenging trails or ride as fast as a world cup champion without equal skills to the world champion. Don’t you agree? I mean if you have 80% of Steve Peat’s skill (which would be impressive) it would be extremely hard to ride a world cup track, even at 90% of Steve Peat’s pace, much less 100%! Now, let’s flip that around, if you honestly had 100% of Steve Peat’s skill wouldn’t it be much easier to ride a world cup downhill track, as fast as Steve Peat? I know it would be.  Yet so many mountain bike riders believe simply trying to ride harder trails and/or ride faster will improve their skills (including me for the first 8-10 years I rode and raced). Sure, you might stumble into some correct skills this way but you are also going to develop some serious bad habits and likely get hurt!

Unfortunately just riding faster builds fear, bad habits and injury, not skills. Why, well, watch most amateur downhill racers, even though they are going much slower than the World Cup Champions mentioned above they almost look faster as they are out of balance and out of control! Ever watch amateur practice on a steep, technical track? It is scary, and yes, amateur racers have way bigger balls than top pro racers because the amateurs are riding the same track with WAY less skill. Think about it, Aaron crushes most top pro racers, in a four minute downhill he will beat nearly 100% of all amateurs by a minute or more! Yet, how many injuries have sidelined Aaron in his career? I can’t think of one! Yet, those amateurs who are 25% slower are getting hurt left and right! Which means despite riding much slower (which should be safer!) they are getting hurt worse and more often. This approach is proven to fail. World Cup Champions ride with confidence! They don’t “hope” they make that sketchy section, they know they are going to make it!

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills!

So how can you mountain bike that trail that scares you with ease? Faster too? Increase your skills? There is only one way to improve your skills (at anything, mountain biking, playing guitar, painting, surgery, basketball, etc.) learn the correct techniques then do structured practice (drills) to in grain those techniques. Read about any “master”, in sport, in surgery, in music, etc. and you will read about all the time they spent doing deliberate practice, not simply “having fun” at what they have mastered.

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.

 

Think you are going to somehow learn to ride at your best by just riding? I am sorry, it isn’t going to happen. Your instincts are millions of years old and designed to save your life on foot, not ride a bike, not surf, not play football, not play the piano! For more about your instincts read this: http://wp.me/p49ApH-tD  ,  Why Our Instincts Fail Us On Our Mountain Bikes!

In short, learn the correct, in control, in balance techniques and then spend your time deliberately practicing those skills and you will see your ability, confidence and fun sky-rocket!

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

How Foot Placement Affects Mountain Bike Handling and Cornering. (part 3)

In the last 25 years one topic that has come up multiple times is how foot placement affects mountain bike handling and cornering, especially going into a corner or switchback. I have heard always have the outside foot forward so you can start to pedal earlier on the exit of a corner and I have experimented with that and the opposite, having the outside foot trailing as you go into a corner. This was actually my first foot placement article that I was working on before a student asked a question that sparked part 1 and 2:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-15o    http://wp.me/p49ApH-15P

Turns out, having your outside foot back while cornering is faster, but not for you! Or me, or three-time World Cup Champion and three-time World Champion Greg Minnaar). Confused? Well, in a second I will explain why having your outside foot back in a corner can help you a little bit but first I have to explain what will help you a lot! The number one thing that determines cornering exit speed (your goal) is vision. As you enter a corner you should be looking at least five feet past the exit of the corner and up to 30 feet past if possible (I know, in dense woods you often can’t even see the exit from the beginning of a corner, in these cases you have to look as far as you can, then as you enter the corner look further). Next you must finish all of your braking in a straight line before the corner and be in proper body position (that is a blog article in itself). Doing those things consistently is tough and why Greg Minnaar, Aaron Gwin, Cody Kelly and Mitch Ropelato are so consistently on the podium, they do this 100% of the time!

foot placement

Greg Minnaar nailing the big picture elements of cornering.

Can you consistently corner as well as those four racers? Even though I have coached three of them I can’t consistently corner that well and neither can most other pro downhill racers, very few if any pro cross-country racers and very few riders of all levels/experience. I have video of hundreds of pro racers (including me) and thousands of amateurs racers looking at the apex or closer as they enter a corner. The same videos show most racers, pros and amateurs alike braking in the corner and often out of position. These racers/riders are missing 98% of what creates exit speed. Having their feet in the right position (outside foot trailing inside foot) at the entrance might make them corner 2% faster but looking through, braking before the corner and maintaining the correct body position would make them 50-100% faster! Since we all have a limited amount of practice time (drill time, not riding time) our time would be better spent working on the big picture,(looking through the corner, braking before the corner and using perfect body position) before we worry about a little detail like which foot is forward.

Why can be faster to enter a corner with your inside foot forward and outside foot trailing? It allows you to easily distribute your weight exactly where you want it, by simply “letting” the outside foot drop to where you feel most balanced (from 50% of your weight on either foot to 60-40, 70-30, 71-29, etc., and you can slowly shift your weight to the outside foot or quickly shift your weight). This is much harder when your forward foot is your outside foot (for me this is a right hand corner as I ride left foot forward) as you really have two choices, outside foot level with inside foot or outside foot down. The micro adjustments are much harder with your forward foot making turning away from your forward foot a little more awkward than towards your forward foot. If you could switch which foot is forward instinctively, with zero thought, cornering towards your forward foot would be faster (a little bit!) but in my 15 years of coaching over 3,000 students I have yet to find a student who can do this effortlessly. Even my fastest student, Greg Minnaar cannot do this without thinking and then screwing up a more important element of cornering. I do believe as the world cup gets more and more competitive racers will start adjusting which foot is forward as they enter corners to gain that extra 10th of a second or two tenths. This is something that will take a YOUNG racer years to master. Your time and my time would be better spent perfecting the more important elements of cornering!

BetterRide student Aaron Polly getting the picture skills right!

BetterRide student Aaron Polly getting the picture skills right!

How your body deals with this is interesting. After 40 plus years of riding left foot forward (biking, skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing) I have twisted my legs, hips, back and neck. Despite years of yoga, stretching, foam rolling, massage therapy and chiropractic care my right hip is WAY tighter than my left and back gets sore quickly. With this in mind I have started riding awkward foot forward on the easier sections of trail. While this won’t make up for the imbalance in my body it might keep it from getting worse!

So focus on the Big Picture techniques like vision, balanced and neutral body position and braking before the corner. IF you ever master these then you can worry about which is forward as your enter a corner or switchback.