Skills are aren’t the only way to mountain bike stronger! While you need to master the non-intuitive skills of mountain biking to ride your best you also need your body to function at it’s best. Our hips generated most of our power on a bike! If they aren’t tended to properly they create most of physical problems as a rider. James Wilson linked to this rather insightful article on fixing movement dysfunction in your hips. Read the article to learn how to mountain bike stronger, better and continue mountain biking throughout your life. I encourage you to add the exercises to your workout/recovery/mobility routine. http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/its-all-in-the-hip-5-steps-to-fixing-movement-dysfunction
There is a lot of misleading advice for cornering your mountain bike, often from top racers who aren’t actually doing what they say they are doing! Greg Minnaar and I got a kick out of Myles Rockwell’s announcing at the world championships a few years ago. Myles was talking about Greg’s “forward” riding style. Greg will tell you that he rides centered with all of his weight on the pedals (and this is a case of top racer actually doing what he says he is doing). He is “forward” of being “back on the bike”? Yes, but he is not “forward” of centered on his bike. (Myles is a great rider (world champion!) and super nice guy, no offense was meant by this post, this is an excellent example of top athletes not being the best at explaining things (because it is not their job!)).
This is a case of perception being distorted by “society”. In this case the 1980’s and 1990’s mountain biking “society” that was used to riders riding with their weight back (that, long stems, and narrow bars are why if you watch a downhill race video from 1995 or prior you will see tons of pro racers who look wobbly and out of control) created the expectation of seeing a rider in that weight back position, so when Greg (and Neko Mullay, Aaron Gwin, Rat Boy, etc.) rides centered he looks forward to riders expecting to see 1993 body position. This is because the rider’s head and chest are forward and low, but, their hips have scooted back, keeping them centered over the pedals. An important part of body position is “hinging at the hips” with a flat back. When you hinge your chest drops and goes forward as your hips go back so you stay centered. This puts you in a balanced, neutral and athletic position so you can respond to anything the trail throws at you, quickly and powerfully! It also lowers your center of gravity! Watch video of the world cups and notice how low Aaron Gwin, Steve Smith and Neko Mullay are. Like a sports car, getting low helps you stay centered (braking, cornering and acceleration forces have less effect on a lower rider and/or vehicle).
Focus on getting low! A great way to practice this is to ride straight down a smooth road and focus on hinging at the hip with a flat back and dropping your chest until you are in a half push-up position. Next make sure you have heavy feet and light hands (check if you are in the right position by loosening your grip and sliding your hands side to side on the grips, if your hands won’t move you are too far forward, if it feel like you are pulling up on the grips you are too far back). Once you are solid at doing this in a straight line focus on maintaining this low, centered (fore-aft) position while turning in both directions. Once you are consistent at this then try cornering on pavement with weight too far back, then too far forward, then centered again. You will feel that your bike feels lighter and takes less effort to change direction when you are centered. When are are consistent at all of the above, keep practicing until you can’t get it wrong! More on cornering!
Mountain Bike Cornering, Part 1
I received a great question from a BetterRide mountain bike camp student today: “Since braking IN a corner is BAD, is it better to err on the side of braking TOO MUCH prior to entering the corner or err on the side of possibly having to brake during the corner? I find that I’m unsure as to how much speed I need to carry. My old habits would incline me to brake a little before and a little during the corner, but now I’m wondering if it’s best to err on the side of entering the corner too slow and never having to brake in the middle of cornering.”
The short answer, it is much better to brake TOO MUCH on the entrance than to tap your brakes in a corner!
Why this is true and why is it the second most important “skill” in cornering? (the number one skill in cornering is vision! more on that in a future article) Because it will allow you to have much more control in the corner, stay relaxed and exit with more speed! The goal of cornering is to produce as much exit speed as your skills allow. This isn’t just for racing, it is for all mountain bike riders, more exit speed will not only make you faster it will save a lot of energy too!
How braking in a Straight Line before a corner increases exit speed for mountain bike cornering:
When ever you are braking to slow down (versus braking to purposely get the rear wheel to slide) you brake in a STRAIGHT line! Tires can’t multitask very well and asking them to slow you down and change direction at the same time doesn’t give them enough traction to do either well. A few days before one of our camps with World Champ Greg Minnaar at Bootleg Canyon there was a Canadian coach coaching a provincial team and he had a braking drill set up that went straight for a few feet then had a dog leg in it. I heard him say to his athletes, “Anyone can brake in a straight line, that’s easy, braking and changing direction is much harder.” It took a lot of will power to not shout back, “yeah, but why would you want to!” as braking and changing direction is not a good skill. When Greg got into town and I told him about that his reply was, “how did that guy become a coach? That is a terrible thing to teach and practice.” In addition to decreasing your traction braking in a corner causes a few other problems, it decreases your lean angle by standing your bike up and makes the fork dive changing your head angle and throwing your weight forward. Always cut speed in a straight line!
By braking before the corner and coasting through the corner you have great traction, a consistent head angle, consistent weight placement and the correct lean angle. In addition the corner will be much calmer and relaxing without so much going on, making it feel slower and easier than braking in the corner.
So we have more traction, are calmer, in better body position and relaxed but we haven’t gotten to the biggest benefit of finishing our braking before the corner, a longer ramp to accelerate down! Most corners that you are carrying enough speed into for technique to be important are downhill corners, they lose three or more feet of altitude from beginning to end. For example: You have a corner that loses 10 feet of altitude (it starts at 1,510 feet above sea level and ends at 1,500 feet above sea level) and the pitch of the corner is steep enough that your speed increases by 25% for every five feet you descend. Your instinct is to go fast! So you enter that corner at 20 mph while your buddy enters that corner at 10 mph, and you are thinking, “sweet, my buddy is a wuss and I just put 10-15 feet on him at the entrance to the corner” (which you did). Then just before the half-way point of the corner you realize you are going way to fast and brake hard and slow to 10 mph and then let go of your brakes at the half-way point (magically, at 25 miles an hour you slow to 10 mph in the middle of a corner without sliding out or crashing in just a foot or two of distance, more realistically you would end braking almost to the exit of the corner). So now you are at the middle of the corner doing 10 miles an hour (and your adrenaline is spiked, your eyes are as big as tennis balls and you are super tense because your nearly crashed) but you are still 10-15 feet ahead of your buddy and you have a five foot ramp to accelerate down through the exit of the corner (so in this example you exit at 10 mph times 1.25 or 12.5 mph). Your buddy mean while has accelerated from 10 to 12.5 mph at the halfway point of the corner, is totally relaxed and smiling knowing he is going to increase his speed by 25% again from the center of the corner to the exit. So your buddy exits the corner at 15.6 mph (12.5 x 1.25). For argument sake let’s say you still exited the corner a few feet in front of your buddy but, your buddy is going 3.1 mph faster than you and there is a long flat straight away after the corner (or an uphill!), who is going to get to the end of the straightaway quicker? Who is going to use less energy on that straightaway ? Obviously your buddy is!
There is an old motorcycle/car racing expression, “sometimes, you have to go slow to go fast”, and it doubly true for mountain bikers as you don’t have an untiring engine to make up for your mistakes.
A great way to prove this to yourself (which is really important, though you may believe me your subconscious still has it doubts) is the “French Cornering Drill”, so named because Marla Streb told me she learned it from some French downhill racers. The drill is quite simple, find a corner where right after the exit the trail goes uphill and see how far you can coast up the hill after the corner, the further you coast the more exit speed you had! First go in hot (at your normal, too fast for the corner pace if you are like me) coast out of the corner and draw a line in the sand where you coasted to. Then come in hot, brake really hard on the straight before the corner (slow down to total wussy pace) and see how far you coast. Then keep coming in a hair faster until you are going as fast as you can go without braking in the corner. You will be amazed at how much more exit speed you have (how much further you coast) when you come in at the correct speed for your skills in that corner! Do this drill today!
Lastly, remember, mountain biking is an offensive sport, there is really true in corners! We want to always enter a corner with a positive goal, “blast this corner”, “rail this corner” not a defensive goal, “gosh, I hope I make it”, “don’t crash here”, etc.
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.
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!
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