Wired Magazine has a series of articles on a road rider learning how to mountain bike. The series takes him through learning about different bikes, learning on his own and attending one of our mtb skills camps. The writer also calls BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton “… essentially the lovechild of Ted Nugent and Jeff Spicoli”! Find out why here:
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I Purposely Crashed My Mountain Bike Today! (How to Set Yourself Up to Ride Your Best) MTB Training Article by Gene Hamilton
Seriously, I made myself crash! I didn’t want to crash but if you watched the lead up to my crash I did everything possible to set myself up for disaster.
I often tell my students that most mountain bike crashes happen within five minutes of throwing your leg over your bike. I explain that often, when we don’t warm up for at least ten minutes (twenty to thirty minutes is best) we aren’t fully focused and ready to ride. Today I disobeyed my warm up rule and paid for it. I woke early (5:45 am), fixed a rear flat and headed to South Mountain. When I arrived I had just enough time to get my riding gear on and we were off. I even said, “I don’t know how you guys do this, I like to warm up before I ride.” Colin then said maybe we should do a long run (a series of trails that have a a few climbs and flat sections providing a decent warm up) and I decided against it! Off we went down Geronimo, I felt pretty good on the first section, missed a few lines but considering the lack of warm up felt alright. After waiting for the crew to regroup I took off down the trail and had a conscious thought (should I take my normal line or try this other line), took a different line than normal and the next thing I knew I was on the ground in a lot of pain.
Conscious thoughts have no place in mountain biking, you need to just do, not make decisions! I wasn’t in mountain bike mode, I was still trying to wake up, thinking about the election results and the traffic I fought to get to the trail. This was not the focus I needed to ride scary trails at my best!
I landed about seven feet below the trail and was fortunate to land on one of the only spots with sand mixed with rocks, as the next 100 meters is all big rocks on the side of the trail. I Feel really fortunate that I wasn’t hurt worse. Ended up with a sore left shoulder, deep thigh bruise on my left thigh, cut left ankle, headache, big scratch in my fork stanchion, broken left grip and feeling rather nauseous.
The moral of this story is warm up before you mountain bike! Your body and your brain both need to be warmed up and in bike mode (not loving father mode, stressed out business woman mode, mad about bad drivers mode or still thinking about what your boss said mode!) before you end down a trail! My usual warmup consists of 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching then a minimum of 15 minutes of riding (often doing body position and cornering drills plus a few sprints). I ALWAYS ride better when I do this! Glad re-learning this lesson for the 6th or 7th time did not involve a trip to the hospital!
Is your mountain bike loud?
A year and a half ago I was sitting on top of Bootleg Canyon watching the start of the pro downhill race (before my start). The fourth or fifth rider to start was a kid I am fortunate enough to coach named Mitch Ropelato. After Mitch disappeared from sight the racer next to me exclaimed, “wow, I wish my bike was that quiet!”. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his bike is that quiet, it is the rider that is making it loud. While all bikes (especially downhill bikes on tracks as rough as Bootleg Canyon) make some noise (a little chain slap, the tires hitting rocks, rocks thrown from the tires hitting the frame, etc) when they are ridden well that noise should be at a minimum.
How to use bike noise to improve your mountain bike riding:
Something we really stress in our skills progression is being smooth. We stress this because, the smoother you are the more in control, efficient and faster you are! Your bike provides you with great feedback on being smooth. If your bike is making a lot of noise (loud chain slap, loud pings and noises coming from your frame, suspension and/or tires) as you ride you aren’t being as smooth as you could be. Use this feedback to remind yourself to relax, breathe and flow with the trail instead of fighting it! Don’t just rely on your suspension, use your arms, legs and especially your ankles to smooth out the trail.
If you get a chance to watch (and listen) to a great mountain bike rider like Mitch or Greg Minnaar pay attention to how smooth and quiet they are on their bikes. They are excellent examples of economy as they smoothly flow down the trail, often taking rougher/faster lines, but taking those lines cleanly. Often, they are so smooth they look slow as they aren’t getting thrown around by the trail.
This ties in with the article on Mountain Bike Rides That Feel Fast but Are Actually Slow!
If it looks fast or feels fast it is probably slow! How to go faster while riding safer and more efficiently.
Ever have that descent on your mountain bike where you felt like you were flat hauling?! At the bottom you were thinking (or telling a riding buddy), “wow, I nearly hit two trees, a big rock and that huge stump! I was flying!”. Believe it or not, despite feeling like you were right on the edge of your skill limits that was probably not near as fast as you could ride that descent (with your current skill).
I first stumbled upon this phenomenon as a snowboard racer. I had a super fast training run and asked my coach, “Nick did you see that run? What was my time, that was my fastest run yet!” Nick replied, “that was 30.2, your fastest run so far was a 29.1!” I was shocked and thought Nick was lying and trying make me mad to motivate me to go faster. A few runs later I had what felt like a technically perfect run but it felt kind of slow. “Nick, did you see that run? My hips, knees, and shoulders were perfect! I know it was slow but did you see my form?!” Nick’s reply, “slow?! That was a 28.3, you fastest run yet!”. I was really confused and didn’t really understand why the run that felt fast was slow and the run that felt slow was fast. It wasn’t until about 10 years later as mountain bike racer that I figured it out. It all had to do with vision and technique.
With good technique and looking as far ahead as you should riding will feel slow as you stay in you comfort zone and have plenty of time to pro-act to the trail. With poor technique and not looking far enough ahead you have to quickly react to the trail. This does a couple of things to you. First, it feels fast as heck as you are making one neck saving move after another (and probably pin-balling all over the trail, not exactly taking the most efficient line) all these reactions cause the body to go into the fight or flight mode which jacks up your adrenaline and tenses you up. This combined with not looking far enough ahead makes it feel like you are flying when in reality you are not going as fast you could be and not taking good lines down the trail. Ever look down at the dashed white lines when you are doing 75 miles an hour in your car? It feels like you are going 200! Then look up at a mountain a few miles away, it feels like you are crawling. Well the same thing happens on the trail! If you look at rock four feet in front on you, you are going to be there (at the rock) in a fraction of a second, if you see the rock when it is twenty-forty feet in front of you you have plenty of time to go around the rock and you stay calm and relaxed.
So, learn to look much further ahead down that trail! This will make riding much more fun, faster and safer!
This video reminded me of that. Notice how tense you get when the helmet cam is pointed down (you don’t know what the trail is going to do next) and how you almost breathe a sigh of relief when the rider looks further down the trail (and you know what the trail is going to throw at him).
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