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Andy’s take on Coming Back From an MTB Crash

Not all crashes have to happen and the old saying, “if you aren’t bleeding it wasn’t a good ride” is nuts. Skilled riders ride hard and fast and don’t crash much. Unskilled riders (like me for the first 11 years of mtbing) wreck a lot, Andy is very skilled, rides had and this was his first hard crash in over 2 years. Check out his article and stay tuned for my article on some ways to come back stronger than before you crashed.

Andy’s Take on Crashing

In almost every camp that I teach, there is at least one student that is there because he or she had a bad crash – possibly got injured – and then decided that if they wanted to continue to do this MTB thing, they had better figure out how to do it correctly.

I explain to these riders, when they ask me how to “get over” their crash, that with the knowledge of riding that they will receive from the camp, and with the solid and proper technique that will be obtained through diligent practice, their skill level will dramatically improve and they will be able to understand why that crash happened (often, riders really don’t know what went wrong and why they had that nasty crash) and what they should have done differently. We talk about working our way back with baby steps. We talk about how to fall safer. I explain that fear and failure are natural and necessary parts of learning and riding – its o.k. to be apprehensive after a big crash – and those things don’t go away when you graduate from beginner to novice, but, in fact, persist all the way up to the top of the game – the best riders in the world experience the same fears, the same trepidation, as beginners (about different and more difficult obstacles, obviously – and probably bigger and nastier crashes!).

 

The riders always understand this – it all looks good on paper to them – but they still look at me and say, “I’m still scared! What can I do?” So for the next three days of camp, I try to impart to them various methods of getting over that fear, that mental obstacle.

And guess what! I recently got a chance to practice what I preach, so to speak!

So the following is a run down of what I did – and am currently doing – to shake off some of my own demons after a particularly scary crash. Everybody’s situation is different, but here’s mine, and here’s what is working for me. If you find yourself in this situation, hopefully some of the following will work for you.

Without going into too much detail, I basically made a mistake in one of the worst places possible while going fast, fell out of the sky and tumbled down the earth a good bit. Aside from some cuts and bruises, being sore all over, tearing my riding kit to shreds and ringing my bell a little, I got away with a couple of pretty jacked-up toes and a severely bruised heal.

 

It could have been way, way worse …

The first thing I try to do after a gnarly crash is figure out what went wrong. And there were a couple of things that were semi-preventable, that perhaps, would have made the difference. But what really went wrong was this: I was pushing myself and my bike super hard in nasty terrain – something that I love doing. And, if you do this often enough, sooner or later, its gonna bite ya!

I know that there isn’t any way around that – and that’s what bothered me.

I don’t believe in lying to myself about the potential dangers of riding. I don’t believe “that it will never happen to me …” I don’t refrain form talking about crashing or injuries (I will knock on wood every once in while!). It is what it is … and that’s part of what makes it challenging and fun! And I believe that I need to understand what the consequences of my actions could be, and then be prepared to deal with them.

Unfortunately, the possibility of having a bad crash is always present – whether you’re a World Cup downhill racer, or a beginner riding off a curb. And bad crashes scare everybody! .. I don’t care who you are! Some people deal with this fear better then others, some people don’t deal with it well at all.

The bottom line is we all WILL get scared. As a rider you will ask yourself, at some point, is it worth it to do this? Whether that means dropping of a 1,000,000 foot cliff, rolling down a nasty ledge in Fruita, or – worst case – even considering quitting riding altogether (I’ve had plenty of students that have taken the camp because they decided they either needed to learn how to do things correctly, minimizing the chances of falling as much as possible, or hang it up altogether).

The question I had for myself was, “is it still worth it to push that hard?” (for some of us pushing our limits is trying to wheelie up a curb – that’s fine, and also plenty scary and dangerous if you haven’t mastered the skill yet). And I wasn’t sure that I still wanted too.

 

I could still teach riding for many years even if I decided to take up playing checkers in the park as a competitive outlet . I don’t need to ride as hard as I do to do my job. Like many of you, my job depends on me being able to function physically. Getting hurt isn’t an option.

 

And, there are tons things to do out there to get your jollies. But, if you’ve read this far, then you probably understand that you get some things from riding bikes that you just don’t get anywhere else.

Besides fitness, the social aspect, a great excuse to travel around, and arguably the world’s greatest job, simply riding the bike hard, bettering myself here and there, pushing that edge, learning … those are the things that I live for.

Riding hard forces me to keep myself in pretty decent physical shape. Could I still teach riding if I stopped working out, running in the trails, riding motocross, and polished off a box of donuts, fast food, and twelever of PBR everyday gaining 30lbs in the process? Sure I could. But would I have gotten out of that crash with only a couple of mangled toes and a head-ache? Hell no!

Riding hard means constantly having a challenge for myself: I always have a ride just around the corner with other riders that want to ride hard and push themselves. I think we all come into these rides both excited and also wondering where we’ll stand with our buddies. That’s Fun!

I believe that BetterRide offers the greatest MTB instruction in the world. Because Gene and myself – even as “old” guys – continue to push ourselves as riders, we continue to improve upon our already great product – with both the riding and teaching. We are able to prove and disprove theories, bounce ideas off one another, and test these things – still – at the upper levels of riding. Is this mandatory in order to teach mountain biking? Nope. Is it extremely important to us? Yep!

 

I believe that it is also extremely important to ours students to see that the basic fundamentals of riding that we may teach in the parking-lot during our camps, are the same exact skills that are used by high-level riders in the most difficult situations when we get out on the trail. Essential? Maybe not. Essential to me in order to provide the best product possible? Yes.

 

I constantly find myself looking into new trails, products, gear, in order to give myself (and my students) that little extra edge. I can get up in the morning and go for a ride, come home and work on BetterRide stuff all day, teach a clinic, then go drink a few beers with a few riding buddies and talk bikes all night, and then get up the next morning and do the same thing. This all stems from the passion of riding the bike.

And that passion also means, to me, pushing it a little bit … sometimes, a lot.

The point is this: big crashes are scary, as they should be! You don’t simply forget about them, and I don’t think you should. But doing what you love, what makes you tick, what makes it all worth while is mandatory in life! And after running through the above list of reasons, among others, that I dig riding, I know that the reward is worth taking some chances.

I think that for most of us, this is probably the case – whether we’re about to send it in our race run at the World Champs, or whether we’re feeling good on the bike and today’s the day we’re going to go for that foot-tall rock ledge that we’ve previously always walked. If we focus on all of the positives – and they’re truly accurate and positive – they will usually out weigh the negatives.

Will I implement the things that I learned from the crash into my riding? Heck yes! Will I ride a little conservatively for a while? Yep. I’ll use baby steps and time to help me get back to where I was. Will I be aware of the level of danger that I subject myself to? Yes. But, I’ll focus on those positives and the fun and the challenge and understand that part of going fast and riding hard is about not getting hurt by doing things correctly and by being smart!

Inevitably, those students in my camps, who showed up timid because of that nasty get-off that brought them to the camp in the first place – after only three days of instruction – see the trail, riding, and themselves as riders, with new eyes. The tools that they gain from the camp are their positives, the feeling that they get from riding the bike correctly and understanding, thus, being able to commit to learning the proper techniques, are also their positives. This is what they are then focused on – not the negative of that bad crash. And this is what gets them out there on the bike, having fun and challenging themselves, again.

And although my situation is different from that of those students – its actually quite the same!

Video: Huge MTB Skills Increases with the Least Amount of Practice!

The idea for this article came from “Slow Practice Will Get You There Faster”, a great book on learning sport by Ernest Dras. In my blog article, “The Best MTB Skills Advice I Have Ever Given. (How we actually “break” bad habits and create perfect ones)” I explained a bit about the Myelin Sheath and how we improve through through slow, deliberate practice. Now I will explain how to practice slowly and deliberately and see huge returns with the least amount of practice.

The first step is know the goal of the skill you are practicing (what is my desired outcome), how to do the skill perfectly (you may not be able to it it perfectly but you understand each individual piece of the skill and how it should be done), how it should feel and what it should look like. Without this knowledge base you are not practicing, you are simply riding and most likely ingraining bad habits.

In this example I will use cornering which is probably the most complex and most misunderstood skill in mountain biking (and road biking for that matter).  The goal of cornering is exit speed, as the faster you can exit any given corner the more efficient you will be. The foundation for cornering is perfect body position and vision, once you have these mastered it takes counter pressure (my phrase for counter steering) to get the bike to lean, weight placement to stay in balance, hip articulation for power and control, proper arm position and weight placement. We spend over two hours on cornering in a parking lot doing drills before applying it to the trails in our camps (and expect the riders to do drills the rest of their life to master and maintain mastery of cornering).

I see so many riders and racers who have studied enough video to have a decent idea of cornering technique and now they are just trying to go faster with a vague understanding of proper technique.  These riders always plateau before reaching their true peak. They plateau because they don’t know, understand and more importantly can not do the “details” correctly, doing something 80% perfect sounds impressive but it means you are doing it 20% wrong! A better understanding of the skill and some good, slow practice would make these riders much better!

Once you have a deep understanding of the skill slow practice will help you fine tune the skill. By doing the skill extremely slowly you will be aware of every small change in pressure, vision, balance, control, etc. You will find “dead spots” (where something is missing, such your weight suddenly shifting), you will understand how a little more counter pressure effects not only the lean angle of your bike but how it effects your balance, your hips, your outside arm, your traction and your trajectory.

Gene Slow Practice on the Road

In this video I am practicing slowly and have my “awareness” turned up and can feel what every little movement does. I am experimenting a bit, pushing a little harder with my inside hand and feeling what that does to the pressure on my feet, to the position of my hips, to the bite of my tires and sharpness of my turn. As I push forward with my inside hand I become aware that I am pushing my body backward, behind the pedals and it is unweighting my front end causing my front tire to push.

MTB Cornering Video from private lesson with Gene Hamilton

All the way from France, Will Burgat working on cornering with Gene the day after his camp in Bootleg Canyon. Check out Will’s eyes in the first corner, he is looking through to the next corner, the toughest and most important skill in cornering. His body position, especially the elbows up and out and hip twist are also very good. He is a little upright but those are some strong corners!

More great cornering from Will. He is still riding a little upright but again, great vision and body position.

How to MTB Video: Using Strength Training For Better Body Position

My strength coach James Wilson has given me a great article to help you achieve better body position!

Touch the Wall Deadlifts for Better Body Position

Everything starts with good, balanced body position. Good balanced body position on your bike comes from being able to “hinge” at your hips and not your lower back. Being able to do this movement effectively will make a dramatic impact on everything you do on the bike.

The Touch the Wall Deadlifts have quickly become one of my favorite exercises in the facility. It is the best way I’ve found to teach the all important hip hinge movement pattern. Here are the progressions for this exercise, plus what you want to be learning at each stage of the progression. Don’t be afraid to replace your swings and/ or deadlifts with these if you feel you struggle doing them right.

You can download the Coaching Cue Handout for this exercise by right clicking on the link below and selecting Save as…

Touch the Wall Deadlifts

-James Wilson-