Posts

Riding a Steep Roll In for the First Time is Less Scary With Proper Technique!

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide?

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide? As someone who preaches that a short stem and wide bars will give you much better handling on a mountain bike (both climbing and descending) I get asked that question a lot. The short answer is, of course your mountain bike handlebars can be too wide, but most likely your’s aren’t wide enough!

The reasons we have been preaching about wide bars since 1999 are that they simply give you more stability, more leverage to fight sudden jerks to the side and more leverage for cornering. A quick baseline to start from is to do a push up and experiment with hand width and find out where you feel most stable and powerful. From this starting point go out a bit wider and start working your way in. What we are looking for is for your forearms to slope outward slightly from your hands to your elbows when you have lowered your chest in a “half push-up” position (see photo below). At the widest your forearms should go straight up to your elbows when in this position.

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Correct Width

This width will give you the optimum amount of control. From this position you can absorb shock, keep the wheels on the ground over a small drop, resist twisting/jerking forces and power you way trough a corner by getting enough counter pressure leverage to give you the right lean angle.

Unfortunately as this trend has caught on I have seen a few riders who are too short (or narrow shouldered, short armed) for the widest bars made and they look like this photo below:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Wide!

I saw a lot of young riders at Whistler last summer with a setup that looked like that. Really hard to control the bike when you are stretched out like that! Those riders need to cut their bars down a bit!

Most riders, especially cross country/endurance oriented riders run bars on the narrow side (perhaps because of tradition?) and they look like this:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Narrow

This also severely hampers control (really twitchy with no leverage to fight sudden bar jerks, and no leverage for cornering pressure) and collapses the lungs a bit making it hard to breathe! It is more aerodynamic though, which unfortunately doesn’t help much at the speeds you travel at on your mountain bike and aerodynamics are not worth sacrificing control over.

The widest bars I have found are the SMAC innovations SW820 Moto Bars ( http://smacinnovations.com/bars.php , 820mm wide) and at 6’3″ I run these uncut on both my xc and dh bikes. BetterRide coach and one the best technical riders I know, Andy Winohradsky is 5’6″ and runs 30.5″ wide bars on both of his bikes. We put on camps all over the country and have not yet found a trail with trees too narrow for these bars. The tightest trees I have found are on the East Coast, in Texas and in the Mid West. In some of these places there were two to four spots an hour where I had to slow down and wiggle through some tight trees. Four, even six times an hour is no reason to compromise your handling though, I would rather you have the most control 99% of your ride and have to slow down a bit a few times an hour than be out of control for 99% of your ride and be able to go faster over about 20 feet every hour! If you honestly live in an area with more than six tree gaps less than 32″ wide in an hour ride, cut your bars!

There is not yet a scientifically proven perfect mountain bike handlebar width as there are so many variables; height, shoulder width, arm length, stem length, top tube length, reach measurement, etc. The easiest way to find out what is right for you is to start at the widest width available to you (or that you feel is appropriate, if you are 5’1″ no need to start at 820mm!) and ride at that width (on a trail without narrow tree gaps at first!) and then keep moving the grips in a bit until your arms look close the “correct” photo above and you feel like you have the most control (not necessarily what feels best as what often feels best is what you are used to which may not be correct).

 

Braking on your mountain bike

Braking on your Mountain Bike, Your Butt is Not Your Third Brake!

There is a lot of dangerous misinformation on the subject of braking on your mountain bike, I will clear some of it up for you. YOUR BUTT is Not Your Third Brake! We were horrified when one of our downhill camp students told us that in the high school league the coaches were teaching students to get their butt way back while braking and using the phrase, “your butt is your third brake”. After explaining to him why this was bad he said, “Wow, that is why my coach broke his corner bone! We were riding down a steep hill with a few ledges and he was braking over one of the ledges and got catapulted over the bars because he was yanked forward.”

As the sport of mountain biking has matured there have been huge changes in both equipment and the understanding of proper riding technique. When I started BetterRide in 1999 there were few people coaching technique and most advice was given by great racers who had created their own techniques. Often, these great racers were not the best bike handlers (simply really fit) and even if they were they weren’t great at explaining how and why a certain technique should be

used. So my task was to find out what worked, why it worked and how to get you to do that technique. Fortunately I had been doing that for 10 years as a snowboard coach and since my passion for snowboarding had faded I put all of my coaching energy into mountain biking. I sought out the best motorcycle coaches (Danny Walker, Gary Semics and Keith Code) to learn from and have worked with and coached some of the best racers in the world (Greg Minnaar, Marla Streb, Ross Schnell, Lynda Wallenfels, Mitch Ropelato, Chris Van Dine, Cody Kelly, Erica Tingey, Kelli Emmett, Jackie Harmony, Sue Haywood, etc.) As you can imagine I learned a lot over those years and I have often had to rethink the skill I was teaching and rethink my methods for getting you to master that skill. Which is polite way of saying that some of what I taught was wrong!

One of the skills I was teaching incorrectly was braking. I had a student wash out his front tire and crash doing a braking drill one day in 2004. Although he was doing the drill slightly wrong (he shifted his weight back before he braked, not as he braked) it made me question the idea of getting your butt way back while braking. It turns out that it didn’t jive with my in balance and in control philosophy (the student was obviously neither in control nor in balance when he crashed). I also noticed great racers like Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar were staying centered while braking. So in 2004 I threw out the little drawing that I had been using since 1999 to explain this (A rider with a an arrow driving from his butt through his bottom bracket into the ground showing the “physics” of getting your weight back while braking). It was a pretty handy and powerful in explaining the “physics” of why we get our weight back while braking! The problem was it doesn’t work that way in real life, on a trail with changing traction conditions, bumps, rocks and small ledges. You need to get low and stay centered while braking!

Forgetting about dangerous misinformation, it is plain instinctual to move away from danger, in this case moving your butt back as you brake. Unfortunately, as you probably know our instincts are terrible mountain bike skills teachers as they are thousands if not millions of years old! They became instincts to help us survive as bipeds in those times (before bikes, motorcycles and cars). For more info on this read this article: Why Our Instincts Fail Us On Our Mountain Bikes! http://betterride.net/blog/2011/why-our-instinicts/

Braking on your mountain bike

Jon Widen staying centered while descending one of the steepest lines at Whistler!

The first reason we don’t scoot our butt back when braking is the same reason we don’t do it descending (which by the way, most braking is done descending!). It will put us in a non-neutral position and cause us to get out of balance, greatly increasing our chance of flipping over or just crashing. As explained and demonstrated in this video:

The second and third reasons we don’t want to use our butt as the third brake are it will minimize the power of the front brake and put us out of position to do what ever we are braking for (a corner, a rock garden, a loose section, etc.). Which leads us to this 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 are 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, I have been working on the same issue, especially last year at Snowmass. The problem stems from getting back while we brake, getting low is good but we need to stay more centered so when we release the brakes and the bike accelerates we are centered and ready to attack the corner.  I was taught the old school, “get way back while you brake” which does help the rear brake a bit but actually hurts the effectiveness of the much more powerful front brake (why maximize 10-25% of your braking power while minimizing 75-90% of it?).  Getting back also puts me out of balance and makes it hard to corner correctly.  My entire focus at the last two races has been to stay centered as I brake, use A LOT of front brake and then let off and attack the corner. Believe me, the entrances to these corners are really rough and brake bumped, but you can still stay centered. When working with 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 (more front wheel traction and less front wheel slide) 2. you are in a much better position to corner when you let off the brakes.  Also remember to only brake to slow down in a straight line (before the corner). This is another reason to practice the braking drills from the camp you took. On a side note one of our fastest students, Cody Kelly told me that he is know wearing out two sets of front brake pads before one set of rear pads! That shows correct braking and is one of the reasons Cody is so fast (he won the Sea Otter Dual Slalom!).

Watch the World Cup downhill races on Redbull.com, you will not see Aaron Gwin, Greg Minnaar, Mitch Ropelato, Steve Peat or pretty much any of the racers getting back as they brake for a corner or challenging section of trail!

As always it comes down to doing the drills we taught you to master the skills, then practicing with purpose and a focus on quality!

A great braking and body position drill you can do to feel what is right and what is wrong with braking body position is the front brake drill. First a warning, if you are not confident descending and using your front brake do not do this (start with the braking drill in our mini-course)! If you are confident, find the steepest semi-loose dirt/hard packed sand hill you are comfortable going down and descend it the way you always have to make sure you are honestly comfortable. Once you have decided you are comfortable approach the hill slowly and gently, slowly apply just your front brake (letting off a bit and adding some rear brake if you get scared/feel out of control) and descend the hill low and centered (drop your seat, hinge at your hips to lower your chest and as your chest lowers your butt will scoot back a hair but you will be able to maintain a “half-push up bend” in your elbows). After descending it once front brake only do it a second time but this time focus on speeding up just a bit and slowing back down (again using just the front brake). Now you should have a great idea of what it feels like to be low, centered and neutral. Now do the descent a third time, this time slowly scoot your book back with the goal of getting your butt way back like a third brake. Well before you get your butt way back you will feel the front wheel start to slide as you start taking weight off it, this should be scary and to correct it move forward towards the centered position. You have now learned that by getting back you greatly compromise how much front brake power you can use, which is scary as on a steep hill your front brake is 90-100% of your braking power. Now, if you still are not convinced, try to do the same descent rear brake only! If it is as steep as the hills we use in our camps to demonstrate this you will not be able to descend in control using just the rear brake (no matter how far back your butt is).

 Focus on being centered, neutral and in balance when descending! Create a railed corner (or two)!

cody kelly has mountain bike skills

What You Know (correctly) About Mountain Bike Skills is Hurting You!

I’m not kidding or trying to be controversial when I say, “What You Know (correctly) About Mountain Bike Skills is Hurting Your Progress!” Let’s say you know to ride in balance in the correct body position, how could that possibly be hurting you?  The answer is simple, if you are like I was when I first turned pro you aren’t doing what you know! Also, again, like me, you might know 50-80% of the skill but are probably missing a few/a lot of the details of that skill.

Knowledge can be a scary thing as it often makes us feel competent when we aren’t. An example of this in my first 10 years of riding   and in nearly every rider I see on trail (from beginners to pro cross-country racers) is the skill of looking ahead. We all know to look ahead, heck I came from snowboard racing background and then snowboard coaching background, I won a lot of races looking ahead and taught told the athletes I coached to do the same. The scary thing is, as a mountain biker I wasn’t looking ahead on trail, maybe sometimes (when it was easy) but I finally realized I was looking down, a lot! That is the trap of knowledge and why I say knowledge is worthless without action. What good is knowing how to do something if you aren’t doing it? When needed! We teach our students HOW to look ahead and provide drills to master this mountain bike skill.

cody kelly has mountain bike skills

BetterRide student Cody Kelly showing what practice can do for your mountain bike skills!

A couple of students summed this up pretty well, one,  Peter Tsang  in this review on mtbr:  http://reviews.mtbr.com/review-betterride-three-day-mountain-bike-skills-camp and another, Matt MacKay in his comments after reading the article. Matt wrote, “I can’t say enough good things about this camp. I went to Las Vegas in February to ride in Gene’s camp, and like the reviewer, I had knowledge of a lot of what was being taught. However the structure of the camp and Gene’s teaching style brought all of that knowledge and technique together. All of the pieces fell into place, and seemingly overnight I was a better rider. There is still a lot of learning for me to do. But now I know what my mistakes are and how to fix them.” (you can read his entire comment on mtbr) A real simple way of saying this is both Peter and Matt were not doing what they know (at least not very well).

We do this a lot in life, especially on our mountain bikes (Were you looking ahead in the last rock garden you encountered? The entire way?) because our big brain knows how to do something we think we are doing it! The problem is we don’t use our conscious, thinking brain to do anything athletically. We rely on our subconscious “autopilot” and it needs structured repetition to first understand and then master a skill. Even once we master a skill if we don’t use structured practice we will soon use the sharpness of that skill!

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills!

So, once you learn, hear and/or read about a skill take the time to drill it into your body (after making sure the skill is correct!). There is an old saying sports, “Amateurs practice until they get it right and pros practice until they can’t get it wrong”. Sadly, 95% of mountain bikers have never practiced at all, they just go out and ride. Practice is the way to create your best ride yet!

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 and look further through the corner like he did on the pavement. A few more sessions of drills and he will be solid!

BetterRide Student Aaron Mattix Palisade Ride

BetterRide Mountain Bike Skills Students Continue to Amaze Us! The Ultimate Upgrade?!

BetterRide Mountain Bike Skills Students Continue to Amaze Us! Whether it is an 81-year-old student finishing the Leadville 100 in 13 hours, a passionate rider hitting a step up that previously kicked his butt, a 65-year-old riding steeps and drops with ease or a young racer entering his first full World Cup season on the Specialized/Monster Energy team we are inspired by our students. Reaching your best is hard work and takes consistent deliberate practice, something they have to make time for and commit to despite their busy schedules.  Over the last few weeks we have witnessed our students riding at their best and gotten so many emails, facebook posts and phone calls that I thought I would share a few stories, photos and links with you.

Professional trail builder and beard farmer Aaron Mattix posted an interesting review of his camp and what has happened to his riding in the two years since. At first he was pretty bummed to be doing drills on pavement but goes on to say this: “My bike still has its fair share of parts that need replaced, but now that I have the knowledge, drills, and experience from Gene’s camp, I can continue to upgrade my riding level, which is the ultimate upgrade.” It is a really fun read and cool to see one of our camps from a students prospective:  http://localstash.net/2014/04/2-years-later-better-ride-camp-review/  The rest of blog is great too, really heart-felt and often entertaining.

 

BetterRide Student Aaron Mattix Palisade Ride

Aaron Mattix having fun in Palisades, Colorado!

Dale Watterson posted this on our facebook page the other day:

“Awesome time at Over the Edge Sports bike festival this weekend. I got to apply more things I learned from my Better Ride class and was able to clear a step up and sand pit that had previously kicked my butt. Thanks again Dante and Jackie.”

BetterRiders had a great showing at the KHS/Five Ten Reaper Madness at Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City. We had students on the podium in all pro classes and tons of fast amateurs on the podium too, including an all BetterRide Jr. Expert (Cat 1 podium)! Really impressed with riders hard work and commitment.

BetterRide Students

All BetterRide top 3 in Jr. Expert (the future pros) Galen Carter in first, Niko “Kill It” Kilik in second and Tyler Krenek in third!

 

 

BetterRide Mountain bike skills students

Pro Women podium students Adrienne Schneider in first and Joy Brinkerhoff in third

 

There is a great interview with five time BetterRide Camp veteran Mitch Ropelato on pinkbike, he talks about his career, his choice of using a 29er for many downhill races and there are some GREAT photos too! Read it here: http://www.pinkbike.com/news/29er-questions-mitch-ropelato-2014.html

And I got to ride and coach John Palmer again!  http://wp.me/p49ApH-13G

We love helping you reach your best and it is great to see you practicing instead of just riding! Keep up the great work!

Don’t just ride your bike, drive your bike,

Gene