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The Most Confidence Inspiring Mountain Bike (most fun too!)

Whether you consider yourself an expert, a beginner or somewhere in between the must fun and safe bike will have some the same important  characteristics. Even if you are a serious cross country racer wouldn’t a bike that made steep and technical descents feel less steep and technical (without any sacrifices, i.e. extra weight, poor climbing, slower rolling) be a huge advantage?!
For some reason many bike shops tend to send  riders (especially those new to the sport) out on bikes that are very unforgiving and confidence crushers, as well as bordering on dangerous. They feel the fun and confidence inspiring bikes are only for aggressive riders, not beginners or less aggressive riders. This is odd because if a really skilled rider needs a confidence inspiring bike to feel as comfortable as possible it MUST be more important for a beginner! For the last 17 years I have been scared and sadden by students who have been sold the wrong Kool Aid, the show up on hardtails and short travel bikes with mid-90’s geometry that scares the heck out of me! And I spent 18 years racing downhill in the pro class! If those bikes scare me, they must really scare less skilled riders but how would they know?
Less skilled riders don’t know how much easier, safer and MORE FUN these bikes are because they often haven’t ridden them. They think of the bike shop employees who recommend the 90’s XC geometry bike as experts, which they are, on knowing the geometry, components, prices, etc on about 15 bikes from 2-4 bike companies, that is an amazing amount of info they have to keep track of! My expertise, what I spent the last 22 years of my life doing, studying, learning and teaching is how to ride at your best and what will help you ride at your best, a completely different set of skills from a bike shop employee. Some bike shops and employees do understand, a great example is the crew at All Mountain Cyclery in Boulder City, NV, many Moab bike shop employees and I hope hundreds more!
My view is this, when someone is learning a new sport they want the equipment that will make them the safest and give them the most confidence. For mountain biking this is a 27.5 plus, full suspension bike with a slack head angle (67.5 or less), long reach measurement, dropper post, short stem (35-60mm) and wide bars bars (750mm-820mm). This bike will inspire confidence and be much more fun to ride than a hardtail as well as being safer. Great examples of this are the Pivot Switchblade, Trek Fuel 9.8 27.5 plus and Santa Cruz Hightower.
Trek Fuel 9.8 ex with 27.5 plus tires

Trek Fuel 9.8 ex with 27.5 plus tires

Hardtails are great for challenging yourself but tough to learn on as pretty much everything is harder on a hardtail and mistakes are punished harshly. A full suspension bike is much more forgiving and will often save you from a crashing after making a mistake (it won’t keep from realizing you made the mistake, you will still learn from the mistake you simply won’t be harmed by your mistake.
Why is the bike I mentioned above safer and more confidence inspiring? I will break it down piece by piece.
Plus size tires give you much more control as their tall sidewalls allow for lower tire pressures which conforms to the ground better (on a small root or rock much of the tire will be contacting the ground instead of being on top of the root or rock) this also dampens your ride, smoothing out the trail a bit and it creates a much larger contact patch putting more rubber on the ground giving you much better traction.
A slack head angle (67,5 degrees or less) puts your front wheel out in front of you more than a steep head angle bike, giving you more stability and acting as a lever making it much harder for the rear to lift unexpectedly and therefore making it harder to endo than on a steeper head angle bike. Hills just feel less steep with a slacker head angle. You will need better body position for climbing with a slack head angle but I teach that and it is somewhat intuitive. Most downhill race bikes have 61-63 degree head angles for these reasons.
Santa Cruz Hightower with 29" tires (like the Trek and Pivot it can run both 29 and 27.5 plus)

Santa Cruz Hightower with 29″ tires (like the Trek and Pivot it can run both 29 and 27.5 plus)

A long reach measurement (compare your reach to the Pivot Switch Blade or Trek Fuel 9.8, they have excellent reach measurements) gives you a bigger sweet spot to be in balance and allows you to run a short stem without feeling cramped. In other words, the shorter your reach measurement the harder it is stay centered and neutral on the bike, hit the slightest bump and your weight can get too far forward. There is a great article on Pinkbike about designing the XXL Santa Cruz V 10 (same size as a Pivot or Canfield Brothers XL, Santa Cruz bikes are notoriously short which is why they made an xxl for a rider who is 6’3″) for Greg Minnaar that covers this in detail.
Short stems make it easier to get and stay in proper body position (centered on the bike with all your weight on the pedals and in a neutral position), corner with much more precision (as it is a short lever) and manual easier (by keeping your arms bent instead of stretched out). Contrary to popular belief they climb better too, way less twitchy!
Wide bars give you much more control, stability, open your chest for breathing and help “put” you in correct body position. More control and stability comes from more leverage to resist the bars twisting (right or left) when hitting a root or rock. As an experiment do a push up with the outside of your hands about 24″ apart and think about trying resist someone from knocking you over to the side. Then do a push up with your hands 32″ apart and think about the same thing. Your are much more stable with a wide platform than a narrow platform!
Pivot Switchblade w/ 27.5 plus tires

Pivot Switchblade w/ 27.5 plus tires

Dropper posts are the best device ever invented for mountain biking! On a descent you can not achieve a centered, neutral, in balance and in control position with your seat at climbing height, you must lower your seat to get in this position. However, you do need the seat at proper height for climbing or you will use a huge amount of power and damage your knees. Dropper posts allow the best of both words, nice high seat for climbing and power and a low seat so you can stay centered and neutral while descending! All without stopping, getting off your bike and making that adjustment before and after every descent.
Not only are 27.5 plus bikes with the “aggressive” geometry I’ve mentioned great for learning they are great for riders like me (really aggressive former downhill racers) I love mine! They also climb fine!
Now many shops will say a bike like I described is for “aggressive riders” and they are right, that is who the bike was designed for. The interesting thing is, if a really good, confident aggressive ride NEEDS that geometry to feel comfortable and ride their best, then a beginner must REALLY need that geometry as they aren’t as good or confident. These bikes (and similar ones) are the most confidence inspiring mountain bikes on the market, for ALL riders. They are not necessarily the fastest or lightest but, boy, they sure are fun to ride!

 

Mountain Bike Lesson

Mountain Bike Lesson That Ended With a Broken Collarbone

Would you be upset if you paid for a mountain bike lesson that ended a broken collarbone? All because the instructor wasn’t trained well enough to keep you safe?

Two weeks ago a friend called an invited me to ride Winter Park resort with him. He said his wife and her friend would be taking lessons while we were riding. I was excited as I didn’t think any resorts in Colorado were still operating during the week so this would be my final lift served riding of the year! The day started out great, no lift lines, cool weather, a perfect day, Hans and I were having a blast! Then, after lunch Hans’s phone rang, it was his wife, her friend had broken her collarbone and punctured a lung. We raced down to the onsite emergency room and checked in, she was in a lot of pain!

A mountain bike lesson should NEVER end with a broken collarbone! She was no where close to having the core skills mastered enough to be hitting jumps on Rainmaker (Winter Park’s expert “jump trail”). Why did her “instructor” take her there? No good can from trying to short cut the learning process! In this case a lot of bad happened, a student was injured and her confidence was set back a few notches.

mountain bike coaching

Suzy, doing her first few wheelies! Confidently, and not getting injured!

I never want my students feeling “lucky” that made some feature on the trail. I want them to approach a feature with confidence, knowing that they can make it (not hoping they can make it). You do this by slowly, using baby steps as you progress. I love getting emails from students who just made a rock garden or loose corner that they had never made before and they mention that coolest thing wasn’t just making it, the coolest thing was knowing how and why they made it and being able to confidently do it again.  Just because you made a jump/rock garden/switchback/etc without crashing does not mean you have the skill to it consistently. Riders get away with mistakes all the time but, when those mistakes happen in a tougher situation (such as big jump vs. a little jump) the consequences can me disastrous.

How do riders learn enough to hit big jumps with confidence? First they master the two foundation skills that all mtb skills are based on, body position and vision. Notice, I did not say they understand vision and body position, I said they “master” those skills. Mastering means that they do both of those skills correctly 100% of the time no matter how challenging the conditions are. Once they have mastered those two skills jumping is actually fairly easy, especially if you start small, master small jumps, then baby step your way up to bigger jumps.

I feel sorry for both the student who broke her collarbone and her well meaning instructor. The student is still in pain two weeks later and her confidence is at rock bottom and her fitness getting worse by the day. The instructor probably feels really guilty (as he should) but it isn’t 100% his fault. His training and education as an instructor are at fault. He should have been taught that many, many students want to do things they are not ready for and part of your job as coach is to protect your student from doing what she isn’t ready for yet. Instead, he did the opposite (as I might have done too at his age, he looked to be in his mid to late 20’s).

As someone who has been coaching and studying how to coach since 1989 I am really disappointed in what is happening to well meaning mountain bike “coaches” and students. The coaches, as well meaning as they are simply aren’t coaches yet. I respect their desire to help others and 99% of them really, truly want to help other riders, they simply don’t know how to do it yet. It took me ten years of being coached, taking coaching and teaching classes, studying books on the subject and coaching five to seven days a week to become a good coach. It took another ten years to become a much better coach than I was then (17 years ago) and I’m still learning after 27 years of coaching.

Coaching isn’t just about sharing knowledge, coaching is about getting the student to consistently do what you are teaching, not getting them to simply understand how to do it. Did you ever receive an A in class that was really hard? Did you feel that you could effectively teach that class after you got that A, I doubt it. Well, imagine taking a two day class in a subject and then becoming a teacher!

In short, coaches need a much better educational than are getting. An education based on how people learn physical skills, how to teach those skills and with the skills being taught backed up by physics and by the top riders in the world ! I hope I never see another well meaning but under educated coach teaching students to ride off balance and not in complete control or a coach coaching all students as if they were the same person, ignoring physical and mental differences in their students.

My goal as always been to help others reach their life goals. Since my camps usually sell out and I don’t want the stress of running a business with 13 contractors anymore I have decided to offer a certification program in 2017. This certification will cover my holistic approach to coaching (learning physical skills is not just physical, there is huge mental component too) and  require at least ten days (in three day sessions plus one day of testing) with me, and at least 100 hours of study time (with tests). More on that in my next blog post.

Mountain Biking and Back Pain, The Final Piece of the Puzzle!

If you have been reading my blog for awhile you probably know that I have been suffering from back pain for the last 10 years or so. I had found some temporary cures and a lot of pieces of the mountain biking and back pain dilemma but had not found something that got rid of the pain for good. I have found the problem and the solution to my back pain! Since many of you have asked I will share the cure I discovered. Remember, I am simply a mountain bike skills coach so I left the details up to the experts.

It all started with this article aptly titled Why Your Approach to Fixing your Low Back Is making It Worse : http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/why-your-approach-to-fixing-your-low-back-is-making-it-worse BTW, I have no relationship with this website other than owing to them my sanity as this article and the ones below fixed my back pain!

Note: Before doing anything to do with your back make sure something isn’t really wrong such as a bulging disc, slipped disc, fractured disc, etc. See a doctor and make sure your body can handle these therapeutic exercises before you start.

I’m still doing a lot of the exercises/stretches I have blogged about in the past as I feel they are important to this process. By process, I do mean process, you will have to do your version of my back routine daily (some pieces twice a day if/when you notice your back pain starting to flare up). My original mountain biking and back pain post can be found here:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-Pp  

The new exercises I have found MUST BE DONE BEFORE all of the exercises in my previous article. As a matter of fact, most of the stretches and yoga postures in my previous article can exacerbate your back pain if the new exercises aren’t performed first. It turns out mountain biking isn’t the pain culprit in my back pain, it is all the sitting I do, while writing articles like this and driving from camp to camp (or driving, flying then driving again!).

The main new “exercise”, lying on your back with your feet and legs up a wall. Sounds hard and complicated, huh?! Seriously, one of my students emailed back, “that’s it” and replied, “yes”. It seems to simple and easy to be true but this “exercise” is life changing!

mountain biking and back pain

This simple exercise will eliminate most back pain! Photo courtesy of Breaking Muscle dot com

For details on how to do this correctly (doing almost any exercise incorrectly can lead to more damage than good) and why it works so well please read this article: http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/banish-pain-permanently-basic-drills-to-repair-your-posture I do the above for two to fifteen minutes at time one to three times a day and always for at least two minutes before doing yoga or any back, hip or core stretches. When driving long distances I will often pull over and do this and yesterday I did between rounds of working on my bikes (as by back always starts to hurt when working on my bike).

The second one is lying on your back with your feet and lower legs hinged over something at knee level, like a couch. More details on it in the linked article above. Honestly, I don’t do the other three exercise in the article (but I probably should). The angle of the knee bend is really important so I don’t want to most a photo, I want you to read the linked article and do all of these exercises correctly!

I have also been working on my standing posture using the exercise in this article: I added in this posture exercise and now I can stand through a two hour concert with no back pain! http://bit.ly/1DWCHKD This allowed me to stand for two hours, on a concrete floor at a concert without ever having the urge to stretch my legs or feel any back pain! I had not been able to do that since my early thirties!

The next piece of the puzzle is rolling out your gluteus medius with a lacrosse ball. I thought I had written a blog article on this but apparently I haven’t. Here is a video describing this process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5KlQtqnGNE when he mentions “it’s easy to find the muscle” he means when you touch it it will hurt a bit!

My routine, I start with 2-15 minutes of the legs up the wall exercise (easy and relaxing, great time to meditate)  then I do 5-10 minutes of gluteus medius rolling on a lacrosse ball (OH, the pain!, you may want to start with a tennis ball). Then I do the exercises in my previous article linked above. It takes an hour a day on average but I feel it is worth it!

I really hope this helps you! Please post your results here or email me, would love to hear if/how this is working for you.

 

Mountain Bike Crash

Mountain Bikers are Athletes, Act Like One!

Many “casual” mountain bikers and even some racers don’t feel like they are athletes. Well, I have news for you, mountain biking is an athletic sport, so mountain bikers are athletes and you should act like one. Acting like an athlete will make you safer, give you more control and allow to ride faster and more efficiently!

I get some form of this question once or twice a year from a student, “How do you prevent your quads from getting tired and burning on long descents while standing the whole time?” This always makes me smile, just because of how one of my coaches replied once when asked this question by a student.

He bluntly replied, “mountain biking is a sport, you need to be in shape an athlete to do it”. While he is right he could of been a bit kinder in his reply.

As I stress in my camps, mountain biking alone is terrible for you (physically), you need to add sound strength and mobility training to your riding. Yes, mountain biking is wonderful for your heart, lungs and some muscles in your legs but it causes imbalances (by working a muscle but not the opposite muscle). Your quads get really strong but your hamstrings don’t get much of a workout which puts uneven tension on your knees, which can lead to knee problems and an extremely tight IT band, causing major problems. Most riders favor a “forward foot” when standing and coasting, working your trailing leg and forward leg much differently leading to hip and back problems, etc.

Mountain Bikers are Athletes, Act Like One!

Mountain bikers’ IT Bands are notoriously tight!

 

Many riders think riding is enough and lifting weights will add weight and/or feel they don’t have time for it. Mountain biking is very physical and demands a stable core, coordination, strong legs and reasonably strong upper body , unfortunately cycling does little by itself to strengthen our bodies and keep our bodies functioning well so we must add strength training to perform at our best and stay safe (muscles protect us in crashes).

Yesterday I did ten 7-9 minute downhill runs then one 3,500 vertical foot 20 minute descent, all standing and yes, I was tired and a little sore but I feel great today. It was first my first lift served downhill day of the year and I expected to get worn out quickly and not be able to do top to bottom runs (how I felt last year) but working out this year saved the day!

Sarah Kaufman on her way to 2nd place!

Maintaining good body position requires a strong and mobile body! Sarah Kaufman in great position!

My back had been giving me trouble the last few years and I quit working out, at first I felt OK on the bike despite not working out, probably the lingering effect of working out for years. A few months after I stopped working out I noticed I couldn’t do a five minute descent without my quads cramping up a bit and I couldn’t make some climbs I used to make.

This winter I finally found some exercises that got my back feeling much better (more on them in a future blog) and I started working out again. At first I didn’t notice much (probably because you don’t gain strength quickly) but in the last few weeks I have been stoked to be able to hang with friends who last year would simply ride away from me!

Downhill riding at Deer Valley yesterday was the best I have felt on a downhill bike in years, despite being the first day this season actually riding downhill trails! I’m over the moon excited right now because I feel like I’m forty again!

Enough about me, how does this help you?! I HIGHLY recommend you find a qualified strength and mobility coach and start working out! No, you won’t bulk up but you will become stronger, more confident, faster, more efficient and much safer on your bike!

* Stronger/faster: James Wilson explained this to me years ago. He said something to the effect of, “… you are  right, by riding hard, pushing big gears up hills and doing intervals you will make your “engine” much more efficient. You will take you 1/8 horse power engine and get it running at 90-95% efficiency. However, if you workout and turn that engine into a 1/4 horsepower engine you can run at 50% efficiency and go faster with less perceived effort.” That really drove home the power of working out! Over the long term (that was 11 years ago) this advice has proven to be so true as I had one of my best seasons as a pro downhill racer when I was 40 years old!

* Safer: Many crashes happen when the rider is worn out. Why, being tired leads to bad habits, like sitting down while descending and sloppy control as your arm strength and coordination fades. Also, muscle makes great padding! A strong, limber rider is much less likely to get injured in a crash as a frail, weak rider.

* More Efficient: A good strength training program works movement patterns, not just muscles! A few years ago I worked out really hard in the gym and was surprised to have a personal best time on a climb the next day. I thought I would be worn out but instead climbed stronger than ever. When I asked James about this, he said that I had strengthened not only my muscles but my bodies ability to “fire” that movement pattern so, Of Course I climbed faster.  This phenomenon has happened many times since and it still blows me away.

What to work on:

Mobility/Stable Core: Years ago when I was a snowboard coach I was introduced to the idea of “effective strength”. There is a big difference between the strength one can produce pushing weight and the strength one can produce doing something that requires strength, mobility, balance and coordination. To ride our best we need “effective strength”! An example of this is doing squats instead of using the leg press machine or “leg sled” at the gym. With a squat you are not only working your quads, you are working the every muscle needed to produce that motion, including stabilization muscles and your core. When using the leg press machine you are bracing yourself against a solid platform and pushing away mainly working your quads (not your hips, gluteus maximus, core and stabilization muscles). When riding a bike we don’t have that solid platform to brace against and have to create that platform with our core and stabilization muscles. We Create that platform by creating a stable core.

Strength: All body strength and movement strength. We want to strengthen the movements we use when pedaling, absorbing shock and controlling our bike. This requires a well thought out, mtb specific workout program and the help of a personal trainer to make sure you are executing the program correctly.

You don’t have to bulk up, a good strength training program will pay HUGE dividends on the trails and allow you to effective use the skills I teach. So first, learn to ride a bike in control and in balance then invest in your body so you use the skills longer and more consistently.