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Have Your MTB Upgrades Made it Less Safe and Less Fun?

I am often amazed at the mountain bike setups I see! Great bikes, sometimes with great “upgrades” but the wrong upgrades for that rider or that rider’s purpose that day. Then when I ask why did you switch to those tires/bars/pedals etc. the answers I get crack me up! “Because Bob Bobaliny (the fastest local xc racer) was using these tires at 24  Hours in the Old Pueblo”, “I saw World Champ Greg Minnaar using these tires”, “my friend Scott said they are the best”, “I read on mtbr that these were the lightest bars made”, etc. MTB upgrades and components such as pedals, shoes, handlebars, tires, stem and wheel set can have a huge positive or negative effect on your riding! Choose the components and equipment for you, the conditions and your purpose that day.

Would you use this slick, Hookworm tire in loose conditions?

 

Maxxis Hookworm MTB Tire

Why can copying the World Champion’s setup sometimes do more harm than good? The World Champ had those tires on for a specific purpose (in Greg Minnaar’s case winning a downhill race with the conditions the way they are that hour of race day. The mud spike Greg used in the slick conditions at a rainy wold cup in France would be outright dangerous even in the pouring rain at a rocky hard packed place like Bootleg Canyon (in the Nevada desert). Listening to or mimicking other “experts” (in quotes because they are often not experts) can also have a negative effect on your riding and safety. One, because they might not be experts and two, because their purpose is different than yours. On a technically easy trail like the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo course a racer will be concerned more about rolling resistance than control so she runs a semi-slick tire front and rear. The same racer on a more technical course would likely run a knobbier tire that rolled a little slower but gave her more control.

Some things to look out for:

1. Light weight components, light bars, light wheel sets, light tires, light cranks etc.. Our obsession with shaving weight off our bikes needs to end. Yes, given the exact same performance I would rather have a 22 pound bike than a 32 pound bike, but right now that doesn’t exist.

First, what is your purpose? Do want a bike that handles all conditions you may encounter really well or the lightest bike on the market? Often, the two end up being at odds with each other (the lightest bars are narrow, the lightest tires are narrow and have weak sidewalls, light weight seat-posts are not height adjustable on the fly, all compromising control). If you are simply a passionate rider who wants to ride your best, focus on ride quality and control. If you are a cross county or endurance racer you need to really weigh the benefits of weight shaving vs. control, which often means different equipment for different race courses. The more technically challenging the race the more likely you would want to add a dropper post and better tires for more confidence and control. The less technical the course the more you would favor light weight and semi-slick tires.

2. Pedals. Clipless pedals are not an upgrade (see our blog posts on this topic:   http://betterride.net/blog/2010/clipped-in-vs-flat-pedals/ ,  http://betterride.net/blog/2010/interesting-info-on-pedal-stroke-efficiency/) they are simply another way of pedaling. If they cause you to lose ANY confidence on the trail, how can they be an upgrade?!

Clipless shoes, there are two main different styles of clipped in shoes, softer and wider soled shoes for wide clipless pedals (platform pedals with clipless) and super stiff and light xc racing shoes. If you are an xc racer a carbon soled shoe provides amazing power and light weight, tough to beat. If you like to explore when you ride, ride technically challenging trails and want more support and comfort for your foot the softer soled 5.10 type shoe with the platform clip-in is a better bet. For more on each of these pedal types and shoes see Andy’s post: http://betterride.net/blog/2011/betterride-mtb-skills-head-coach-andys-summary-on-pedals-shoes/

3. Seatposts. A light weight non-adjustable seatpost will definitely save a little weight but it isn’t worth it! A  “dropper post” will give you more control and allow you to descend with much more confidence, control and help you to descend faster! You CANNOT get into proper descending body position with your seat at full pedal height! So the 3-6 ounce weight penalty of a dropper post is worth it on trails that have steep descents, fast corners, drops, or technical sections! See my article on dropper posts: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/the-4th-thing-you-can-buy-that-will-instanty-improve-your-bike-handling/

My 6 year old Gravity Dropper

Tires, the sport is called mountain biking for a reason, we ride off-road! So I nice knobby tire will give you much more traction than a semi-slick or tire with minimal tread.

Nice tread for more control!

Figure out the goals for your mountain bike riding and then make sure you aren’t compromising them by using the wrong equipment for your goals! Of course the number one goal is, having fun!

A Frustrating Thing That Often Holds Us Back on the MTB Trail! (video)

Is this frustrating thing (that we all experience) holding you back on the mtb trail?

Are you letting failure hold you back?! Or worse yet, fear of failure? Dan Millman (World Champion Gymnast, Coach and Author) said, “Failure is natural and necessary part of the learning process.” He is not recommending failing for the sake of failing but going for it and when you do fail, learning from it.

Some fear of failure can be good, if more 12-35 year old males with an inflated belief in their skills feared failure a little more there would be a lot less trips to the emergency room! If the fear of failure involves a 40 foot double jump you might want to listen to it. In this case you can use the fear to ask, “why am I afraid to do that” and you might have a great answer, “because I have no idea how to do that in balance and in control”! If the fear of failure is keeping you from doing something less dangerous, such as cornering a little faster when you know proper cornering technique and you have knee pads on, the fear of failure can really hold you back. In this case the answer to “but what if I fail?” is usually, “your pride will be hurt for a moment”.

So let fear of failure protect you when it can, but don’t let it defeat you when there are little or no consequences for failure.

As I was writing this I found this video on you tube, check it out:

A common “failure” in mountain biking is sliding out in a corner. If this happens to you out on the trail, instead of kicking your bike and cursing it, figure out why you slid out and design a plan so that it doesn’t happen again. This exact failure is why I started BetterRide. It went something like this, “Wow, that stinks, my front wheel just slid out and I skinned my knee! It is a loose, gravel corner, maybe I was going to fast. No, Dusty made it through going faster than me, speed wasn’t the issue. ‘Hey Dusty, what tires are you using, I think my tires made me slide out.’ Dusty replied, ‘Dart/smoke combo, same as you.’ ‘Well how did you go so fast through that corner?’, I asked. His reply was something to the effect of, ‘let go of your brakes and hang on!’ Which made me realize, I really don’t know proper cornering technique, I wonder who can coach me?” I won’t bore you with my struggle to find a coach but that is a great example of failure leading to success in two aspects of my life. I eventually learned to corner correctly and founded a company helping others to corner and ride correctly!

Back to your riding and how to let failure inspire you instead of hold you back. Next time you fail on the trail, before just riding off, or retrying whatever it was that you failed at, stop and analyze what happened. Was it lack of proper technique, loss of focus, tension, panic or fear? Once you figure out why you failed you can design a plan to succeed!

My plan to succeed at cornering was to find a coach to teach me how to corner correctly and then use drills to master cornering technique (I realize that isn’t most people’s thought process, I was a former professional snowboard racer and a snowboard team coach at the time). In my case it was because I was doing nearly everything wrong in corners; my vision was off, my balance was off and I thought to tighten up a turn I needed to steer tighter! Looking back on it the main reason my front wheel slid out was my body position. I was going relatively fast into the corner so I was a little tense and scared (not horrified, just a little worried that I wasn’t going to make it) so instinctively (see this article on instincts: http://betterride.net/?p=1837) I shifted my weight back away from danger which unweighted my front wheel so it slid out. This is something I still work on in fast descending corners, I have to fight the urge to creep back on my bike a bit. I am sure the fact that I was looking at the apex of the corner (not through the corner like I should have been), was leaning with my bike and sticking my knee out didn’t help either! In this case simply being centered over the bottom bracket instead of having my weight back over the rear wheel would have been enough to give the front wheel traction and make the corner.

In short, don’t be afraid of failure, make the most of your failures, use them to learn and improve. As Michael Jordan said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. When you do fail, learn from it and use the failure as inspiration to learn and improve!

Mountain Bike How To Video, Getting Over Big Rocks or Logs

BetterRide Certified coach Chris Skolnick demonstrating how easy it is to get over a big rock when have master two simple skills, the coaster wheelie (manual) and the weight shift. This is great test, if you can’t do this you aren’t very good at these two Core Skills of mountain bike riding, if you can do this smoothly and easily you have these two skills pretty wired.

Bike “Industy Experts” Sometimes Give Poor Advice!

This is Andy’s take on something that is plaguing mountain biking, bad advice by self appointed experts.

Ok, this may seem a bit harsh, but I’m ready to go to war with ignorant, “industry experts” such as bike shop employees, shop owners, especially “professional bike fitters”, (AND husbands and boyfriends of female students who “…know what’s best for my girl’ ‘cause I’ve been riding for twenty years and use to race!” – I love that one!) that refuse to wake up, educate themselves, and understand what equipment is necessary in order to most effectively ride an MTB — both up and down an incline — in technically challenging terrain and therefore, continue to give riders advice and recommendations on equipment that are just plain wrong.

If you’re a normal-joe, just trying to help out with advice, “well, this is what I use…” or “I heard this works really well…” then, hey, I understand. You’re just trying to help another rider out. (Maybe, throw in a, “I’m no expert, but…” first?). But, it’s the people whose job it is to be an expert on the topic — whom other riders should be able to trust — who are too lazy, close-minded, and/or egotistical (or stocked their shop with the wrong stuff) to figure out what is going on in the bike world (not just right out your front door, on your local trail…got news for you: that’s not ‘the bike world!’) and therefore, not only won’t sell riders what they need in order to ride their bikes more effectively, but bad mouth the equipment and the “True Experts” (ahem…us) that recommend it… those are the ones I’m after!

After every camp I teach, I get emails form students, where the above is the case.

ALMOST every rider that buys a stock MTB, — assuming that their goal is to have the best all-around handling bike (which is the goal of the instruction in our camps – and to be the best all-around rider you can be) — can benefit from wider bars, a shorter stem, and an adjustable height seat post. Control set up, proper tire selection, pedal/shoe combination, a frame with adequate angels… all these things matter, also.

This obviously is not the “bike set-up” portion of a BetterRide Camp, we’re not sitting here discussing things real-time. So, I can’t hit every detail and explanation in this article. However, the following is an email response that I sent to a student that maybe can set a few “experts” straight. If a lot of this stuff is completely foreign to you, get on the ol’ internet and check it out!

Andy Descending

Hey —-,

Sorry to hear about the “opinions” of your local shop owner. Here’s something to consider with bike set up:

Again, we need to know what the goal of our riding is, and what terrain we want to excel on, and set our bikes up accordingly. If I’m racing the Leadville 100 (100 mi’s of dirt road–nothing too technical), or a typical XC race (not very technical, usually not technical at all), then I’m NOT going to use the bike I currently have, which is set up for aggressive trail riding.

However, if I’m riding fun, technically challenging, “expert level” trails, then my current bike set up is exactly what I want. Most campers come to our camp to learn how to ride the latter, and that’s what we focus on with bike set up. And if you can learn to ride this type of riding, and obtain some skills, it will definitely help everywhere else.

I would say that the closest type of MTB racing to the type of riding that I’m talking about above is “super-d” or “enduro” racing (not ENDURANCE racing–different stuff). These are fairly long, primarily downhill races, but also have climbs, flat pedal-y sections, etc. Sometimes, these are multi-day, multi-stage races where as soon as riders finish a stage they immediately have to climb, on trail, to the top of the next course and get there in an allocated amount of time for the next stage. So: fast difficult, technically challenging downhill descents, and large amounts of climbing, sometimes over a few days. You get to use one bike, and, often, your bike is photographed and marked so that you can’t change (most) of the parts.

The idea is that the winner is an all around mountain biker. Endurance, technical skill, proper equipment (a bike that can handle the descents AND climb back to the top–quickly!) is mandatory! True Mountain Biking!

Sound familiar? This is basically what we teach. My bike at the camp is my super-d race bike with few very minor changes. This is the largest growing type of racing because it involves much of why many people ride MTB: scare the shit out of yourself/handle it/have a blast on the way down, but also be fit enough and able enough to crush your competition on the climb. (The races and courses are also kind of unpredictable, forcing riders to be able to adapt — in the true nature of MTB!)

The reason I bring up this type of racing is because — as I said — it is essentially what we teach, and if you look at all the top riders in this type of discipline, their bikes will almost always be set up almost exactly like mine/what we emphasized in camp: the best all-around handling mountain bike you can put together. And, racing isn’t about fashion or what’s cool (when it really comes down to it). It’s about function. As they say, “the clock doesn’t lie”.

Again, I know super-d racing isn’t the goal for all of us, but being a great all around rider is the focus of the camp so that’s also what we focus on with the bike.

DIRT magazine had a feature on a lot of pro bike set ups for this type of racing a couple months ago. Some of these races: Downeville Classic in California, Oregon Super-d Series, Some of the Mega-avalanche stuff in Europe…

And, like I said in camp, a bike-fitter won’t help you out with this, in fact, they’ll take you in the wrong direction. (ask M— how his bike fitter would do a fit on a downhill bike. Downhilling is a big part of the equation, right?)

Unfortunately, M—, like so many other shop owners or “industry experts”, is a bit behind the times…

Andy

In racing, riders use what works. A BetterRide bike is set up to be the best all-around handling bike possible. This type of racing is proof of that set up.

… and, please, don’t tell me that I can’t fit through trees with my wide bars. Take a camp, and we’ll show you how to do that, too.

Gene’s Article on on bar width and stem length: http://betterride.net/?p=486

Gene’s Article on dropper seat posts: http://betterride.net/?p=625

Gene’s Article on tires and tire pressure: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/another-thing-you-can-buy-and-instantly-have-more-bike-control/