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Important MTB Skills That Are Often Overlooked

Important MTB Skills That Are Often Overlooked
Most mountain bikers are purely focused on improving the physical skills of riding, body position, vision, cornering, braking, wheelies, bunny hops, drops, etc. and they don’t put much time and effort into the equally or more important skills that can be worked on off their bike. Your focus, confidence, mental game, balance and physical condition (flexibility, core stability, upper body strength, leg strength) all play as big a part in your riding as your “riding skills”.
Here is a list of books I recommend to my students after their camp with me. Don’t be in a hurry to read them all! Take your time, reread each book/chapter and apply what you think will work for you in your life. We are not in search of knowledge, we are in search of change.
One of my favorite Zen sayings is, “when the pupil is ready the teacher will appear”. My take on this is that the teacher (and/or lesson) has always been there, you just either didn’t need their teaching yet or were not ready for it yet. I will give you an example from my coaching experience. My most famous students, Cody Kelly, Mitch Ropelato, McKay Vezina, Shawn Neer all have repeated my three-day core skills camp many times and they all say things in the second to fifth camp like, “wow! you have should have said that in the first camp!” and I reply that I did say it, you just didn’t need it yet.
Mountain Bike Skill

Shawn Neer, who just earned 10th place at the first EWS in Chile, showing great form. Centered, neutral and eyes looking way ahead! Thanks to mtbr.com for the photo.

Often, when being exposed to a new concept like braking (Mitch and Cody came from BMX where they didn’t even have a front brake so learning that the front brake does 70-100% of the slowing/stopping of them and their bike was a new concept to them) a student will be letting that new knowledge soak in (the big picture) and miss some details about that concept. The second time they hear the concept they already know it so they then are able to focus on the details more (such as braking body position, modulation, where to brake, etc.).
The same can be said for these books. Don’t just get the big picture, reread them and get the important details too.
Knowledge is worthless without action! So many people (who I have recommend these books to) have said to me, ‘Wow, that book was a great read, thanks!” I always reply, “Cool, glad you liked it, what concept/s from the book are you applying in your life?” Sadly, many of them can’t name a single thing from the book that they are applying in their riding or life.
These are life-changing books, not novels, USE them!
These are all great books not just meant for competitive athletes. Anyone can learn a lot from them and if you study them they will improve your riding.  They are in no particular order and my short review follows each listing.

I was going to divide them into “sport” and “life” but as Dan Millman often mentions, if your life is in a state of “dis-ease” so will be your athletic performance. So, in my humble opinion, all/any of these books will have a profound effect on your life and your mountain biking.

Pick ONE that sounds interesting to you, read it, study it, apply what you have learned in your riding/life, reread to find all the nuggets you missed (or were not ready for yet).

The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental, Emotional, and Physical Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists

by James E. Leohr, Chris Evert, Dan Jansen,

Excellent book with worksheets to help you practice what it teaches.

The Mental Edge: Maximize Your Sports Potential with the Mind/Body Connection

by Ken Baum, Richard Trubo,

Excellent book with worksheets to help you practice what it teaches.

Body Mind Mastery: Creating Success in Sport and Life

by Dan Millman,

Really, really great book that goes a little deeper into why you compete in sports and helps you integrate sport and life (helps you see and create balance in your life so the sport does not take over your life).

Way of the Peaceful Warrior, 20th Anniversary Edition: A Book Those Changes Lives

by Dan Millman

Not really a mental training book but a book that gave me a much better outlook on life.

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.

by Daniel Coyle

Fascinating book on how your body/brain/nervous system respond to practice and how to “grow” your talent.

For Your Back!

Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence

by Eric Goodman and Peter Park

The exercises in this book fixed 16 years of back pain and are the sole reason I can still ride for more than a half hour without major pain (actually, should have said “I can again …”, as from 2012 through 2016 I could not do that)! Well worth the $12.95!

For Your Balance!

Balance is Power

Jim Klopman and Janet Miller

Extra Credit Books

Flow and Flow in Sport/s 

By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I have this on audio, really interesting research on the “flow” (or zone) state. Not as helpful as the above books but interesting.

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else 

by Geoff Colvin

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

by Chip Heath

Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

Slow Practice Will Get You There Faster

by Ernest Dras

A short, easy read that first explained most/all the concepts in Outliers, Talent Is Overrated, Mastery and The Talent Code but written by a coach in laymen’s terms. When reading the books mentioned above I kept saying to myself, “hey, that backs up what Ernest Dras said in his book!”

The Untethered Soul

by Michael A. Singer

This is the most amazing book I have ever read! It is like an advanced The Way of The Peaceful Warrior (in that it is changing my life, content is much different), it is truly changing my life (as The Way of The Peaceful Warrior did 20 years ago). I am very slowly and deliberately reading and practicing what this book teaches.

Peace is Every Step and You Are Here

by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Two great books that explain how to be happier, more peaceful and more grounded using Buddhist principles in our “Western Society”

I hope you get as much as I did our of them.

Have you read a book that helped with your mental game? A book that changed your life? Let us know below!

Feel free to share this article with anyone you know who could benefit from it.

Create your best ride yet,

Gene

MTB Rock Roll

Mountain Bike Steep Rock Rolls, Video Tutorial

Mountain Bike Steep Rolls and Rocks, Video Tutorial

Smooth equals fast and smooth equals efficient, here is how to roll down a steep face smoothly!

Riding steeps and steep rolls is perhaps the most misunderstood skill in mountain biking. The LAST thing you want to do is start with your weight way back! No matter what anyone says, this is a scary position and unsafe position. You are starting at the end of your range of motion. With your weight back will be yanked down the steep roll and likely endo.

You want to do it smoothly and in balance, as I explain in the following video. For a more detailed break down please read and check out my photo sequence breakdown below after watching the video.

Mountain biking well requires being in balance, in control and being as smooth as possible. When descending that means we always start with our weight centered on our pedals and in a neutral position where we can proact or at least react to anything the trail throws at us. For a video tutorial of this starting position please read/watch this: http://betterride.net/blog/2018/mountain-bike-body-position-the-fundamental-movement-video-tutorial/

As you approach a roll in this position you will alter your position in relation to the height of the roll in. If the roll is equal in height or taller than the length of your arms you want hinge so you are practically brushing your chest on your handlebars and your knees are bent close to your chest.

MTB Rock roll

MTB Rock Roll starting position

Then as your front wheel starts down the descent you will extend your arms at about the same rate the wheel is dropping away from you. As your rear wheel starts to descend you will straighten out your legs about the same rate as your rear wheel is descending.

MTB Rock Roll

Starting to extend arms

 

Fully Extended Arms at impact, knees bent (notice, I’m only in this position for a millisecond as my front wheel goes from steep to flat, never ride in this position! Use it then return to centered and neutral) 

Already re-centering by bending arms and starting to straighten legs

Arms bent, centered, legs nearly straight ready to absorb rear wheel impact

Back to flat as smooth as possible (looks at that rear tire, still a fair amount of impact but smooth enough not to flat with 18 psi)

Example: If the roll is the exact length of my arm extension I will start with my chest practically on the bars and finish extending my arms at almost the exact same time my front wheel is hitting the ground (same with my legs and rear wheel). On a roll the length of your arm extension or less your head and chest should not move at all as you do this. If the roll is taller than arm extension I will extend my arms a little slower than my front wheel is descending with the goal of reaching full arm extension at the same time my front wheel is hitting the ground, then do the same with my legs.

For a short roll or drop such as a curb simply stay hinged and gently push down with your arms as the front wheel drops then do the same with your legs as your rear wheel drops.

The bonus of this is that in addition to being safer and much smoother is also faster and more efficient!

Often, when it comes to being smooth and efficient we want to look at mountain biking as being a game of momentum. The better you can maintain your momentum the less effort you will need. Momentum likes slack angles, if you are coasting downhill into a steep uphill you will slow down quickly, if you coast into a mellow uphill you will maintain speed longer. The same with downhills, a steep downhill with a sudden transition to flat ground (a steep approach angle) will cause your momentum to slam into the ground, not propel you forward. A less steep downhill with a lesser approach angle will be smoother and not slow you as much as you transition from the hill to flat ground.

While in almost any body position the approach angle of our bike remains the same, we can greatly change the approach angle of our momentum. By simply starting hinged and low and extending your arms and legs as you descend your hips and upper body take a much slacker approach to the ground. This makes you smoother as you have less impact and allows you to carry more speed.

This is easy to test, find a short, steep descent or a set of stairs and roll down with weight way back, you feel a big impact when the rear wheel slams into the ground. Now repeat the same descent, starting at the same speed as before but this time get centered and low and extend your arms and legs as you go down. You will find it is much smoother (less impact) and you carry more speed after the descent.

Have you had trouble with steep rock rolls like this? Have a particularly challenging roll on your favorite trail? Tell us about it below.

Want to go up a wall like this? Check out my next 2-minute tip and breakdown!

If you know anyone who could benefit from this please feel free to share it.

 

Fear and Mountain Biking Part 2, Decreasing Fear by Improving Skill and Confidence

Fear and Mountain Biking Part 2 (Read part 1 here: https://wp.me/p49ApH-1vq)

Fear is a powerful and often misunderstood emotion that has some effect on every mountain bike ride we do. The fear we ALL experience while mountain biking varies greatly in intensity from rider to rider and from trail to trail. Most riders think of pro downhill racers as fearless but in my 19 years of coaching them and 15 years of being one I have found that even the fastest pro downhill racers experience fear, on beginner trails!

So the idea of “No Fear” is comical at best, we all experience fear and it isn’t always a bad thing, fear can save us from injury and keep us from doing things we aren’t skilled enough to do. On the other hand, fear that is not in proportion to the risk we are taking can really mess us up! Too little fear and we do things over our head and get hurt! Too much fear and we question our ability and end up not riding or crashing on a section of trail we are capable of riding smoothly and in control.

There are a ton of macho guys reading this right now saying, “Not me, I am fearless!”, please, anyone saying that needs to ride a world cup downhill track or the new Redbull Rampage site! Do some people experience less fear than others?  Of course, that is why I and thousands of other mountain bikers have ended up in the emergency room! We either didn’t experience the appropriate amount of fear or charged in despite the fear. Fear that keeps you from riding Cam Zink’s line at the Redbull Rampage is good! Fear that keeps you from riding a section of trail you honestly have the skill to ride in control is bad.

The worst fear though is that minor fear, where you keep riding but are too concerned with your own safety to ride at your best! As a matter of fact, when our confidence drops so does our athletic performance! Coordination is directly tied to confidence when you lose confidence you also lose your coordination. So, until you are confident walk the sections of trail that scare you (and design a plan to increase your skill so you can ride that section confidently one day).

I am well known for my intense curriculum featuring deliberate practice using drills in a safe, controlled environment (often a paved parking lot) and then applying those skills on trail. I have noticed a pattern that happens in all of our camps regardless of our students’ age/experience/perceived skill level, even at our downhill camps at Bootleg Canyon with pros like Cody Kelly and Luca Cometti, students do our cornering drills really well on pavement then not so well on dirt (at first, which is why drills are so important)!

At Bootleg Canyon we use Girl Scout for our on trail cornering practice, the easiest trail on the mountain. Watching our students practicing deliberately on pavement (photo below) I am always impressed by how quickly they catch on to correct cornering technique. Then we head over to Girl Scout and they aren’t doing what they were just doing in the parking lot, they look totally different. Why do they go from executing the skills well on pavement to not so well on dirt? Fear! No, pro downhill racers aren’t scared of Girl Scout Trail, but they are more concerned about their safety than they were in the parking lot. Even on a beginner trail, there is not as much traction as the parking lot, there are rocks to avoid, bushes and cacti on the side of the trail, penalties for mistakes. This concern for your safety (fear) distracts you and hinders your performance.

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick (who has been mountain biking since the early 1990’s) practicing his cornering skills! Look at that outside elbow, up and out where it should be.

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. Not a “scary” trail but he isn’t as sharp as in the parking lot. He needs to look a little further ahead and lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

 

Fear is stored in your “Lizard Brian” or “Reptilian Brian”, part of your brain stem where instincts and action occur WITHOUT thought. Have you ever noticed that sometimes, despite knowing that you are supposed to do something (like look ahead) you don’t do it on trail? Have you ever driven home and upon getting home said to yourself, “how the heck did I get home?” That is because knowledge and your “thinking brain” don’t help you do, doing comes from the same Lizard brain where fear is stored, and doing is similar to being on autopilot, your body just does what the autopilot makes it do.

This creates a problem as your conscious, thinking brain wants one thing (to float over that rock) while your Lizard brain wants something else, usually to protect you (get off your bike and walk over the rock). As you probably already know, when it comes to riding your mountain bike the lizard brain always wins! (On a side note this often why you might know exactly how to do something yet still can’t do it.)

How do we get our Lizard Brain/autopilot and conscious thinking brain to work together? Drills! The whole goal of drills is to ingrain a habit or movement pattern. By ingrain, I mean make that habit so dominant that no matter how tough that trail is your body does the correct technique without any thought (hence the autopilot analogy). There is an old saying that is so true, “Amateurs practice until they get it right, pros practice until they can’t get it wrong!” (which means pros never stop practicing!)

Once we understand the correct technique and do drills to ingrain that technique we need to upgrade our self-image as a mountain biker. Let’s say there is tough rock section that has troubled you for years, you have never made it (and probably think something like, “darn, here comes that rock that always messes me up” as you approach it (like the wall in my video above, how to video tutorial coming soon!). Then you take a BetterRide camp and learn the correct combination of skills to get over that rock and wham, you do it! This is when you need to stop, get off your bike, look at that rock and update your self-image. “Wow, that rock used to mess me up every ride, now it is easy, I simply look to victory, manual, shift my weight and off I go (what I did in the video)! That rock is so easy now, watch, I’ll do it again.” Then do it again and really cement the idea that that rock is now easy and you have the skill to do it consistently.

Skill has a huge impact on fear. Cam Zink probably has a lot less fear of the most challenging trail you have ever ridden. Not because he is crazy (he is quite calculating actually) but because his skill at riding steep, challenging line is near/at the top of the sport. More skill (combined with belief in that skill) equals less fear in any given situation.

If you are honestly really skilled but you feel your fear level is not in proportion to your skill work on updating your self-image. If you aren’t really skilled work on improving your skills, then updating your self-image as your skills improve. Remember, fear is there for a reason and it often helps keep us safe but if it is holding you back work on getting your fear into proportion with your skill.

Fear is also where men and women differ greatly! In my next article on Fear and Mountain Biking I will explain what I have learned about how men and women respond to fear and how this difference affects your ride and often your relationship.

Thanks for tuning in! If you know anyone who could benefit from this article please feel free to share it with them. What are you afraid of while mountain biking? What affects your fear? Is your fear based in reality or made up? Please share your experiences with fear below.

 

Fear when mountain biking is good!

Mountain Bikers, How to Brake More Effectively, Video Tutorial

Using your front brake effectively is one of the most important skills on a mountain bike. Proper use of the front brake gives you much more control making you safer, faster and more confident. Now, when braking to cut speed (the main reason we use our front brake) you also want to use that weak rear brake to assist that powerful front brake. Watch my video tutorial and then read below for more detail on this important mtb skill.

An important piece I left out of the video is that you always want to cut speed in a straight line! Using that front brake and cutting speed in a corner is a recipe for disaster!

Your body position while braking is crucial and this often taught wrong (I taught it incorrectly from the start of BetterRide in the spring of 1999 until the fall of 2005)! What I taught and what I recently read from one of the best downhill racers in the world is, as you are braking get your weight back. This is terrible advice for a number of reasons (that I will address in a moment), so why did one of the best downhill racers in the world recommend this position? Because it feels like you are getting back when you are braking hard, what he is actually doing is bracing really hard so he doesn’t get tossed forward.

Granted, I used to get my weight back while braking and because it was such an ingrained habit! I still start to scout back sometimes when braking hard. It is also human instinct to move away from danger so it feels good to scoot back (until you crash :)).

There are a few reasons pushing your weight back while braking is bad (or pretty much any time except when manuling) :

  • It puts you in an off-balance and non-neutral position that I call the flying catapult! As your arms straighten and your butt goes back you end up at the end of your range of motion, with no “sag” in your body’s suspension. In this position, if your front wheel were to suddenly descend (drop or roll) more than a foot you will get yanked forward and downward causing your weight to get tossed forward. If you have ever had an endo where it felt like your bike catapulted you into the ground, it did (catapult you into the ground). Please check out this blog article on the importance of neutral, centered position on your bike: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/mountain-bike-desending-body-position-101-video-demonstration/
  • It greatly decreases your control and increases your braking distance (by taking weight off of the front wheel, not allowing you to use as much of that powerful front brake. This is easy to test (though a bit scary), simply to do the braking drill in my video on a dirt road or looser surface with your weight back. Instead of quickly coming to a stop, your front wheel will skid! See 6 second video below.
  • Usually, you are braking for a trail feature, most often on the straightaway into a corner, do you want to enter a corner with your weight back (no weight on the front wheel?). If the top downhill racer who recently said that you should shift your weight back while braking actually did that you would see him scoot back as he was braking for the corner, then, all in one motion, let go of the brakes, shift his weight forward and initiate the turn!
  • For more on this please read this article: http://betterride.net/blog/2014/braking-on-your-mountain-bike/

Speaking of the importance of using your front brake and braking in a straight line before a corner, a few years ago Cody Kelly (https://www.alchemy.bike/cody) was really excited to tell me that he is wearing out two sets of front brake pads before one set of rear brake pads! After hearing this I bowed to him and he said, “why are you bowing to me, you taught me to do that”. I replied that I may have taught him that (he took 5 or 6 of my camps) but I have 20 years of bad habits to overcome so I don’t exactly do that. In other words, I wasn’t practicing enough! The idea of wearing out two sets of front brake pads before one set of rear pads did inspire to practice more and while I don’t have Cody’s ratio for the last two years I have been wearing out one set of front pads before wearing out my rear pads!

Are you wearing out your front brake pads before your rear pads? Feel free to comment and/or ask any questions below.

Please share this article with anyone you feel could benefit from it.