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Andy’s Take On Some Great Counter Intuitive MTB Riding Advice

“Gotta go slow to go fast!”  (this for all riders, especially those more concerned with control than speed, please read on!)

The above saying has been floating around racing circles since probably forever. On this website, one of the latest updates contains a video of last year’s U.S. Open Downhill Race. In it, race winner, and super-fast rider and all-around nice guy, Andrew Neethling, stated that it was essential for him to really slow down in sections of the course in order to get the win. Former top U.S. World Cup Downhiller, the legendary Shawn Palmer, who was known for his checker-or-the-wrecker, on the edge style (both on and off the bike), was also known to throw that saying around on more then one occasion.

So here are two guys that pay (or used to pay) their rent by going faster – not by slowing down – telling us we need to slow down to go fast? What gives?

In the following, we’ll explore what the saying actually means and how it can help not only racers, but also recreational riders ride more efficiently, more in control, safer, and, faster.

Let’s first take a look at what the saying is actually implying, and let’s say that for this discussion, we’re talking about riding at speeds that are typical of descending on a MTB (not seated climbing-type speeds). “Go slow to go fast” could easily be translated into managing one’s speed. Or, better yet, managing one’s momentum (different then speed). In other words, we need to use momentum as a tool to help us get over obstacles or go faster and use less energy to do these things, but, at the same time, we can’t let this momentum affect us negatively by pulling us off the trail, over the bars, into trees, etc. When Andrew Neethling won the U.S. Open, he sure as heck didn’t want to come to a dead stop when he needed to slow down, he wanted to maintain as much momentum as possible, but not so much that it forced him into a costly mistake.

Think about this: every time we descend on the bike, its an exercise in momentum management. Every corner we take, every rock or root we drop off, etc. Every time we almost get thrown over the handlebars by improperly negotiating an obstacle, its because we screwed up on managing our momentum. Momentum is what is carrying us over the rocks, obstacles, whatever, and allowing us to generate speed, yet it is also what is forcing us into mistakes.

So I find it kind of amazing that very few riders look at riding a section of trail in terms of momentum management. I get riders who tell me all the time that in order to improve on the bike, they need to “get better at drops” or “ need to learn to corner” or “need to get in shape” … but I’ve never heard, “I need to get better at managing my momentum.”

I believe that one of the reasons conservative, recreational riders often don’t benefit from the “gotta go slow to go fast” idea (or as we’ve defined it here, “gotta manage your momentum”) is because they’re not concerned with going “fast” so they don’t believe the that concept applies to them. When I mention going-slow-to-go-fast in my camps, without fail, the self-deprecating talk starts to flow like water, “Oh, I know all about going slow … ha. ha. ha.” or “You don’t have to worry about the ‘fast’ part with me … heh. heh.” But it seems that it is usually this type of rider that pays the biggest price for improper momentum management – whether that means big crashes because of too much momentum or the inability to clean a relatively easy obstacle because of too little. Every rider generates speed and momentum and, thus, needs to be conscious of these things and the effect that they have on their riding.

Racers, on the other hand, are often so concerned with raw speed (which they often inaccurately equate to less time between point-A and point-B) that they fail to consider that momentum is actually the motor that is carrying them down the hill and too much or too little at any given moment, can be detrimental to their success. Downhill tracks consistently have lines and obstacles where a rider can generate massive amounts of momentum (and gain time) if he were only to slow down (cut momentum) briefly in order reap the huge benefits further down the course.

Coach Gene Hamilton demonstrating how to maintain momentum over a rock in Fruita

This is great skill to acquire and, when done properly, one of the safest, smoothest, most efficient, fastest, and most fun ways you could ever ride your mountain bike.

Two Big Mountain Biking Myths That May Be Holding You Back on the Trail.

There are two big myths in the mountain community that hold back many riders. The myth of the “natural athlete” and the myth of the “magic pill” have played a huge role in depressing riders confidence for years.

I will start with the “natural athlete”. Many people seem to think that the best people in sports are gifted or born with natural talent and that simply isn’t the case. While we all probably know someone who seems to do well in any sport that they try (which sure can be frustrating) these “natural athletes” were not born that way and sadly they rarely reach their potential. Reaching your potential requires work (which if done right can be fun) just ask Micheal Jordan. If anyone ever looked like a natural athlete it was MJ, wow, the man could fly. Micheal Jordan was far from a natural athlete though, did you know he got cut from his team his freshman and sophomore years?

That’s right, Micheal Jordan wasn’t as good as 10 other kids his age in his town yet we don’t know the name of any of those kids who were “better” than him do we? Why is Jordan’s name etched into our brains? Because he worked hard at the fundamentals of basketball and worked hard in the gym and MJ reached his potential. Tennis great Chris Evert says “I was neither the fastest or the strongest in the game at the time” yet she was ranked #1 in the World! Golf great Tom Kite is legally blind without his glasses, describes himself as an average putter who drives the ball short yet he won the US Open at 42!  (from The New Toughness Training for Sports, James E. Loehr) Anyone who has ever met me was probably under whelmed at first, I walk funny, have asthma and two massively separated shoulders. Heck I never came close to passing the “Presidential Fitness Test” as a kid. Yet despite not being a “natural athlete” I have done okay for myself in snowboarding and mountain biking.

If I had had Micheal Jordon’s work ethic and more importantly his belief system I would of gone even further in both sports. It was my belief in the “natural athlete” being better than me that kept me from giving a 100% in my training. Yes, even if I had given a 100% I would never be able to beat someone with Ned Overend’s lung capacity in a cross country race but it would of been fun to see how close I could of come. Luckily skills don’t take big lungs. So stop labeling yourself, be the best that you be everyday and you will astound yourself.

The “magic pill” or “pros secret” does not exist. So many people think that if they just knew that “one thing” that Steve Peat, JHK, Sam Hill, Ryan Trebon, or whoever their hero his knew they could ride as well as them. Well I hate to break your heart but there is no magic pill or secret skill, the way to the top is the basics. Mountain biking, like most sports, martial arts, ski racing, motocross, auto racing, gymnastics, etc. requires mastery and maintenance of the basics to do well.

Unfortunately, just like in martial arts and ski racing these basics are not intuitive so first you must learn the basics. Learning them is easy with the right teacher, mastering them requires work (even with the best teacher). The Magic Pill? Knowledge and mastery of the basic core skills. If you, a friend of yours and I wanted to become great at Karate what would be the best path? Lets say your friend took those boring “wax on, wax off” lessons from a master teacher for 6 months while you and I “practiced”  everyday by fighting each other who would be better at Karate at the end of the 6 months? Despite having less “practice” time than us your friend would be head and shoulders above us in Karate skill. For more myths that may be holding you back check out my free course on the 10 most common mistakes made by most riders and how to fix them.

A little Zen: Try to look at life with a “Beginner’s Mind”, with a beginners mindset you are open to all possibilities, with an “expert” mindset your choices are very limited. Think how many “experts” have been wrong, experts once thought the world was flat, and that no one can run a mile in less than four minutes. Having a beginners mindset really helps you put your ego aside, learn and enjoy life more.

Create a great ride!

Mountain Bike Great Fall/Winter/Spring Destinations

Mountain Bike Destinations, Great Fall/Winter/Spring

As someone who spends 12 months a year traveling the world coaching mountain biking, mountain biking and racing I have my favorite spots! I will start with the continental United States and deep winter (Mid-December through Feb.). When 90% of the country is freezing there are a few spots I love to ride in.

The number 1 spot is actually Phoenix, AZ! Before you judge let me tell you about mountain biking in Phoenix, it is incredible. Phoenix is by far the best big city in the country for mountain biking. In Phoenix (not off in distant suburbs) are two great riding areas and one pretty decent mountain biking area. When you add in the suburbs, Scottsdale, Mesa, Cave Creek, Glendale and Black Canyon you could ride for over a month and never repeat a trail (but that would be lame because the trails are so good you will want to repeat them). They don’t have daylight savings  time in Arizona so the sun sets a 5:30 on the shortest days of the year and the winter weather is amazing, warm (mid 60′s are the average high temps in the coldest month of the year, January)  and sunny. If it does rain it just makes for better riding as the rain makes the mountain bike trails tacky and fast.

Coaching World Champ Ross Schnell at South Mountain, Jan. 2010

We will start with South Mountain. At over 16,000 acres (for comparison Vail Resort is the largest single mountain ski resort in the US at 5,289 acres) and over a thousand vertical feet it has great trails for advanced beginners to pros. South Mountain is my favorite place to ride in Phoenix as it has some of the rockiest, most challenging trails in the country that always keep me on my toes. They claim 51 miles of trails but I bet there are double that if you include the super challenging ones like Old Man Trail.  Despite being in the city of Phoenix South Mountain is never that crowded as Phoenix does seem to the most outdoorsy city (this mountain would be mobbed if it was in Denver or Salt Lake City). South Mountain also has great views in all directions and cool cacti everywhere.

Next is the Dreamy Draw/Trail 100/Camel Back/Phoenix Mountain area (locals will use any of those 4 names to describe the area). Although not as big as South Mountain the terrain is pretty similar with fun, flowy, flatter trails and very steep and technical trails. A very fun and underrated area to ride.

Right between Phoenix and Tempe is Papago Park which doesn’t have the elevation or size of the other parks but has some fun flowy trails scattered about as well as a little free-ride jump area.

For great camping and fun advanced beginner/intermediate trails check out McDowell Park. There is $6 day use fee but the trail head has a shower! The main mountain bike focus trails are short loops with a lot of fun corners and dips. Not as challenging as South Mountain but very fun if you crank the speed up a bit. They also have trails that can be linked to form epic rides including the punishing Quadruple Bypass ride that some sadistic locals enjoy.

Sport Loop at McDowell, Jan. 2010 Camp

North of Phoenix off of I-17 is the Black Canyon Trail which has several trail heads and will one day go from Flagstaff to Tucson. It has quite a few fun sections all not far from I-17.

My number 2 Spot for deep winter mountain biking is a tie between Tucson, AZ and Sedona, AZ.  Tuscon has warmer weather and better night life while Sedona has a lifetime of great trails and incredible scenery but colder weather (usually about 10 degrees colder than Phoenix or Tucson). Both Tuscon and Sedona are also less than 2 hours from Phoenix making it easy to hit all three in a week.

My number 3 spot for deep winter mountain biking in the continental US is Boulder City, NV. Boulder City has the famous Bootleg Canyon mountain bike park (known for it’s challenging downhill trails but it also has some fantastic cross country trails). Visit the most well stocked bike shop I have ever seen, All Mountain Cyclery for advice on trails to ride and any upgrades you are seeking. It is also 20 miles from the Las Vegas airport and 30ish miles from the great “Cottonwood Trails” Southwest of Vegas.

Joey Schusler railing a turn at Bootleg Canyon, March 2007 Camp

For late fall and late winter riding (Mid-November through December and mid-February through April) all of the above are great with Sedona and Boulder City warming up quite a bit.

Other favorite late fall and late winter destinations are Austin, TX, Albuquerque, NM, Saint George/Hurricane, UT and most of California.

Austin has friendly people, great music and really good trails. No huge elevation gains or losses but fun flowy trails at Walnut Creek (with a great pump track), one of the most technical trails I ever ridden at City Park and fun trails you can ride right from downtown in the Green Belt. Some famous road racer lives in Austin too!

Albuquerque has trail options in many different environments. Check out White Mesa for cool desert canyon singletrack and Sandia Peak for high alpine wooded singletrack. Be sure to stop in Bike Works for local trail advice.

Saint George/Hurricane, UT is home to the famous Gooseberry Mesa Trail as well as many less famous but very fun trails. Great high desert riding from singletrack to Red Bull Rampage jumps and drops. Say hi to Quinten and DJ at Over The Edge in Hurricane and they can update you on trail conditions and recommend rides.

Although the late winter can be the rainy season in California there are good trails from San Diego all the way to Oregon there. Do some research online before heading out to California. My favorite areas inland San Diego (Nobel Canyon area), the Laguna Hills, the Santa Monica Mountains, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz (I haven’t explored much North of their yet).

I have purposely left out a lot of great trails and areas near those above as we live in a big, beautiful country, go out and explore! If you have a favorite winter spot or two tell us about them!

Using Mountains Bikes to Help Troubled Kids! (heart warming story)

We need more people like this guy in this world. Did you know we have a similar program here in the US? I have volunteered for the Denver chapter before. The organization it is http://www.tripsforkids.org/  and they take troubled kids mountain biking.  It was a very moving experience, tough kids with criminal records from a detention center. It was quite the learning experience. The kids were from Denver yet had never been to the mountains (a short bus ride from Denver).  At first they were getting frustrated, a few got really upset (when they make a mistake or couldn’t make it up a hill) and some even cried. After a little encouragement and some small mountain bike successes they were smiling, laughing and having a great time. As a snowboard coach I learned that sport is a metaphor for life and helping people over come challenge can really help their self esteem. I didn’t realize how much can be gained in a couple of hours though. This had a profoundly positive effect on the kids.  Check the website for a chapter in your area or if you have the time start one!