Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton Mushroom rock

Overcoming Fear When Mountain Biking

Overcoming Fear When Mountain Biking

Mountain biking can be anything from a really fun experience to outright terrifying depending on the rider’s skills, experiences and perspective. Of course skill is the number one factor in overcoming fear, imagine our students who race World Cup downhills like National Champions Luca Cometti, Mitch Ropelato and Jackie Harmony riding your local trails. I doubt they would be scared of that section that scares you on your local trail (as World Cup Tracks are gnarly!). They have worked hard on ingraining the correct riding techniques so they are riding in balance and in control consistently so while they may have less “nerve” than you they have great skill.  I’m not trying to sell our coaching though, here are some ways to overcome fear with the skill you currently possess.

1.  Go at your own pace and take “baby steps” when progressing. Taking a big leap over your comfort zone is not a good way to learn. Have you ever been goaded into doing something that you felt was way above your skill level? Even if you make it you often don’t feel like you have gotten better, you feel like you got lucky. Feeling, “Holy cow, I nearly died, that was sketchy!” does not improve your confidence! If you don’t make it,  the crash will often set you back, decreasing your confidence and raising your level of fear. So be gentle with yourself and progress at a pace that is comfortable to you.

3. Focus on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. This sounds simple but pays off big. Our brains don’t understand “not” and “don’t” very well. If you are focusing on not falling your brain has to focus on the concept of falling and then quickly try to refocus on “not” doing what you are thinking about. It is much easier to focus on “getting to that tree” or “ride this section smooth and light” than telling yourself “don’t fall”.

4. Live to ride another day! If you are more focused on “not falling” than you are on getting to where you are going, get off your bike and walk that section. Who knows you might go right through it the next time when you are more warmed up and/or focused.

After/while walking that section figure out what about that section is scaring you then “baby step” your way up to doing it.

Example: If a four-foot drop on an exposed trail is scaring you find a one foot drop with no exposure, get really good a hitting that, work your way up to a four-foot drop with no exposure, then an exposed trail with a one foot drop working all the way to a four-foot drop on an exposed trail. This builds on a series of successes, increasing your confidence!

5. Breathe, relax, breathe and smile it is just a bike ride. Breathing and smiling releases tension which improves our balance, coordination and confidence. I mean deep, belly breathes from your diaphragm which are very calming. Smiling releases endorphins which relax you. The simple act of lifting the corners of your mouth, even if it is a grimis will release those endorphins and relax you!

6. As you improve make sure you update your self concept to match. Remember that the past doesn’t equal the future. You may have wrecked or not made a section last week/month but if your skills have improved since then the section may be easier for you now. (more on this in the next article on fear as this is very important!)

7. Wear knee pads and elbow pads when practicing a tough section are learning a new skill. I have found that having padding on really increases your confidence when learning or trying to push your limits. As a matter of fact I never ride without knee pads anymore, knees are too valuable and easily damaged!

8. Debunk your fear/s. Is your fear realistic? Often fear is not based in reality and when we realize this the fear goes away.

9. Learn from your mistakes. If you mess up or wreck do your best to figure out why it happened and correct that mistake or improve your technique so it will not happen again.

Stay tuned for part two which will cover why/how/when we feel fear and how this affects us and a few of these techniques in more detail.

Mushroom Rock in Moab

Mountain Bike That Trail that Scares You With Ease! Faster Too!

I think almost every mountain bike rider reading this will admit they are not as skilled or as fast as Aaron Gwin, Steve Peat or Greg Minnaar, yet many of us would like to be! Often I hear riders say, “That guy is ballsy! I wish I was as fearless as him!” The thing is Aaron Gwin, Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar aren’t “ballsy”, they are skilled!

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp!

So what do we do, we try to ride trails that scare us and/or go faster nearly every time we ride! Which is fun and challenging, two things mountain biking is great at! There is nothing wrong with challenging yourself and having fun, I encourage that. The problem with that approach though is it is very hard, I would say impossible to ride the most challenging trails or ride as fast as a world cup champion without equal skills to the world champion. Don’t you agree? I mean if you have 80% of Steve Peat’s skill (which would be impressive) it would be extremely hard to ride a world cup track, even at 90% of Steve Peat’s pace, much less 100%! Now, let’s flip that around, if you honestly had 100% of Steve Peat’s skill wouldn’t it be much easier to ride a world cup downhill track, as fast as Steve Peat? I know it would be.  Yet so many mountain bike riders believe simply trying to ride harder trails and/or ride faster will improve their skills (including me for the first 8-10 years I rode and raced). Sure, you might stumble into some correct skills this way but you are also going to develop some serious bad habits and likely get hurt!

Unfortunately just riding faster builds fear, bad habits and injury, not skills. Why, well, watch most amateur downhill racers, even though they are going much slower than the World Cup Champions mentioned above they almost look faster as they are out of balance and out of control! Ever watch amateur practice on a steep, technical track? It is scary, and yes, amateur racers have way bigger balls than top pro racers because the amateurs are riding the same track with WAY less skill. Think about it, Aaron crushes most top pro racers, in a four minute downhill he will beat nearly 100% of all amateurs by a minute or more! Yet, how many injuries have sidelined Aaron in his career? I can’t think of one! Yet, those amateurs who are 25% slower are getting hurt left and right! Which means despite riding much slower (which should be safer!) they are getting hurt worse and more often. This approach is proven to fail. World Cup Champions ride with confidence! They don’t “hope” they make that sketchy section, they know they are going to make it!

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills!

So how can you mountain bike that trail that scares you with ease? Faster too? Increase your skills? There is only one way to improve your skills (at anything, mountain biking, playing guitar, painting, surgery, basketball, etc.) learn the correct techniques then do structured practice (drills) to in grain those techniques. Read about any “master”, in sport, in surgery, in music, etc. and you will read about all the time they spent doing deliberate practice, not simply “having fun” at what they have mastered.

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 like he did on the pavement.


Think you are going to somehow learn to ride at your best by just riding? I am sorry, it isn’t going to happen. Your instincts are millions of years old and designed to save your life on foot, not ride a bike, not surf, not play football, not play the piano! For more about your instincts read this:  ,  Why Our Instincts Fail Us On Our Mountain Bikes!

In short, learn the correct, in control, in balance techniques and then spend your time deliberately practicing those skills and you will see your ability, confidence and fun sky-rocket!

Student Joey Schusler practicing on trail

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position Part 2

Wow, I seemed to ruffle a few feathers with my Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position Part 1 post. I was simply asked a question from a student and I answered it. I was not intending to offend anyone and certainly it was nothing personal. A couple people said that I had “harsh criticism for Shaums March” which is interesting to me as I didn’t mention his name, and I simply stated my opinion (and Greg Minnaar’s) on cornering.  Shaums is a friend of mine who have great respect for and some of what I know about cornering is from getting friendly arguments with Shaums and then testing his theories verses my theories. I believe that a good deal of what Shaums and I believe about cornering is the same with two exceptions (that are closer to one exception explained two ways): 1. Shaum’s has said dropping and putting all your weight on the outside pedal is a bad habit, which I disagree with and say that sometimes your goal is 100% of your weight on the outside pedal (those times mentioned in my previous post) 2. Shaums has said (in his rebuttal of my post) that you always want your weight equal on both pedals throughout the turn, which I agree with A Lot of the time but NOT all the time.

Also remember, other than dropping your inside foot which is dangerous and off balance, foot position is not as important as vision (looking through the corner), braking before the corner, hip placement and upper body position. Focus on getting the BIG Picture skills dialed before the smaller picture skills.

What matters with foot position in corners is your goal in that corner. Sometimes your goal is to set an edge, other times it is to pump the corner and gain speed, other times it is to keep the wheels on the ground in a rough corner. I am defining a corner as being approximately 80 degrees of direction change or more. Often on trail there are wiggles (20-75 degree minor changes in direction) when your foot position doesn’t really matter (no need for foot down). The last thing I want a ride doing is thinking on trail, “is this a foot down corner or a foot level corner?” so we teach most riders to focus on dropping your outside foot and most/all of the time you enter a corner where foot down is not required your subconscious “auto-pilot” simply doesn’t drop your foot. Our goal is to get you to understand and do the skills we teach (there is huge difference between understanding and doing! Understanding is worthless if you can’t do!) and for students with limited practice time we have found this is the best way to get them to do (and think less). Rarely will dropping your foot when you didn’t need to hurt you but 100% of the time if your feet stay level when you should of dropped and weighted the outside foot you WILL Slide out!

Short recap, I (and Greg Minnaar) believe that when your goal is to set an edge like a ski racer and corner a full 90% or more at the highest possible speed in a smooth corner you want to drop the outside foot and put 100% of your weight on that foot. Doing this gives you; more traction, a lower center of mass, 155-175 mm of leverage, easier separation from bike when big lean angle is necessary and more leverage using your skeletal structure for support instead of your muscles (to fight the G-forces in a corner).

Mountain bike cornering foot position.

Greg Minnaar Cornering outside foot down.


Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp!

I have been told by so many riders, racers and students that you keep your feet level in berms! Again it depends on your goal, berms have little to do with foot position. If your goal is dig the tires into the berm for maximum grip at max speed you are going to drop and put 100% of your weight on that outside pedal, like Greg Minnaar in the photo squence above (which, when we shifted our focus to pumping corners Greg entered the berm slow enough to not worry about traction, kept his feet level and he gain an amazing amount of speed!). If you are going slow enough that you want to pump the corner and gain speed (which means you obviously aren’t worried about sliding out) you will keep you feet level.

Much of the time, when you are on twisty trails with a lot of 50- approximately 79 degree “bends” you goal is to keep equal weight on each pedal and stay fluidly in balance (feet are level to the ground but outside foot moving “down” in relation ship to your bottom bracket). Also, in rocky, rooty or braked bumped corners where your goal isn’t to set an edge but to keep the wheels on the ground you will corner feet level. Again, there is no time to think on the trail so with enough drills this will become second nature, switching from foot down to feet level hundreds of times in a ride. Watch Danny Hart in this sick run alternate between the foot down and foot level in the corners on his World Championship winning run below.  At 21 seconds in (1:27.4 on the freecaster clock on screen), 41 seconds in and 50 seconds in (1:56.3 on freecasters clock on screen) Danny plants the outside foot for maximum traction. On quite a few other corners he is foot level.

Some examples. Saturday I rode the McKenzie River Trail and since it basically follows a river there weren’t to many full 90 degree corners so for at least a minute on one descent I realized that my feet were level through 8-10 “turns” then, a very high speed a 100 degree left turn appeared and I dropped that outside and railed the turn. On Sunday I rode the Alpine trail in Oakridge, OR which had many more 90 degree high speed corners so I was dropping my outside foot way more than I was on Saturday on the straighter trail.

Learning to corner feet level AND foot down is important to reaching your best as a rider. There is no one way for all corners but there is definitely a better way for each individual corner.

Next week, part 3 the advantages and disadvantages of riding switchfoot (switching which foot is forward in corners) for cornering.

We spend three hours on cornering in our camps! This is a lot of information and it is much easier to explain, demonstrate and have you practice it in person than over the web! This is meant to be brief and to the point, not every bit of cornering information I have.


Steve Peat cornering hard and fast while clipped in!

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position Part 1

I just received this email from a student. “Hi Gene, how are you? Sorry for the FB message but I have a quick question. many years ago I did one of your courses and you taught cornering with one leg up and one leg down throughout the turn. I recently participated in an IMBA course and they promote even feet through turns. What are your thoughts on that?” Well, first off, poor coaching like this drives me nuts! 

I know that they are wrong! I didn’t invent a single skill we teach but I and our coaches have spent a lot of years studying, learning and testing what we have learned from the best mountain bikers in the world (and some top motorcycle coaches). In my case, I have been studying mountain bike cornering since 1994! If your pedals are supposed to be level in corners why do the top 100 downhill racers in the world corner foot down? For all the reasons we taught you! Now don’t get me wrong if you aren’t worried about traction keeping your feet level is fine but if there is any possibility of sliding out by simply dropping your outside foot you will DOUBLE your traction! Why? Because if your feet are level 50% of your weight has to be on the inside pedal! That means 50% of your weight is not above the tires! Which means you have half the amount of down force on your tires. If that isn’t enough reason there are several more. It is really hard to separate from your bike with your feet level so you tend to lean with your bike taking even more weight off the tires. Also by dropping your outside foot you get 155-175 mm of extra leverage on the tires and lower yourself to the ground. Because your bike leans when it turns you also get more ground/rock clearance for the inside pedal by dropping the outside.

Greg Minnaar can corner pretty good, he has won 3 World Championships and 3 World Cup Overalls he often corners foot down! As in the photo below from one of our camps with him.

Mountain bike cornering foot position!

Greg Minnaar looking smooth!

Now, before we go any further talking about foot placement when cornering, remember, the most important part of cornering is vision! If you are doing what 99% of mountain bikers do in corners, looking only a few feet ahead, foot placement is the least of your worries. Looking through a corner with incorrect foot placement is much faster and safer than looking only a few feet ahead with perfect foot placement!

Steve Peat cornering foot down on about the roughest surface possible, stairs!

Steve Peat cornering foot down on about the roughest surface possible, stairs!

As you know, we are famous for coaching mountain bike cornering to some of the best cornerers in the world*. Why? because we studied it! We didn’t say, “I corner really well and this is my opinion”. We studied the best mountain bike racers, we worked with World Champions like Greg Minnaar and Marla Streb, we took motorcycle cornering courses, we studied cornering like our life depended on it! Don’t believe me? Go to Red bull dot com and watch the world cup downhill races, you will see that on fast, loose corners 100% of the field is dropping their outside foot. When traction is not an issue or the speeds are slow they will keep their feet level, not because they have too but because there is no need to drop their foot. Now, if they are trying to increase their speed by pumping the corner their feet will be level (a skill we teach in our graduate camp and our downhill camps) as if you are trying to increase speed in a corner you are obviously not worried about traction. In short, we teach cornering foot down because it works, if you dropped your foot when you didn’t need to no harm if you keep your feet level when you should have dropped your outside foot you will crash! I hope this helps. You might think of asking for your money back for paying for coaching that puts you in danger.

Mountain bike cornering foot placement

Aaron Gwin cornering on a berm with outside foot down.

The long story, there are numerous different foot positions for cornering and for entering corners but we don’t want you thinking, “is this a foot level corner or foot down corner?”. By coaching our students to corner foot down we have found that they tend to simply keep the feet level when there is no need to drop the outside foot, much better than thinking!

Gee Atherton Cornering foot down at the world championships.

Gee Atherton Cornering foot down at the world championships.

* National Four Cross and Downhill Champion Mitch Ropelato, 2014 National Dual Slalom Champion Luca Cometti, 2014 Sea Otter Dual Slalom Champion Cody Kelly, Nation Downhill Champion Jackie Harmony, Collegiate Champion and Yeti Ace Joey Schusler, and over 100 more Pro Downhill Racers and Pro XC racers! As a matter of fact Dirt Magazine asked Mitch Ropelato how he corners so well and he had this to say: From the Oct. 2009 issue of Dirt Magazine:

Dirt Magazine: “You seem to be able to turn amazingly, what do you put that down to? Got any special tires on there?

Mitch Ropelato: “Ya, Gene Hamilton is to thank for that, I took is clinic last December in Bootleg Canyon and he was able to show me the correct technique I needed to pull them off.”

Mitch cornering foot down. Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

Mitch cornering foot down. Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.


Stay tuned next week for part two cornering foot placement!