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How to Mountain Bike at Your Highest Capability Level

By BetterRide Founder Gene Hamilton

In a culture of more, now, faster, we all want to improve quickly. In mountain biking this means we want to corner faster, climb faster, bunny hop higher and be able to ride technical terrain better, now! As a mtb racer and a coach I am always looking for ways to improve my riding and my coaching too and like you, the faster the better. The funny thing is, we ignore, gloss over and just don’t want to talk about the thing that really holds us back from reaching our goals in all aspects of life. Our focus tends to be on the physical; “what are the mechanics of a j-hop?”, “what should my body position be in a corner?”, “will these lighter wheels will make me faster?”, when it is our mind that is holding us back. We subtly sabotage our efforts with negative and often flat out BS thoughts. I have posted on this before, but I was wrong about the best way to get ourselves to actually perform at the highest level we are capable of.

In our camps and previous posts we have focused on positive and negative “self-talk” and how powerful both are. Negative self-talk (“I am a decent descender, but suck at climbing”),  is probably the number one thing holding most riders back. In the past we have stressed the value of positive self-talk (“I am a good descender and getting better at climbing with practice.”) which is far and away better than negative self talk, but turns out not near as good as interrogative self-talk. Interrogative self-talk is asking, “Can I do this?” which changes your self-talk from declarative statement, “I am a great climber” to a question, “Can I climb this?”. The first statement, ”I am a great climber” will give you an emotional lift but the question, ”Can I climb this?” will lead to a response, “Well I climbed a steeper, rockier hill in Moab last week.”. Then you are likely to remind yourself of how you have prepared for just such a climb, “Of course I can climb this, I have increased my power by 15% in the last two months of training and I have have been practicing my climbing techniques…”. Then you are likely to give yourself some advice, “last week in Moab I resisted the urge to try and sprint the lower part of the climb and maintained a slower cadence which really helped my balance in the loose stuff”.  Positive self-talk makes you feel good and possibly confident while interrogative self-talk prompts you to come up with ways to accomplish the task.

Before or during your next ride, instead of declaring your abilities with positive self-talk simply ask yourself, “can I do this?”. The best time for self-talk is before a ride or when you have stopped to either rest or access a trail feature. A lot of self-talk while riding leads to not being in the moment which can cause mistakes and crashes.

For more information read: “Motivating Goal-Directed Behavior Through Introspective Self Talk: The Role of the Interrogative Form Simple Future Tense,” Psychological Science 21, no. 4 (April 2010), Ibrahim Senay, Dolores Albarracin, and Kenji Noguchi .

 

Mountain Biking is an Offensive Sport

A Key to Riding Your Best! By: BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton

A real key to mountain biking at your best is to always be on the offense. Defensive riding gets you hurt! When you are on the offense you are riding at the limit of your abilities which improves your focus, coordination and allows you to reach the “flow” state. On the other hand, when you are riding defensively (thoughts like, “oh, don’t crash here”, “wow, this looks slick, don’t slide out”, “whoa, this is scary and steep, just don’t crash”, etc.) you are much less coordinated and actually focused on what you don’t want to do, crash!

One way to always be on the offense is simply focus on what you DO want to do. Thoughts like, “get to the bottom of this fun rocky section as smooth as I can”, “rail this corner as fast as I can”, “stay balanced and in a neutral position on this loose decent”, “climb this loose rocky hill like a billy goat, in balance and looking past all the obstacles”. These type of thoughts lead to confidence and riding at your best.

What do you do when you can’t focus on what you want to do? The trail is too steep, too exposed, too loose or just plain too scary for your current skill set. Get off your bike and walk! Then figure out what scared you and take baby steps to improve your skill and/or confidence. 50 feet of exposure on a narrow trail scares you, walk it and then find a trail with six feet of exposure and get comfortable on it. Then work your way up to 50 feet of exposure using small steps. Taking a giant leap over your comfort zone never turns out well. If you make it you just feel lucky, no increase in confidence and if you crash your confidence will decrease.

Challenge leads to the “flow” or “zone” state. That state of being when you are in the moment and everything seems to happen with ease. Reaching the state of “flow” is a big reason we ride but it is often hard to attain. In his book “Flow” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that one thing that must be present to reach the flow state is challenge. He explains that it must be a strong, but reachable challenge. Not enough of a challenge and your mind wanders, too much of a challenge and you get scared. Pick challenges within, but at the top of your skill set. The challenge can be to simply ride certain trails, be faster than before, smoother, use less brakes, etc. I have found that most of my crashes and mistakes have happened on an easy section of trail right after a hard section. I simply relaxed and lost focus when the trail got easy and suddenly was on the ground. Has this ever happened to you?

Here are a couple of examples from my own riding experiences:

 

Beginning of steep section on Horse Thief Bench (photo from mtbr.com)

During the Fruita Fat Tire Festival I led a group of riders on Horse Thief Bench trail. The entrance to the bench is steep, rocky and has a couple of big ledges, most people hike their bikes down. At the bottom of the entrance shoot the trail is flat and easy for a few hundred feet. The group I was leading wanted to see me ride it so off I went down the entrance shoot. Having lived in Fruita for four years I knew this section well and floated down it. As I got to the bottom I saw about 20 riders cheering on my effort! On the flat and easy section, feeling proud of myself and patting myself on my back for such good riding I hit a rock and flipped over right in front of those 20 riders and my group behind me. Now they were in disbelief, looking at the rocky trail I had just rode and looking back at the beginner trail I had just endoed on. I think I said something like, “I am a professional, don’t try this at home”. The funny thing is similar wrecks and near wrecks have happened too many times as I have gone from offensive to not focused or defensive.

Endo on Horse Thief Bench, this was beyond his skill set. photo courtesy of Time Piece Films

Wow, those photos are great testimonials to the importance of dropper posts! Had Rob, above lowered his seat he might have pulled that off!

Years before my crash I was heading to a race in Brian Head Utah and I stopped in Moab to pick up my friend TJ to come race with me. I was feeling really confident after practice and knew if I rode my best I should win (which would make this the second win of my pro career). Well, my run was amazing and I remember thinking to myself, “that run was amazing, no one could beat that, just make it through these last to corners and you have won”. Well, TJ beat me by a tenth of a second, for his first pro win. Now, to get that point (two corners before the finish line) was I thinking “just make it through these corners” or was I thinking “smash these corners, crush this track, attack!”? Yes, I was thinking attack all the way down the course, until the last two corners. Did I make it through those corners? Yes, but I slowly made my way through those corners. Had I attacked those corners like the rest of the course I would have won for sure, but by backing off I cost myself the race. I have seen great racers loose focus and crash in the last corner so many times, they simply switched their focus from attack to, just make it without crashing and down they went.

 

When Greg Minnaar demonstrates cornering in our camps he attacks them!

Always focus on what you want to do and always ride on the offense! As a matter of fact, stop riding your mountain bike and start driving your mountain bike. The word “ride” is passive, we ride roller coasters and amusement park rides, the ride is in control. The word “drive” is active, we drive cars, trucks and go-karts, we are in control. Drive your bike with authority.

BetterRiders Excel at NV Mountain Bike Championships!

Mountain Bike Racing article by BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton

Wow, what a week! On Thursday and Friday (Jan. 17-18) I did a private skills camp the AFD Racing team who had driven all the way down from Canada and on Saturday and Sunday I videoed and did some race coaching with students from previous camps. Our students had a great weekend with a lot of state championships, podium finishes and personal bests!

Saturday was the Super D race The first race the weekend was the Super D down Boy Scout to Girl Scout, one of my favorite trail combos (a combo he use a lot in our downhill camps, including the one Merrick took from us last year). Merrick Golz was racing in his first super D so they forced him to race in the category 2 division and he crushed it! Merrick not only won category 2 but he had the fastest time of the day of all categories beating the fastest pro time by 7.5 seconds! The Pro was division was won by BetterRide alumnus Joy Martin with BetterRide coach and camp alumnus Jackie Harmony in second.

The downhill race was down Snake Back with the pros and experts doing Poop Chute and the rest of the field doing the go around. The first class to go down the course  was Jr. Men 14 and under and it was won by  Kendall Mclean of  AFD RACING from that week’s camp!  The last race of the day was the chainless race and it was won by BetterRide camp alumnus Cody Kelly (who also took third in the Pro race, his first pro race ever!).  There were a lot of podiums finishes and victories for our students in the races in between too (see results below)!

Again, wow! Feels great to see so many of our students working hard and reaching their mountain biking goals!

BetterRiders results at the Nevada State Championship Gravity race:

Sat. Super D

Cat 2 Men 19-29

1. Merrick Golz in his first Super D race where they forced him to race Cat 2 (beat the fastest pro man by 7.5 seconds!)

Pro Women:

1 Joy Martin
2. Jackie Harmony Pivot Cycles

Pro men

9. Dante Harmony, Pivot Cycles

Downhill
Pro women:
1. Jackie Harmony, Pivot Cycles
3. Adrienne Schneider
4. Joy Martin

 

Pro Women's Podium

Pro men
3. Cody Kelly (first pro race!) Specialized Gravity
7. Jonny Widen TLD/5.10
11. Chris Higgerson
15. Riley Mueller
16. Christian Wright  Specialized Gravity
20 Lucas Cowan

 

Pro Men DH Podium

Jr. Men 14 and under
1. Kendall Mclean AFD RACING from weekends camp

Cat 2 women 15-18
1. Kirby McleAN  AFD racing from camp

Cat 2 men 15-18
4. Matthew Mclean, AFD Racing
7. Tom Breadmore, AFD Racing

10. Carter Paschinski, AFD Racing
Cat 1 men 15-16
1. Tyler Krenek,  SuperCross Fly racing

Cat 1 Men 17-18
1 Mckay Vezina (won by 15 seconds, would of been 3rd in pro!)
3. Matt Branney
5. Galen Carter, Transition Bikes
7 Tanner Hart,  Lake Town Bikes

Open men

3 Mike Fucci, All Mtn Cyclery
9 Syd Jacklin, AFD racing

Cat 1 men 30-39
3. Aaron Polly,  Gnar Gnar Tours.com
12 Joe Dodds,  Neverrest

Chainless DH

Open Women
1. Jackie Harmony, Pivot Cycles

Open men
1. Cody Kelly
2 Graeme Pitts
4 Jon Widen
6 Dante Harmony, Pivot Cycles
8 Riley Mueller

 

Chainless Downhill Podium

How To Use Your Imagination To Mountain Bike Better!

How to mountain bike article by BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton

Your imagination is more powerful than you think it is and it can help you greatly improve your mountain bike skills! As a young snowboard racer I thought that the strongest/bravest/most naturally athletic person won, imagery was hocus pocus bs! Turns out, imagery is one of the most powerful learning tools that you are equipped with. Fortunately as a mountain bike racer I started to use imagery and it played a big role in helping me to not only mountain bike better but also consistently perform at my best.

If you are one of our skills progression students you know how much we stress imagery and have read the article I wrote on imagery. If you haven’t read the article or are still doubtful of the benefits of imagery please watch this short video and read the article below! (recommended by BetterRide student, Gregg Austensen)

Imagery article:

USING IMAGERY (VISUALIZATION) FOR MOUNTAIN BIKE RACING SUCCESS

Imagery or visualization is a great way to improve your riding and/or racing. Imagery has been proven in many studies to be more effective than actual practice in improving skill in sports. When using imagery you have no fear, can practice absolutely perfectly, can practice without fatiguing and simply rewind and correct any mistakes. Other than the fact that you won’t be physically tired from imagery your body can not tell the difference between imaging and actually doing. Consistent imagery will make a bigger difference in your riding than actually doing the drills I teach if you spend 20 minutes twice a week working on it. So add 40 minutes a week of imagery to your training program

Imagery can also help you improve and keep a positive attitude when weather or injury prevents you from riding.

I’m sure you have noticed that the most skillful or strongest rider doesn’t always win. This is because at the higher levels of competition most competitors have about the same skill. Winning races is a mental war and often a more prepared, focused and confident competitor will beat someone with slightly more “skill”. I have a few friends who are amazing bike handlers, definitely better bike handers than I, but I usually manage to beat them on race day. The key to winning any competition is being able to have a “peak” performance during competition. Consistently performing at your peak is easier said than done. One way to improve your consistency is to imagine or “visualize” you runs. Imagining is a very important skill and just like any other skill the more you practice it the better you get. If you haven’t imagined before or your imaging needs some improvement work on the information below.

What to Imagine (this isn’t just for racers if you don’t just substitute the word ride for race in the exercises below).

1. How you feel mentally in the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: excited, strong, confident, fast, elation after winning, etc.

2. How you feel physically at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: muscles relaxed your breathing, lactic burn in legs, steering and balance movements, absorbing shocks, etc.

3. What your eyes are focusing on when you are at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: looking ahead, reference points, course conditions, etc.

4. What you hear (or don’t hear) at the start, during the race, as you cross the finish line and when the race is over: wind rushing by, crowd noise, bike noise, and announcer screaming that you have just taken over the lead! (I recall Myles Rockwell saying that he imaged the announcer saying that prior to winning the Kamikaze years ago), etc.

5. Imaging can also be used to master a new skill and break bad habits. To do this imagine doing the particular skill perfectly using both first person and third person views. Start by imaging riding on a easy, predictable surface such as pavement then an easy trail, working your way up to doing it on a challenging section of trail.

How to Imagine

1. Imagine from 1st person, you are actually racing the course.
2. Imagine from 3rd person, you are watching yourself.
3. Imagine flawless runs, if you make a mistake back up and correct it.
4. Imagine in slow motion to learn new skills or master a difficult section.
5. Always imagine positive performances, feelings and thoughts.

How to Get Started

1. Imagine riding the 1st “section” (the 1st fourth or fifth of the trail, start new sections at major changes in terrain) of your favorite trail. Practice until your experience everything you experience on an actual run. For skills work on one skill three times then work on another skill three times (use the rule of three when visualizing too)

2. Start adding sections until you can imagine an entire 5-6 minute run.

3. Time your imaging sessions and compare their times to actual times on course. If your imaging is faster than real life you may being using to few reference points (physical features such as big rocks, stumps, ruts, or trees that you use to keep your bearing on the course (more on the use of reference points in my course inspection article) and skipping parts of the course or you might not be imaging all the steps it takes (braking, shifting, pedaling, jumping gaps) to get down the course. If your imaging is slower than real life you either have too many reference points and you’re getting bogged down on details that you don’t notice when racing or you don’t have enough RPs and are getting lost on the course. Figure out why you are not getting similar times and make corrections so you can image a perfect, fast race before race day.

Don’t be discouraged if you struggle with this at first. Imaging is a learned skill and gets better with practice. Mastering imagery will greatly improve your riding and/or racing.