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Mary Pat executing proper technique over a log pile in our Durango camp last summer.

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 2

Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 2.

Fear, the killer! Fear is a topic we deal with a lot in our skills camps. Even with new and/or greatly improved skills from our camp fear can still hold you back. With this in mind I will share some ways we help our students manage their fear while mountain biking. Fear does have a purpose and it isn’t always a bad thing, appropriate fear (fear that keeps you from doing something you lack the skill to do safely) can keep you safe and save you from injury! We are going to focus on inappropriate fear (fear that is either based in fantasy or fear that doesn’t equal the risk at hand).

 

Mountain Bike at Your Best

You can see from body position I was a little scared here (my weight is a hair too far back instead of being centered) and on King Kong trail a little fear keeps you safe! A lot of fear would of probably caused me to crash.

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 make you feel confident! 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.

2. 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”.

2.5 Ride that trail with confidence! Focusing on not falling does not put you in a confident state and studies have shown that we become less coordinated as our confidence drops. As I have stated in previous blog posts mountain biking is an offensive sport! This means we should always ride on the offense or get off and walk! Mountain biking defensively will get you hurt as you are focusing on what you don’t want to do and you are less coordinated.

3. 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!

4. 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 grimace will release those endorphins and relax you!

7. 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.

Example: We used used to race down the Porcupine Rim climb in Moab (from Lazy Man’s to the stock tanks) and there was a section most of us referred to as “the Gnarly Section”. It was a two foot rock drop into a field of “baby head” rocks and ledges. When I first raced it in 1994 on a hardtail with a 1.5″ travel Mag 20 fork it was kind of gnarly! By 1998 my bike had gone from hardtail to 6″ of travel front and rear and I had ridden that track over 50 times and raced it 10 times (we got two race runs back then!). On my first race run in 1998, I railed the corner before that section and said to myself, “here comes the gnarly section”, what do think saying that made me do? If you guessed, “tense up and slow down a little bit” you are correct! After that run it occurred to me that I had ridden that section at least 61 times and never crashed in it. If you can ride something cleanly 61 times out of 61 attempts is it really gnarly? I realized my bike had gotten way better and I had become way more confident a rider so why did I fear this section and call it “the gnarly section”? I decided to change the name of the section to, “that fun rocky section”, which, on my 6″ travel Yeti Lawwill it was! On my second run, as I railed that corner and said, “here comes the fun rocky section” do you think I slowed down and tensed up? No, I smiled, relaxed and probably snuck in a few pedal strokes!

So, don’t do what I did for five years, failing to update my self-image as a rider. As you improve make a conscious effort to raise your self-image as a rider!

drops and jumps on your mountain bike

BetterRide Coach and National Champion Jackie Harmony experiences fear too, she just as more confidence than most riders so it takes a tougher trail for fear to affect her.

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.

Example: I was working with a pro downhill racer on calming his pre-race nerves and I kept asking him, “why are you nervous?”, finally after four of five answers that couldn’t be the main cause of his nerves he said, “I don’t want to let my wife and kids down.” I then asked, “so you doing well in a bike race is really important to your wife and kids? If you do poorly they will lose respect for you and love you less?” He laughed and said something like, “no, my wife and kids see how hard I train and want me to do well but I’m pretty sure they don’t base their love for me on how well I race my bike.”  When we got him to bring this fear into the light he realized it was completely made up and he was putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on himself. After this he still got nervous before a race but the appropriate amount, enough to give him energy but not hurt his performance.

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.

 

mtb skills

You Aren’t Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do! (on your mtb)

On trail you aren’t doing what you know you are supposed to do! Every riding “tip” you have heard or read isn’t working because you don’t mountain bike with the part of your brain that listens to those tips! I know because I was a frustrated, professional mountain biker racer with 10 years of mtb experience who realized that I was looking down, a lot! Despite being a former professional snowboard racer and a snowboard race coach who was always stressing the importance of looking ahead (and was damn good at looking ahead on a snowboard). The listening part of your brain is great at mental tasks, solving math problems, remembering your childhood phone number, reading this blog and THINKING! When riding our bikes we don’t want to think! As a matter of fact thinking is the worst thing we can do. When we are mountain biking well he are simply doing, not thinking, not trying, we are on “auto-pilot” and just doing! Riding a bike is a lot like driving a car, have you ever gotten home from work and as you pulled into your driveway thought, “how the heck did I get home”? You don’t remember the route, you certainly don’t remember turning on your blinker, applying your brakes at a stop sign, looking both ways and then turning left. You don’t remember because your “big”, conscious, thinking brain isn’t being used to do the task of driving.

You don’t mountain bike with your “big brain” because your cerebellum (“little brain”) controls your motor skills and the best way to teach it is through practice. When I explain something to you your “big brain” says, “yes, that makes sense, I will do that from now on” but your “little brain” will go out and do what it is used to doing, not what I just taught you. This is the reason coaches invented drills for sports, musical instruments and even math, because there is a big difference between understanding and doing.

I bring all of this up because when I was out riding on Saturday I saw the most interesting thing. I was descending and saw a rider climbing the trail I was going down, so I pulled over to give him is right of way and watched him climb. He was staring right in front of his front tire, for at least 30 seconds! Yet, this guy works for a large bike manufacturer and has been riding for nearly two decades. I know if you asked him, “is it important to look ahead?”, he would say “yes”! Yet, he wasn’t looking ahead, not even for a second and he was weaving all over the trail and really struggling. So he knows to look ahead but isn’t doing it because he hasn’t taught is body and his cerebellum to look ahead.

You Aren't Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do! (on your mtb)

Wow, pro xc racer looking straight down at the entrance to an easy banked corner at the National Championships!

When you are just learning any new motor skill involving the performance of complex sequenced movements like mountain biking or talking or writing, etc., you use your primary motor cortex, your primary sensory cortex (in order to monitor how your muscles are moving) and two other regions of the brain called the caudate nucleus and thalamus. The role of the caudate and the thalamus is to help coordinate and smooth out the movements in response to how the movements feel to you. They also help you to speed up your movements as you become a better rider.

After you become a highly experienced mountain biker, another region of the brain usually takes over; it’s called the cerebellum (or little brain). Whenever we perform a well-learned movement we access our cerebellum to retrieve the memory of how to move our muscles quickly, efficiently and without thinking. This is why thinking while riding usually gets in the way of riding well. Once you know the movements needed to do the skills to ride well, the cerebellum allows you to execute them without thinking about how to do those skills.

You Aren't Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do! (on your mtb)

Another Pro XC racer looking down (and way out of position). So sad to spend all that time and energy training to be that fit only to lose 2-3 minutes an hour because of poor vision techniques!

In the case above (experienced rider looking down) he has practiced the incorrect method of looking down so much that now is cerebellum is telling him to look down. If he gets wise to the importance of looking ahead it will take months of doing structured vision drills to reprogram his cerebellum so that he starts looking ahead on the trail. A great case of you aren’t doing what you know you are supposed to do.

Through this blog, our free mini-course and our camps we really want to help you to ride your best. Please don’t let your ego trick you into thinking that because you “know” a particular skill that you are actually doing it. I have had the pleasure of coaching motocross racers, GP motorcycle racers and car racers, all sports which require looking way further ahead than we do on mountain bikes (because of their much greater speed). The interesting thing was they were all surprised (and often angry) at how much they caught themselves looking down on their mtb. It surprised me too! It turns out that “little brain” training is sport specific. So do the drills in our mini-course, do the drills in our blog articles and if you have been fortunate enough to take one of our camps do the drills from the camp. Knowledge is worthless until you can consistently put that knowledge into action!

Create your best ride yet,

Gene

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.

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!