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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

cody kelly has mountain bike skills

BetterRide MTB Camp Grads Tear Up the Sea Otter! (while their coach just gets older and slower! :) )

BetterRide MTB Camp Grads Tear Up the Sea Otter! (while their coach just gets older and slower! 🙂 )

Wow, what a weekend! While I was busy coaching a fun group of riders here in Moab quite a few of former campers were either winning races or landing on the podium at the Sea Otter Classic!

So stoked to see my students chasing their dreams and amazed to see that at least one “BetterRider” was in the top 4 of every gravity event at Sea Otter!

Cornering powerhouse Mitch Ropelato (SRAM) won the Sea Otter Dual Slalom in style! Congratulations Mitch! Another Gold for your huge trophy case!

Video of Mitch racing Kyle Warner here (courtesy of Kyle Warner) ! https://www.facebook.com/Kwmtb/videos/1347650138614481/

Former Sea Otter Dual Slalom Champion Cody Kelly (Yeti) earned a third place finish is the pumptrack race! Cody was also 14th in the Downhill! Great work Cody, looking forward to seeing your best season yet!

Mitch Ropelato and Cody Kelly in the fastest ever  BetterRide Camp, 2009?

Mitch Ropelato (White Fox Jersey) and Cody Kelly (yellow helmet behind Mitch) in the fastest ever BetterRide Camp, 2009?

Wow, the photo brings back found memories! Jackie and Dante Harmony, Heikki Hall, Szymon Kowalski and Will Collins. Nearly 10 years ago, wow, how time flys.

Mike Day (Giant Bicycles) is back from retirement and raced his way to 2nd place in the Downhill and Kiran Mackinnon (Santa Cruz) earned a 4th place finish. Congratulations to both of you! I’m impressed!

Mike Day’s teammate on Giant Bikes, McKay Vezina pedaled and pumped his way to 4th in the Enduro!  McKay is off to fast start this season as he was 15th in the Downhill and finished 21st in the second Enduro World Series of the season. Keep it up McKay!

What a great weekend! Hoping yours was filled with challenge, triumph (you gave it your best!) learning and fun!

 

Mountain bike cornering foot placement

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners:  Another question I get all the time is some version of, “how is my technique different in a bermed (banked) corner than in a flat corner?”

As I explain in my camps a bermed corner (banked) is still a corner. That means everything depends on traction, speed and your goal. If I feel I’m going slower than the max speed that berm will allow and I want to gain speed, I’m going to keep my feet level and pump that berm to gain speed.

Depending on the steepness and traction I might even lean with my bike! But, those berms are rare, especially at your favorite local trail or in a downhill race, usually a berm in a downhill race is there to “save” you. You are hauling tail into the corner and just hoping to eek out enough traction that you make the corner without sliding your tires (sliding scrubs your speed). In a berm like this (where you simply want to make it) you are going to use proper, outside foot down and weighted, “flat” cornering technique. More on that here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-15o , here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-15P , here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-159 and here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-18L

Many riders want to think that ALL berms are magically different than a flat corner but in reality, some berms are massively different than a flat corner (steeply banked, perfectly placed and either tacky or hard-packed, grippy surface) and some are the same as a flat corner (barely banked or really loose).

Many berms are simply “push piles” of dirt that won’t hold your tires and some good looking berms are no where near the optimal line for that corner. I remember a race in the late 90’s at Big Bear where they built these massive, beautiful berms but they taped the inside of the corner about 8-10 feet inside of the berm. Most of the amateur racers were target fixated on those berms and enjoying them while all the pros were cutting way inside of the berms shaving 30-50 feet off the distance around those berms saving time. Those berms were fun but useless if you wanted to do your best in the race.

Recently I have found some outright dangerous berms.  Last summer we were riding some fast trails with a few newly built berms in Oakridge, Oregon . Unfortunately, many of the berms ended about 60-75% of the way through the corner, right as you really needed the added traction of the berm it either disappeared or flatted out too much to hold you. If you aren’t looking through the corner (looking well past the exit at the start of the corner) you might get caught by surprise as the bank decreased in size and steepness while you were relying on it for traction. In short, 60-75% of the way through the corner your traction got cut in half and if you were relying on the berm for traction (leaning into the turn a bit) when you hit the end of the berm you will slide out. If the berm was solid for the length of the corner you would already be standing the bike up straight when the berm stopped.

On a really steep berm with great traction (some of the ones on A-line at Whistler for example) I might even initiate my turn by dropping my shoulder and “throwing myself” into the berm. If I overestimate the traction in the berm this can put me on the ground, if there is enough traction I will rocket through and gain speed.

A great example of this is Greg Minnaar in one of my Bootleg Camps. We use the little BMX/pump track there to work on pumping and pumping corners. When Greg was flying into the first berm at top speed he ALWAYS dropped is outside foot and did what I would call a “perfect” in balance in control corner.

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp! With his outside leg straight and down with most of his weight on it!

When we were demonstrating pumping corners and Greg hit the same berm going quite a bit slower he kept his feet level so both knees would be bent so he could pump with both legs and gain speed. We (Greg and I) never taught the dip your shoulder technique because berms that allow you to do that are extremely rare and there are zero berms at Bootleg with enough traction to use this technique

LASTLY and more importantly, most riders (including many sub world cup level pro racers) fail to look through the berm which is Much, Much more important than all of what I just wrote! So there is a hierarchy of skills and most of us need to focus on the more important parts of corner (looking through #1, finishing cutting speed before the corner is #2). This is the problem with all the “tips” out there, they fill your head with “knowledge” but don’t get you doing that “knowledge” on trail because you haven’t trained your body to execute that skill tip.

First, learn, practice and master proper cornering technique. Then use that technique in every corner, especially the first time you hit that corner. If, after riding that corner and/or stopping to scope it out, you decide that the berm will add more traction than necessary at the speed you are going you can try out “bermed cornering techniques” that briefly put you out of balance but when executed correctly will increase your exit speed.

mountain bike coaching

Mountain Bike Coaching, Are you Wasting Your Money?

Mountain Bike Coaching, Are You Wasting Your Money?

I have uber-students, they take every opportunity to learn more about riding. They take a three day camp from me, three day camps from other coaches, 2-4 hour clinics from other coaches, etc. They ask me all kinds of great questions, they go online and participate in forums on mountain bike skills, etc. These students are stoked on learning and I love their enthusiasm! Sadly, most of them haven’t improved nearly as much have they could have with the amount of time and money they have invested in their riding (from me, and/or all the other coaches).

Now, don’t get me wrong, they possess a ton of knowledge, often jumbled and contradictory knowledge but there is a lot of knowledge stored in their big brains, “look at the big brain on Brad!” (Pulp Fiction quote) So, why are they wasting their money on that coaching (including my coaching)? They are wasting their money because they keep looking for that next piece, the little piece about cornering that is going to make them finally corner like Aaron Gwin, or wheelie like Robbie Root! The thing thing is, there is no little piece they are missing.

What they are missing is mastery of the core skills. The core skills that I and any other coach that is an actual coach taught them! Dan Millman (World Champion Gymnast, coach and author of “The Inner athlete”, Body Mind Mastery” and The “Peaceful Warrior Series”) state’s, “Athletes’ problems with learning or improving their skills are tied to weak fundamentals. To raise athletes’ potential you need to rebuild their foundation for success”. Famous Alabama Football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant would tell you the same thing as would all US Team Coaches (US Skiing, Tennis, Soccer, etc).

I understand, we want more! More skills, more $1,000 rims that make the trail feel rougher (whoops, different blog topic 😉 ) more little “tips” that will finally get us where we want to go!

The problem is, they (the uber-students mentioned above) may understand the fundamentals, and probably do them a fair amount of the time but, they are not doing them all the time!

They haven’t mastered the basics from their first 3 day camp with me. What they are missing is mastery of the core, fundamental skills! Which means when the trail get challenging their lack of mastery shows as they make mistakes and/or revert to old, bad habits.

Watch Greg Minnaar and/or Aaron Gwin (or any other top 10 World Cup downhill racer) what “advanced skill/s” are they using? None! They are just executing the basics flawlessly. Watch them through a gnarly rock garden, their head isn’t moving, watch Aaron Gwin or Minnaar in a corner, they are simply executing the basics, flawlessly.

Mountain Bike Coaching

Greg in 2010 at Fort William, centered, balanced , fast and consistent nothing fancy here, just executing the basics!

Are they also doing a little “thing” or two that maybe aren’t basic, fundamentals? Yes, but they are little things! Do those little things help Aaron Gwin win? Yes, they do. (the top three pro men were separated by less than a second in the last World Cup in Cairns, AU)  Will those little nuances help someone who rides at 80% or less of Aaron Gwin’s ability, NO! Why? Did I mention Aaron Gwin executes the basics flawlessly?!

There is hierarchy to skills and the fundamentals are the most important, advanced “little things” don’t work on a flawed foundation!

“What about in bermed corner, what is the difference in technique in a berm corner vs a flat corner Gene?” I get some version of that question almost daily and the answer for most riders/racers is, “nothing, if you aren’t looking through that corner” and nothing if you are going faster than that berms ability to help you (all berms aren’t created equally). (for the actual differences in bermed vs flat corners check out my next blog article)

In all “mature” sports (sports that have had coaching for 30+ years and top athletes make a good living in) such as ski racing, football, golf, tennis, basketball, etc.. The top athletes spend 80-90% of their time deliberately practicing their sport (doing drills with a focus on quality, not quantity) and only 10-20% of their time actually doing their sport. Football great Jerry Rice spent 99% of his football related time practicing and only 1% playing (as referenced in the book “Outliers”).

In those more “mature” sports athletes spend years/decades practicing the basics five to six days a week. Once they have truly mastered the basics they start adding in the more advanced skills to their practice but, the bulk of their practice continues to be the BASICS, everyday, using drills that they “mastered” 5-15 years ago.

The majority of us need to focus on the basics (that will make us 20-100% better) and get them wired before we work on the little nuances that might make us 1% better.

Are you honestly looking ahead 100% of the time? Looking past the exit of every corner? Always cornering in perfect body position? Are you always returning to a centered, balanced, neutral position after every rock garden, jump, drop and obstacle? If your answer is a resounding yes, then it might be time to add the little 1% skills to your foundation training.

Until then, work on mastering your foundation, your time spent/reward ratio will be much higher than working on skills you lack the foundation to execute.

Dirt Magazine to 2009 Pro 4x and Jr. Cat 1 Downhill US National Champion Mitch Ropelato (now on Specialized Factory Team) in a interview in the Oct. 2009 issue: 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 back in the day, notice his vision and body position. Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

Mitch cornering back in the day, notice his vision (looking way past the exit of the corner) easy to talk about but takes a lot of quality practice to master). Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

That was after 1 or 2 “basic camps” with me. Mitch understood that he didn’t need to know more, but that we needed to know better. He did is drills, religiously! Mitch didn’t say, “now I know this, time to find something new”. He said, “now I know this, time to master this”.

Mitch went on to take a total of five basic camps, and then my downhill race camp and some private lessons (where I still focused on having him execute the basics). Can you corner like Mitch? If not, time to work on the basics!

Look, I could make a fortune if I offered basic, intermediate and advanced camps and sent students down the line through my series of three, three day camps but I’m in this to help people, not pump them up and lie to them. You don’t need an advanced camp, you need to master the basics.

Stop searching and wasting your money looking for “more” and focus on “BETTER”. I’m sure your favorite coach would love to continue to coach, critique and work with you on the basics instead of trying to coach you some little nuance that you lack the foundation for.

Master the fundamentals and you will reach your potential as a mountain biker! Keep trying to figure that “magic piece” that you are missing and you will never reach your potential.