Mountain biking

Mountain Biking, Make Skill Improvements Stick! Forever! Starting Now!

When mountain biking we often overlook crucial mental skills that help us use our physical skills better and more confidently. The mistake we will work on today I have nicknamed, “Riding with Fully Rigid Eyes”.

I came up with the name, “Fully Rigid Eyes” when I realized I was looking at the trail with the same “eyes” as I did on my first mtb ride in 1989! It was 1998, nine years later and my skill and my equipment was head and shoulders better than it was in 1989 but I was looking at the trail like I did on that first ride (on a fully rigid mountain bike)!

Let me explain the situation and how you can use this to help make your mountain biking skill increases “stick” and become much more confident. From 1994-1998 (dates might be off my a year) the first downhill race of the year for me was down the Porcupine Rim Climb (Starting at the Top of “Lazy Man’s and finishing by the stock tanks on Sand Flats road). I always walk the trails I race and memorize them (where I do EVERYTHING, where I brake, where I let off the brakes, where it get’s rocky, the lines I take, where I shift, where I sprint, etc.) and to help remember the track I make up names for each section (the fast section, the steep section, the wooded section, etc). At this race there was a rock garden which I called the “gnarly section” and on my hardtail with 1.5″ of fork travel up front and a 120 mm stem it was kind of gnarly.  However, by 1998 I had a 6″ travel full suspension bike, a 60 mm stem and my skills were much better than in 1994 (and way better than in 1989!).

On to the race! There I was, blasting through the “Gnarly Section” on my sweet Yeti/Lawwill Straight 6 with a big grin on my face. As I crossed the finish line after my first run it occurred to me, it isn’t gnarly anymore! At this race I always got a minimum of ten practice runs and the promoter gave us two race runs so by my race run in 1998 I had 50 practice runs and 10 race runs on that track! In that time I never crashed in that “gnarly section”. If you can make something 60 times out of 60 attempts, it must not be too gnarly! But, I was still calling it the gnarly section! What do you think I was thinking as I railed the corner before it and said to myself, “here comes the gnarly section”? If you are thinking I might of tensed up a bit and slowed down a hair you are right! Why? With my improved skill and way, way better bike it was easy know! So I renamed it, “that fun, rocky section”. On my next run, as I railed the corner before the “fun, rocky section” instead of tensing up and slowing down I relaxed and threw in a few pedals! Five seconds faster and I moved up from 5th to 3rd!

You can put this into practice and make skill improvements stick and increase your confidence in you and your bike! Think about it, on a scale of 1-10 my skill from 1989 to 1998 had gone from a 1 to 7 and my bike had gone from a negative 1 to an 8, yet I was still looking at the trail like I was on that negative 1 bike with a skill level of 1! Don’t to this! It is hard not to do this though, do you have a rock like the one in the short video below or a section of trail that you have never made before? Well, you probably have a name for it, something like, “that gnarly section” or “widow maker” or that “f’ing. f’ing rock that always screws me up”. Well, let say your skills improve (because you took a BetterRide camp!) and now you ride that rock or section of trail for the first time. You didn’t get lucky, you know exactly how you did it, “I looked at the rock, spotted my line, looked to victory, manualed and shifted my weight” (just like in the video below). Well, now is the time to update your reptilian brain and make sure it knows how much better you have become!

Walk up to the rock/section of trail that used to riddle you and say to yourself, “wow, for 3/5/10 years I couldn’t make it over this rock, now it is easy, simply look at the rock, spot my line, look to victory, manual and shift my weight and I’m over it.” Then ride it again to cement in that it is now easy for you. This is a crucial step to making improvements stick! Think about it, for nine years I looked at the trail with the eyes of a beginner yet I had gone from beginner to pro racer! Simply because I had not upgraded my self-image as a mountain biker (despite great upgrading my skills and my bike!) I was not allowing myself to have the confidence I should of had!

A word of caution, often men feel they have way more skill than they actually do (especially when they are between 10 and 35ish) which is why about 90% of emergency room visits for traumatic physical injuries are young males, so over confidence is bad! Make sure your skill has honestly increased and your weren’t just lucky!



Luck vs. skill, update self image, crucial skill (that you can can start working on now!)

mountain biking in Sedona

Mountain Bike Skills, How to Ride Your Best Under Pressure

This is an updated version of a mountain bike skills article I wrote in 2010. It starts off about racing but my answers will help in any “pressure situation” on trail (an unexpected gnarly rock garden, a challenging and/or exposed section of trail, etc).  I had received this email from a student:

“Hi Gene,
I’ve really started to feel the effects of your camp and my technique has got a hell of a lot better, when I’m racing i feel so confident and fast in practice.

But then when it gets to seeding and race runs this all goes out of the window and i just end up falling off, I’m not riding outside of my limits and i know that i can ride well enough to be threatening the top spot in my category but i just seem to not be able to manage the pressure and the mental side of things.

Any tips on race mentality etc??”

My updated answer for anytime you are mountain biking, not just racing:

This a tough thing for many racers and as I mentioned a few times in our camp, what good are all the mountain bike skills if you can’t use them when needed?

Before we get to your mental game, have you mastered the skills from the camp? As you know, one of my favorite sayings is, “Amateurs practice until they get it right, pros practice until they can’t get it wrong”. WHAT THIS MEANS IS,  just because you can do a skill doesn’t mean it is now hardwired as your “go to” skill. Your old habits are likely still dominant so the second you feel pressure your body reverts to what it knows best, you old, self taught “survival” skills. As you know, change takes work! The longer you have gone without learning the correct skills the more ingrained your bad habits are and the more likely they will fire under pressure instead of the correct skills. Double up your drill time and practice like Jerry Rice (who spent 99% of his football related time practicing) and you will overpower your old habits and create new, correct habits.

mountain bike skills

Mary Pat executing proper mountain bike skills over a log pile in our Durango camp last summer.

You can also toughen up your mental game. First, remember there is no difference between a race and a practice run, same track, same racer, same bike, same goal. The only difference between your race run and a practice run is the pressure YOU but on the run. Treat your race run as another practice run (especially if you are doing timed practice runs using a stopwatch) then, read these two blog posts and practice the mental skills in them: and and most importantly read, study, practice, master one of these books from your homework assignment:

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 work sheets 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 work sheets 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).

mountain bike skills

Jon Widen staying centered while descending one of the steepest lines at Whistler!

Most importantly have fun! That’s what keeps Steve Peat and Minnaar on top.


BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton explaining one of many important aspects of cornering to our students.

BetterRide Mountain Bike School On TV, Again!

Wow, I didn’t even know about this until it came up in my news feed! BetterRide Mountain Bike School On TV, Again! Not as in depth or as far reaching as our Discovery Channel special in 2004 but cool never the less!


BetterRide Mountain Bike Skills Coaching on TV!

BetterRide Mountain Bike Skills Coaching on TV!


bama cornering

Mountain Bike Coaching. The best pro in the sport taught them wrong!

Often the best athletes in a sport don’t make the best coaches. I was reading the book Blink the other day and it talked about Andre Aggassi’s advice on how he puts so much top spin on the ball. When explaining it to his coach and other coaches he stated that by turning his wrist over as he hit the ball it gave him the top spin. Well the coaches believed this (after all Andre was one of the best players in the world) and started teaching their students this. Well, an interesting thing happened, there was a huge rise in wrist injuries among young tennis players. After careful motion analysis the coaches saw that Andre’s wrist never moved, the “top the ball motion” was actually generated at his shoulder not his wrist.

Reading this reminded me of all the movements in riding that I now explain quite differently than I did 5-15 years ago. The skill hasn’t changed but after years of study I realized that I was often explaining the outcome of doing it correctly but not the actual fundamental skill. Effective coaching involves breaking skills down and being able to explain them to a diverse group of people. Then the goal isn’t to just convey knowledge but to get the rider to actually do the skill, correctly,  in ALL situations. We must explain and demonstrate how to do the skill, why/when to do the skill, how it should feel, all explained 3-4 ways so riders with different learning skills and backgrounds ALL understand.  One of the most fun aspects of my job is after 20 years of coaching I am still learning how to explain skills better. The learning of skills continues too, after 15 years of coaching mountain biking I am still learning a lot of little details on how to do skills better/easier/with less effort.

Mountain Bike Coaching

BetterRide Coach Chip assisting students in a cornering drill designed to ingrain the right habits.

It is great to see Mountain Bike Coaching catching on, good for riders and good for the sport. Unfortunately, like all professions there are great coaches, good coaches, ok coaches and outright dangerous coaches. Often the best coaches aren’t the best athletes, the athletes that had passion but not the physical gifts often study the sport more as they have to make up for their physical short comings with better technique. With this in mind I finally realized that my asthma was a blessing as it forced me to find the most efficient way to ride a bike if I wanted to be competitive against riders with much larger lungs. This plus years of being coached, going to coaching schools, reading all I could and 20 years of coaching experience has really helped me design an effective curriculum that has benefited World Champions and riders just like you.

The moral of the story, don’t believe everything you hear, even it comes from an “expert”.