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mtb camps

Inspiring Mountain Biking Students from 20 Years of Coaching, Part 1

Inspiring Mountain Biking Students from 20 Years of Coaching, Part 1

As you can imagine in my 20 years of coaching mountain bike skills I have had a lot of interesting and inspiring people take my camps. Some of these people have gone on to become famous racers, some legends in the industry (more about them in Part 2) but many of the most interesting stories come from my passionate students who simply love riding bikes.

They say that with age comes wisdom and I have definitely learned a lot from some of my oldest students. While most people aged 50 plus are retiring from sports or watching their performance in their sport/s of choice decline many of my “older students” have inspired me to keep learning, improving and getting better for the rest of my life!

My first older student was a 55-year-old grandmother who had learned to ride a bike that year! She never had a bike until she was 55, impossible for me to even imagine how scary and intimidating it must have been for her. Did I mention she had four fused vertebrae?! She said her friends thought she was crazy and that they just sat home and watched TV most of the time. I remember telling her that her friends were the crazy ones, she was smart enough to continue learning, growing and exploring. I will never forget the smile on her face when she did her first wheelie! (unfortunately, I did forget her name, it was 19 years ago!)

Two other “older students” I coached were Nancy Harris (aka Den Mom) and her husband Roger Gutierrez. Nancy and her husband Roger took my first ever Bootleg Canyon Downhill Camp (with Luna Chick Marla Streb as my guest coach) in 2005. Nancy had grown up riding motorcycles and now both of them were into downhill mountain bike racing. While her heart was willing Nancy’s knees were failing her, years of dirt bike riding had left her knees not functioning too well.

Nancy almost hidden (third from left) and Roger (in clear jacket, black hat in back row) and the 2005 Bootleg Crew

Nancy taught me to be tough! Seeing her grimace in pain but keep riding hard made a big impression on me. If she could ride in that pain I could push her bike (and my bike) up the trail to the top during that camp as her knees were really hurting in the cold (yes, it snowed in Las Vegas that weekend!). She has gone on to have both knees replaced, did her painful rehab and his still riding and racing downhill 14 years later! Roger is still riding and racing too, what an amazing couple!

mtb camps

Nancy Harris slaying corners a couple of years ago!

I once coached a 67-year-old student in Fruita who rode up and over this rock on Prime Cut in Fruita (a student is riding down in this photo):

He did it with ease (using the manual and weight shift from this article: http://betterride.net/blog/2018/mtb-manual-over-obstacles-w-overlocked-move-video-tutorial/ ). That isn’t the coolest part though. I was coaching in Fruita three years later and this elderly gentleman walked up to me and he said, “Gene, I don’t know if you remember me but I took a camp from you three years ago and you said that I was the oldest rider you ever saw go up the rock on Prime Cut”. I excitedly replied, “yeah, I remember you, you were 67!” He then, very nonchalantly said, “I just wanted to tell you, I did it again yesterday, thanks for your coaching.” He went up that rock at 70! Wow!

My oldest student so far has been Fred Schmid who was 78 when he took a camp from me in Dallas, Texas eight years ago. Now that alone is impressive, mountain biking at 78! But wait, there’s more, he did the Leadville 100 when he was 80 and finished in under 12 hours earning him the coveted Leadville 100 belt buckle! Fred started mountain biking in his 70’s after being a rancher in Waco, Texas. Last I heard from him he was doing the Telluride 100 at 83 years of age! If that doesn’t inspire you nothing will!

Mountain bike racer Fred

My meme is incorrect this was photo was from 2014 when Fred was actually 81 at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race! Apparently, he had a stomach bug and couldn’t eat enough during the race and was mad that he didn’t finish in under 12 hours to earn is second belt buckle!

I’m sure I have left a few older riders that I have coached but don’t think you didn’t inspire me too! Here’s to all the older riders out there inspiring the youngun’s that they don’t have to grow old! Thanks for the inspiration!

Challenging mountain bike Trails

Challenging Mountain Bike Trails Should be Ridden with Skills, Not Balls MTB Video

Challenging Mountain Bike Trails Should be Ridden with Skills, Not Balls

Sorry for the use of the term “Balls” but this a common comment on some of my riding videos and I wanted to address this comment (that is often thought or said as a compliment). I will replace “balls” with “nerve” as to not offend those offended by that use of the word.

Does it take nerve to do anything you are 100% confident that you can do easily? Does it take nerve to walk down a crowded sidewalk in the city you live in? For me, things I have great confidence in do not take nerve.

How do you gain confidence without taking risks? Work on your skills in a safe environment. Once you feel you are consistently riding in balance and in control slowly, using baby steps start tackling tougher or slightly more exposed sections of trail.

Things I lack confidence in doing which have consequences that might involve a trip to the emergency room(or worse), would take a lot of nerve and at 52 I choose not to do them. This video demonstrates both of my points. You will see me ride one exposed section of trail with confidence then see me stop right after a little white sign because I am not 100% confident on the next short section of trail.


While I must be on my A-game to ride this section of trail I know I possess the skills to ride this trail. Well, most of it, notice where I stop, the section I stop at I have ridden once but I was following a friend and he made it look easy so I took his line. Having ridden this section of the Portal Trail once before, I know I have the skill to ride it. I am, however not 100% confident I could do it 10 out of 10 times. Therefore, I chose to walk this section because I lack the nerve to do it.

Then there is Darkfest and Redbull Rampage, those events take great skill and a great deal of nerve!

Nothing good comes from riding over your head, if you make it, you feel lucky (not that your skill has increased). If you don’t make it, that can really set you back, physically and mentally. No amount of peer pressure is going to get me to ride something that is dangerous and I am not confident doing.

The Portal Trail is a great example. On that ride I was riding with a rider is both more skilled than me and quite a bit younger than me (and I was hoping to follow him!) but he was tired and not feeling it that day and let me go by. When I stopped and looked back he was walking sections I have seen him ride cleanly. Smart man, as Dave Weins once said in an interview, “sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.”

How to mtb, weight shift

MTB Manual Over Obstacles w/Overlooked Move, Video Tutorial

MTB Manual Over Obstacles w/Overlocked Move, Video Tutorial and frame by frame break down

Going up and over obstacles takes a lot more than just a manual.  It is all about finesse, not speed (though there is a minimum speed for this, which I found by testing how slow I could do this 🙂  ). Last week I said, “smooth equals fast and efficient” and I’m saying it again. This is all about being smooth!

Watch the video for the 2-minute tip and check out the frame by frame breakdown below. Please don’t think you will never use this by the size of the wall I’m using, I do the exact same thing on obstacles of six inches or more. I used this wall to graphically demonstrate the technique and show how these two very basic skills can achieve massive results.

As you can see it is a really simple but committed technique using two simple core skills I have been teaching for 19 years on the first day of my famous three-day skills camps, the manual and the weight shift. As a matter of fact, I have had several students work their way up to doing this by the end of my three-day camp.

By committed I mean you can’t try to do this! Either do it or don’t because stalling halfway will end badly! So baby step your way up to this. Find something much smaller and/or less steep to start on. Luckily, connected to this wall is a smaller wall that goes from a curb with just to pavers on top and has one paver increments up to this height, perfect for practicing.

First the manual breakdown. The manual isn’t a pulling or lifting maneuver, it all about pushing your bars forward while pushing your hips back (which pushes your feet forward and powers your arms). There is no need to push down and load your fork either (though it appears I’m doing it a bit here, I taught to start with a push down until about 2010 when Andy Winoradsky (one of my former BetterRide coaches) showed me that is was unnecessary, old habits die hard!) that simply wastes energy and could spell trouble on a loose, slippery or off-camber surface (your front wheel could slide out).

Start Low, centered and hinged with knees bent, elbows out (tutorial on this important descending position: http://betterride.net/blog/2018/mountain-bike-body-position-the-fundamental-movement-video-tutorial/ ). Ready to power that handlebar shove with your hips.

Drive your hips back and push your handlebars forward (not up, simply away from you). Notice, my hips are almost

over my rear axle and arms are starting to straighten.

My hips are now further back, bars further forward and I’m looking to the top of the wall.

My front wheel is unweighted and leaving the ground, arms nearly straight hips over the rear axle. Notice my heels

have dropped and legs have straightened out a bit as they push my hips back and pedals forward.

mtb how to manual

My legs are much straighter having driven my hips behind the rear axle and pushed my pedals forward. I’m now

looking past the wall, where I want to end up (looking to victory!).

MTB how to weight shift

Now I’m starting my weight shift. I am going to drive my hips and chest forward and slightly upward to keep my momentum

going up and over this wall (instead of straight into it which a manual without the weight shift would do, stalling the rider out).

How to mtb, weight shift

Look at that weight shift, my head and chest are over my handlebars, my hips have moved 2.5 feet forward and the bike has pivoted beneath me into an almost vertical position. Notice how lightly my rear tire is hitting the curb at the bottom of the wall! This is why the weight shift works, without the weight shift all of my momentum would have slammed straight into the curb, stalling me out and probably pinch flatting my rear tire.

Almost there! Almost done with my weight shift, bike pivoting back towards level and weight almost recentered.

Mountain Bike How to Manual

Victory is mine! 🙂 On top, centered and neutral ready for the next thing the trail throws at me!

I hope this has been a help to you! If it has please let know in the comments below and/or on youtube. If you know someone who could benefit from this please feel free to share it.

Thanks for tuning in, now go practice this!

 

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