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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”.

Student Joey Schusler practicing on trail

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position Part 2

Wow, I seemed to ruffle a few feathers with my Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position Part 1 post. I was simply asked a question from a student and I answered it. I was not intending to offend anyone and certainly it was nothing personal. A couple people said that I had “harsh criticism for Shaums March” which is interesting to me as I didn’t mention his name, and I simply stated my opinion (and Greg Minnaar’s) on cornering.  Shaums is a friend of mine who have great respect for and some of what I know about cornering is from getting friendly arguments with Shaums and then testing his theories verses my theories. I believe that a good deal of what Shaums and I believe about cornering is the same with two exceptions (that are closer to one exception explained two ways): 1. Shaum’s has said dropping and putting all your weight on the outside pedal is a bad habit, which I disagree with and say that sometimes your goal is 100% of your weight on the outside pedal (those times mentioned in my previous post) 2. Shaums has said (in his rebuttal of my post) that you always want your weight equal on both pedals throughout the turn, which I agree with A Lot of the time but NOT all the time.

Also remember, other than dropping your inside foot which is dangerous and off balance, foot position is not as important as vision (looking through the corner), braking before the corner, hip placement and upper body position. Focus on getting the BIG Picture skills dialed before the smaller picture skills.

What matters with foot position in corners is your goal in that corner. Sometimes your goal is to set an edge, other times it is to pump the corner and gain speed, other times it is to keep the wheels on the ground in a rough corner. I am defining a corner as being approximately 80 degrees of direction change or more. Often on trail there are wiggles (20-75 degree minor changes in direction) when your foot position doesn’t really matter (no need for foot down). The last thing I want a ride doing is thinking on trail, “is this a foot down corner or a foot level corner?” so we teach most riders to focus on dropping your outside foot and most/all of the time you enter a corner where foot down is not required your subconscious “auto-pilot” simply doesn’t drop your foot. Our goal is to get you to understand and do the skills we teach (there is huge difference between understanding and doing! Understanding is worthless if you can’t do!) and for students with limited practice time we have found this is the best way to get them to do (and think less). Rarely will dropping your foot when you didn’t need to hurt you but 100% of the time if your feet stay level when you should of dropped and weighted the outside foot you WILL Slide out!

Short recap, I (and Greg Minnaar) believe that when your goal is to set an edge like a ski racer and corner a full 90% or more at the highest possible speed in a smooth corner you want to drop the outside foot and put 100% of your weight on that foot. Doing this gives you; more traction, a lower center of mass, 155-175 mm of leverage, easier separation from bike when big lean angle is necessary and more leverage using your skeletal structure for support instead of your muscles (to fight the G-forces in a corner).

Mountain bike cornering foot position.

Greg Minnaar Cornering outside foot down.

 

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp!

I have been told by so many riders, racers and students that you keep your feet level in berms! Again it depends on your goal, berms have little to do with foot position. If your goal is dig the tires into the berm for maximum grip at max speed you are going to drop and put 100% of your weight on that outside pedal, like Greg Minnaar in the photo squence above (which, when we shifted our focus to pumping corners Greg entered the berm slow enough to not worry about traction, kept his feet level and he gain an amazing amount of speed!). If you are going slow enough that you want to pump the corner and gain speed (which means you obviously aren’t worried about sliding out) you will keep you feet level.

Much of the time, when you are on twisty trails with a lot of 50- approximately 79 degree “bends” you goal is to keep equal weight on each pedal and stay fluidly in balance (feet are level to the ground but outside foot moving “down” in relation ship to your bottom bracket). Also, in rocky, rooty or braked bumped corners where your goal isn’t to set an edge but to keep the wheels on the ground you will corner feet level. Again, there is no time to think on the trail so with enough drills this will become second nature, switching from foot down to feet level hundreds of times in a ride. Watch Danny Hart in this sick run alternate between the foot down and foot level in the corners on his World Championship winning run below.  At 21 seconds in (1:27.4 on the freecaster clock on screen), 41 seconds in and 50 seconds in (1:56.3 on freecasters clock on screen) Danny plants the outside foot for maximum traction. On quite a few other corners he is foot level.

Some examples. Saturday I rode the McKenzie River Trail and since it basically follows a river there weren’t to many full 90 degree corners so for at least a minute on one descent I realized that my feet were level through 8-10 “turns” then, a very high speed a 100 degree left turn appeared and I dropped that outside and railed the turn. On Sunday I rode the Alpine trail in Oakridge, OR which had many more 90 degree high speed corners so I was dropping my outside foot way more than I was on Saturday on the straighter trail.

Learning to corner feet level AND foot down is important to reaching your best as a rider. There is no one way for all corners but there is definitely a better way for each individual corner.

Next week, part 3 the advantages and disadvantages of riding switchfoot (switching which foot is forward in corners) for cornering.

We spend three hours on cornering in our camps! This is a lot of information and it is much easier to explain, demonstrate and have you practice it in person than over the web! This is meant to be brief and to the point, not every bit of cornering information I have.

 

Steve Peat cornering outside foot down!

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!

cody kelly has mountain bike skills

What You Know (correctly) About Mountain Bike Skills is Hurting You!

I’m not kidding or trying to be controversial when I say, “What You Know (correctly) About Mountain Bike Skills is Hurting Your Progress!” Let’s say you know to ride in balance in the correct body position, how could that possibly be hurting you?  The answer is simple, if you are like I was when I first turned pro you aren’t doing what you know! Also, again, like me, you might know 50-80% of the skill but are probably missing a few/a lot of the details of that skill.

Knowledge can be a scary thing as it often makes us feel competent when we aren’t. An example of this in my first 10 years of riding   and in nearly every rider I see on trail (from beginners to pro cross-country racers) is the skill of looking ahead. We all know to look ahead, heck I came from snowboard racing background and then snowboard coaching background, I won a lot of races looking ahead and taught told the athletes I coached to do the same. The scary thing is, as a mountain biker I wasn’t looking ahead on trail, maybe sometimes (when it was easy) but I finally realized I was looking down, a lot! That is the trap of knowledge and why I say knowledge is worthless without action. What good is knowing how to do something if you aren’t doing it? When needed! We teach our students HOW to look ahead and provide drills to master this mountain bike skill.

cody kelly has mountain bike skills

BetterRide student Cody Kelly showing what practice can do for your mountain bike skills!

A couple of students summed this up pretty well, one,  Peter Tsang  in this review on mtbr:  http://reviews.mtbr.com/review-betterride-three-day-mountain-bike-skills-camp and another, Matt MacKay in his comments after reading the article. Matt wrote, “I can’t say enough good things about this camp. I went to Las Vegas in February to ride in Gene’s camp, and like the reviewer, I had knowledge of a lot of what was being taught. However the structure of the camp and Gene’s teaching style brought all of that knowledge and technique together. All of the pieces fell into place, and seemingly overnight I was a better rider. There is still a lot of learning for me to do. But now I know what my mistakes are and how to fix them.” (you can read his entire comment on mtbr) A real simple way of saying this is both Peter and Matt were not doing what they know (at least not very well).

We do this a lot in life, especially on our mountain bikes (Were you looking ahead in the last rock garden you encountered? The entire way?) because our big brain knows how to do something we think we are doing it! The problem is we don’t use our conscious, thinking brain to do anything athletically. We rely on our subconscious “autopilot” and it needs structured repetition to first understand and then master a skill. Even once we master a skill if we don’t use structured practice we will soon use the sharpness of that skill!

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills!

So, once you learn, hear and/or read about a skill take the time to drill it into your body (after making sure the skill is correct!). There is an old saying sports, “Amateurs practice until they get it right and pros practice until they can’t get it wrong”. Sadly, 95% of mountain bikers have never practiced at all, they just go out and ride. Practice is the way to create your best ride yet!

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow and look further through the corner like he did on the pavement. A few more sessions of drills and he will be solid!