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: , here: , here: and here:

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.


Stop being one with your bike!

Mountain Bike Your Best, Every Ride, Mental & Physical Warm Up Plan

Ever struggle at the beginning of ride? Wish you could mountain bike your best, every ride? I received the following question from a student and it lead to a this article on warming up.

“I have a question about getting into the groove. It happens to me a lot that when I start out on a trail it takes a while for me to get into riding smoothly and comfortably. Even on trails I know very well. Sometimes it takes 20-30 minutes of riding before I feel comfortable. Darn good thing I’m an endurance racer and not a downhill racer, but it is frustrating. Can you give me some help as to how to overcome this? Is it common?

This is quite common for many riders and I (and many of my students) have the same problem. I always like to warm up for at least 20 minutes before I hit the trail. For a trail ride or before my first downhill run of the day I usually warm up by doing my cornering and skills drills in a parking lot and riding a mellow trail or road. Recently I have added a dynamic warm up (jumping jacks, dynamic stretching) before I ride and this has really helped my focus (by lengthening my warm up a bit) and my body (by opening up my body, especially my back).  As I often state in my coaching sessions most of my crashes happen within 5 minutes of getting on my bike when I don’t warm up (because I am not focused).


Mountain bike your best

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills! Great way to warm up!

Dan Millman (author of Way of The Peaceful Warrior and Body, Mind Mastery) recommends transition periods when going from one aspect/role of life to another (mother to bike rider, business person to bike rider, stressed out business person to patient, loving father, etc.) and this can really help you get rid of distractions and focus on the present. A pre-ride routine (see article below) is a detailed example of this. I have a short one that I do when I get to the trailhead. As I am changing from street clothes to riding gear I take a few breaths and think about: 1. The day I have had so far and then putting it behind me 2. How fortunate I am to be going on a peaceful mountain bike ride when there is so much turmoil going on in the world. 3. How beautiful the woods/mountain is that I am about to play in. 4. How much fun it is to ride my bike! 5. What I am going to focus on (vision, counter pressure, body position, etc.) to help me enjoy the ride even more. 6. Something Missy Giove told me, she makes peace with the mountain before riding. I believe she learned this from a native American tradition. She really looks around at the beauty of her surroundings and tells the mountain, thank you letting me play on you, you are beautiful, I am not here to harm you but enjoy your beauty and trails (probably slightly mis-quoted this conversation was about 20 years ago). It may sound a little new age but I have found it to be really calming and help clear my mind.

In conclusion, I stress to all of my students the importance of a warm up. It helps clear your mind and get you focused, helps loosen up your muscles and relax you and helps you get the most out of your ride. Remember that you want to do dynamic stretching before you ride, not static stretching (where you hold the stretch). Static stretching takes away up to 20% of the elasticity in your muscles for up to three hours, it should be done after exercise.

Creating a Pre-ride or Pre-race Routine

To make themselves feel comfortable and confident, top competitors in many different sports utilize a personalized pre-race (or pre-game) routine to help them perform at their best. Routines are not the same as rituals, a routine is a structured plan designed to help you reach your optimum performance while a ritual relies on superstition to control your performance (things like not washing your “lucky” socks or stepping on a crack). In other words a routine helps you take control of your performance while rituals assume fate (not you) will control your race.

I have added a night before the race routine to eliminate most causes of worry and allow you to get some sleep.

Your pre-race routine should make you comfortable in strange/new surroundings, build your confidence, eliminate stress, and prepare you to do your best. I have listed many common practices to get you started but you must experiment and find out what works best for you. This is another aspect of racing where keeping a journal can really help you find out what works..

Night Before Race (taking care of all these items really helps me sleep!)

1. Equipment

a. inspect and tune bike completely with checklist and put on number plate (how many racers have arrived at a race and realized that their # plate is back in the hotel?!)

b. prepare race clothes, shoes, pads, helmet, goggles, gloves. use a check list.

c. prepare bag to take to the start with you, spare goggles and gloves, walkman with charged batteries, food, drink etc. use check list

d. add your own topics

2. Mental

a. Know the course by heart, no missing sections, have a confident plan on how you will ride from top to bottom (worrying about how to handle that “big jump” will keep you up all night).

b. Image race run (at least twice) from standing in line at the start to your feelings of elation after crossing the finish line with a perfect run

c. Remember, only concern yourself with what you control (which basically is your equipment and your riding) worrying about how your competition will ride is a big waste of time because you have no control over their riding

c. add your own preparation (meditation, stretching, yoga, etc.)

Morning of Race

1. Physical

a. shower, stretching, what to eat and when to eat it, etc.

b. add your own

2. Mental

a. Imaging, stretching, meditation, etc.

b. find out what works for you

At Race Site

1. Physical

a. dressing routine (always dressing in a certain order can be almost like a meditation and make you feel at home even when miles away)

b. warm up

c. practice run (if offered)

d. find out what works for you

2. Mental

a. find out what your racing fears are and how to put them to rest (weeks before race) and put. Many people worry about their competition’s performance , remember only concern yourself with what you control

b. Image race run at least three times (good use of chair lift time)

c. Put yourself in optimum mental state for racing (again find out by experimenting while training) many people make a short list or mantra of why they will perform well, (i.e.. I have trained hard all winter for this, I know the course, I’m fast, I will ride my best etc.) also music is a big help to many racers

d. Create an abbreviation for the things that you need to remember to have a good run and tape it to your stem or bars. Mine is RAILUM which stands for Relax, Attitude, Intensity, Look Up, and Moto. Saying Railum and then thinking about each component of it really helps me focus.

e. find out what works for you

Use this as a rough outline adding what works and getting rid of what doesn’t through experimentation. A well thought out routine will make you confident at the start while your competition worries about their run and wonders why you are so confident.

What do you do for a warm up? I would love to hear your routines.

Mountain biking

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 1

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 1

Issue #1:

Whether you are self-taught and relatively new to riding or a veteran with skills coaching experience and years on your mountain bike you might be letting this issue hold you back. All the skills coaching, personal training and fitness coaching in the world will not allow us to reach our goals until we overcome this issue.

The number one issue holding you back from reaching your potential is your mind!  Specifically self-limiting beliefs.  We all have self-limiting beliefs, just some of us in areas that greatly affect achieving our most important goals and some of us are fortunate enough to have them in areas that only effect minor goals.  I hear some of our students say these self-limiting beliefs out loud: “I stink at climbing!”, “I suck at descending but I’m good at …”, “I’m just not a natural”  but often we are not even aware of these beliefs, they are in our subconscious.  The interesting thing is that many times these self-limiting beliefs are completely unfounded!  That’s right, quite often the thing holding you back has no basis in reality.

Any belief that holds you back is a self-limiting belief.  When your subconscious says, “I am not good enough” that is a self-limiting belief.  Sometimes they actually start out positive “I can do that well but I never will be as good as ….” but in the end they set a limit to your achievement/performance.

They are often caused by failing at something (as you may or may not know I believe that, “failure is a nature and necessary part of the learning process” quote from Dan Millman).  For instance, a former self-limiting belief I had was that I could not do a trackstand.  One day a friend and I each tried to trackstand and I ended up falling over. For years after this when asked if I could trackstand I would reply, “no, I can not trackstand” and for years I couldn’t trackstand.  Was this limitation real? Of course not, looking back on that day I fell over trying to trackstand I realized I did a trackstand for five, possibly ten seconds before I feel over but I guess my goal was an hour are so, so in my mind I failed. One day I decided I would try using baby steps (working my way from 1 second trackstands to 20-30 second trackstands) and in less than an hour I was doing ten second trackstands consistently.

Mountain Bike at Your Best

Don’t let self-limiting beliefs keep you from riding at your best! I don’t, even at 49!

From discussing self-limiting beliefs with our students it seems like society is often to blame. A parent, a teacher, an older sibling, a teammate, anyone whose opinion you respected may have had set something that is holding you back. In my case, when I was seven or eight I came home crying because I didn’t make the baseball team and my mom, trying to comfort me said, “honey, you’re just not a natural athlete but you are so much smarter than those boys. You’re IQ is ….”. Not exactly what a seven-year old wants to hear! At the US Snowboarding Championships in 1992 I remember looking over at my competitor in the dual slalom quarter finals and thinking, “holy cow, look at the size of his legs! He is a natural athlete, what am I doing here, I am not a natural like him.” Not exactly the best thing to be thinking right before a race! I actually ended up beating him, barely but, I got eliminated in the next round. Can you imagine how much better I would have raced if I had thought, “wow, look at the over developed legs on that guy, to bad he doesn’t have my skill, I am going to smoke him!” With that much more positive self-belief I just might have one the competition!

How to do you stop this often subconscious self-defeating cycle?  Step one is to identify the belief, “I am a good rider but will never be great” or the most misguided one I heard the other day, “I only weigh 140 so I don’t have the muscle mass to climb like the bigger guys” (this is misguided because in general the lighter you are the better climber you are, most great climbers are short and stick thin).  Once you have identified the belief check to find the source of the belief and see if it is real. Where did the belief come from? Does it make sense? Is there proof that the belief is true? Once you have these questions answered you can create a strategy to rid yourself of the belief.  If the belief was caused by a past failure tell yourself, the past doesn’t equal the future and correctly practice doing the skill/section of trail that you felt you couldn’t do.  If it has no basis in reality (your friend said, “wow you suck at descending” 10 years ago) tell yourself, “that was ten years ago, I now understand body position and vision better, my bike is way better and I have the skill to descend much better now”.  Often you will find that once you identify a self-limiting belief you laugh, realize that it is preposterous and you move past it.

Don’t let fiction, fantasy, someone else’s opinion or conjecture hold you back.  Attack these self-limiting beliefs and achieve your best.

Stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3 for the other two issues that keep you from riding at your best.