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The Most Confidence Inspiring Mountain Bike (most fun too!)

Whether you consider yourself an expert, a beginner or somewhere in between the must fun and safe bike will have some the same important  characteristics. Even if you are a serious cross country racer wouldn’t a bike that made steep and technical descents feel less steep and technical (without any sacrifices, i.e. extra weight, poor climbing, slower rolling) be a huge advantage?!
For some reason many bike shops tend to send  riders (especially those new to the sport) out on bikes that are very unforgiving and confidence crushers, as well as bordering on dangerous. They feel the fun and confidence inspiring bikes are only for aggressive riders, not beginners or less aggressive riders. This is odd because if a really skilled rider needs a confidence inspiring bike to feel as comfortable as possible it MUST be more important for a beginner! For the last 17 years I have been scared and sadden by students who have been sold the wrong Kool Aid, the show up on hardtails and short travel bikes with mid-90’s geometry that scares the heck out of me! And I spent 18 years racing downhill in the pro class! If those bikes scare me, they must really scare less skilled riders but how would they know?
Less skilled riders don’t know how much easier, safer and MORE FUN these bikes are because they often haven’t ridden them. They think of the bike shop employees who recommend the 90’s XC geometry bike as experts, which they are, on knowing the geometry, components, prices, etc on about 15 bikes from 2-4 bike companies, that is an amazing amount of info they have to keep track of! My expertise, what I spent the last 22 years of my life doing, studying, learning and teaching is how to ride at your best and what will help you ride at your best, a completely different set of skills from a bike shop employee. Some bike shops and employees do understand, a great example is the crew at All Mountain Cyclery in Boulder City, NV, many Moab bike shop employees and I hope hundreds more!
My view is this, when someone is learning a new sport they want the equipment that will make them the safest and give them the most confidence. For mountain biking this is a 27.5 plus, full suspension bike with a slack head angle (67.5 or less), long reach measurement, dropper post, short stem (35-60mm) and wide bars bars (750mm-820mm). This bike will inspire confidence and be much more fun to ride than a hardtail as well as being safer. Great examples of this are the Pivot Switchblade, Trek Fuel 9.8 27.5 plus and Santa Cruz Hightower.
Trek Fuel 9.8 ex with 27.5 plus tires

Trek Fuel 9.8 ex with 27.5 plus tires

Hardtails are great for challenging yourself but tough to learn on as pretty much everything is harder on a hardtail and mistakes are punished harshly. A full suspension bike is much more forgiving and will often save you from a crashing after making a mistake (it won’t keep from realizing you made the mistake, you will still learn from the mistake you simply won’t be harmed by your mistake.
Why is the bike I mentioned above safer and more confidence inspiring? I will break it down piece by piece.
Plus size tires give you much more control as their tall sidewalls allow for lower tire pressures which conforms to the ground better (on a small root or rock much of the tire will be contacting the ground instead of being on top of the root or rock) this also dampens your ride, smoothing out the trail a bit and it creates a much larger contact patch putting more rubber on the ground giving you much better traction.
A slack head angle (67,5 degrees or less) puts your front wheel out in front of you more than a steep head angle bike, giving you more stability and acting as a lever making it much harder for the rear to lift unexpectedly and therefore making it harder to endo than on a steeper head angle bike. Hills just feel less steep with a slacker head angle. You will need better body position for climbing with a slack head angle but I teach that and it is somewhat intuitive. Most downhill race bikes have 61-63 degree head angles for these reasons.
Santa Cruz Hightower with 29" tires (like the Trek and Pivot it can run both 29 and 27.5 plus)

Santa Cruz Hightower with 29″ tires (like the Trek and Pivot it can run both 29 and 27.5 plus)

A long reach measurement (compare your reach to the Pivot Switch Blade or Trek Fuel 9.8, they have excellent reach measurements) gives you a bigger sweet spot to be in balance and allows you to run a short stem without feeling cramped. In other words, the shorter your reach measurement the harder it is stay centered and neutral on the bike, hit the slightest bump and your weight can get too far forward. There is a great article on Pinkbike about designing the XXL Santa Cruz V 10 (same size as a Pivot or Canfield Brothers XL, Santa Cruz bikes are notoriously short which is why they made an xxl for a rider who is 6’3″) for Greg Minnaar that covers this in detail.
Short stems make it easier to get and stay in proper body position (centered on the bike with all your weight on the pedals and in a neutral position), corner with much more precision (as it is a short lever) and manual easier (by keeping your arms bent instead of stretched out). Contrary to popular belief they climb better too, way less twitchy!
Wide bars give you much more control, stability, open your chest for breathing and help “put” you in correct body position. More control and stability comes from more leverage to resist the bars twisting (right or left) when hitting a root or rock. As an experiment do a push up with the outside of your hands about 24″ apart and think about trying resist someone from knocking you over to the side. Then do a push up with your hands 32″ apart and think about the same thing. Your are much more stable with a wide platform than a narrow platform!
Pivot Switchblade w/ 27.5 plus tires

Pivot Switchblade w/ 27.5 plus tires

Dropper posts are the best device ever invented for mountain biking! On a descent you can not achieve a centered, neutral, in balance and in control position with your seat at climbing height, you must lower your seat to get in this position. However, you do need the seat at proper height for climbing or you will use a huge amount of power and damage your knees. Dropper posts allow the best of both words, nice high seat for climbing and power and a low seat so you can stay centered and neutral while descending! All without stopping, getting off your bike and making that adjustment before and after every descent.
Not only are 27.5 plus bikes with the “aggressive” geometry I’ve mentioned great for learning they are great for riders like me (really aggressive former downhill racers) I love mine! They also climb fine!
Now many shops will say a bike like I described is for “aggressive riders” and they are right, that is who the bike was designed for. The interesting thing is, if a really good, confident aggressive ride NEEDS that geometry to feel comfortable and ride their best, then a beginner must REALLY need that geometry as they aren’t as good or confident. These bikes (and similar ones) are the most confidence inspiring mountain bikes on the market, for ALL riders. They are not necessarily the fastest or lightest but, boy, they sure are fun to ride!

 

Mountain Bike Your Best in 2017! Free Planner For Achieving Your Riding Goals

As the 2016 MTB season is winding down (for many of us) it is time to prepare for next season. If you are serious about becoming the best mountain bike rider or racer you can be now is the time to act. All the knowledge in the world is worthless without action. Below is an abbreviated version of the questionnaire I use with our full-time athletes to evaluate their season and design their training program for the next racing season.  Use this to evaluate your riding “performance” in 2016 and plan to mountain bike your best in 2017!


At some point this fall take a break from riding (if you haven’t already). Two weeks off the bike can do wonders for you! Hike, travel, surf, relax, read, do anything but ride your bike. Your body needs a break from riding and so does your mind. Don’t worry, two weeks off the bike won’t hurt your fitness much and for most of us it will make us stronger as we give ourselves enough time to recover from so much time spent on our bikes (a lot of time on the bike is not always the best thing, it becomes really easy to create in-balances and over use injuries). During your break set your goals for 2017. They are your goals so I won’t tell you what they should be as we all want different things out of riding and life.

I will tell you to set measurable goals that you feel are within your reach if you work enough (too high a goal makes it is easy to give up and too easy a goal doesn’t motivate you). Examples of great goals our students have set are: “Clean Widow Maker Hill!”, “Improve my max squat by 15% by April 1st.”, “Shave 10% off my fastest time on the long loop at McDowell by May 10.”

If you are a racer be careful to set performance goals as well as outcome goals, as it is impossible to control how your competition performs! For example, I really wanted to win the World Masters Championships in 2006, but I had no idea who would show up or how hard they had been training (two things I can not control) so just setting the goal of winning might have set me up for failure despite possibly having my best performance ever. Although one of my main goals is to win the race my other goals were; shave 7% off my race times from 2005 (where the tracks are the same in 2006), increase my max squat by 50% (to where it was when I was 35) by April 15th, to decrease my 40 meter sprint times (on my downhill bike) by 20% by July 15th.

For each of these goals I set sub goals (example: increase max squat by 25% by Jan. 1) and process goals (example: work up from one five minute imagery session a week to six 10 minute imagery sessions a week by 7/15/06). If I achieve or surpass all of my sub goals and process goals I will know I have done everything in my power to perform at my best on race day. Which I did and I ended up third, I was simply out ridden by two competitors but I prepared and raced my best! After I got over the disappointment of not winning I was pretty proud of my effort!

Do you keep a riding/training diary? A diary is a big help in the following exercise and through out the season for finding factors that lead to changes in performance. If you haven’t kept a training diary in the past, start now. A training diary helps you learn what parts of your training are working and what parts are not. Reviewing it can explain “peak” performances and poor performances and is a great confidence booster by tracking all the hours of training you have put in.

Your training diary should contain all information that affects your performance, morning HR (heart rate), recovery HR, weight, hours slept, hours training, time in HR or power zones, time using imagery, mood, what you eat, etc. Once you have established your diary it will be easy to find out “why” and test eating, sleeping and training concepts. Why did I feel so strong today? Why did I feel so sluggish last week? Simply look for patterns, examples: “wow, every time I eat pizza for dinner I feel sluggish two days later.” When I eat a big breakfast and do a morning ride I feel weak (need to eat earlier or lighter)”, “surprisingly I climb strongest the day after doing my favorite workout including squats and ab work”. If you really want to ride at your best start a diary today. Goggle docs/drive is the perfect tool, just set up a spread sheet and once you get it rolling it will only take five minutes a day to keep up on.

Here is the abbreviated version of the questionnaire we use with our full-time students to help you analyse your 2013 season and help you set your goals for 2017.

Step One: Assess your racing season and your riding ability. Honestly and objectively answer the following questions about your 2016 season.

Did your skills improve over the course of the season?

What are your strongest skills? (cornering, jumping, steeps, etc.)

What skills need the most improvement?

How did the season go physically?

Did you start strong and get stronger as the season went on?

Did you fade in late July and August? Why?

Did you have the optimum combination of sprinting speed and endurance?

Did you pick 3 to 5 big races/rides to peak for? Were you able to peak for those races?

How was your mental game?

Were you confident and riding to your potential or did you find yourself riding below the level that you know you are capable of?

Why?

What factors helped your confidence this season?

What factors hurt your confidence this season?

Did you a have comprehensive (mental, physical and skill) training program? What part of your program worked? What parts didn’t work?

Did your riding/racing improve as the season went on?

Did you create and write down concrete goals?

Did you reach your goals?

Step Two: Use the answers to these questions as an evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses setting the foundation your 2017 season training program.

Set career, three years from now and this season’s racing goals (top three over all in my state series, etc.), physical training goals (decrease my 50 yard sprint time by 15%, increase my maximum squat by 20%, etc.), skills goals (improve balance, improve cornering, etc.) and mental training goals (improve visualization, learn relaxation techniques, etc.) for your 2017 season.

Racing Goals:

1. Career goal

2. Three year goal

3. This season’s goal

Physical Training Goals, to allow me to reach my racing goals:

1.

2.

3.

Skills Training Goals, to allow me to reach my racing goals:

1.

2.

3.

Mental training Goals, to allow me to reach my racing goals:

1.

2.

3.

Read this article on creating a step by step to ride at your best, http://wp.me/p49ApH-191

Work with your coach or consult a book such as The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible, by Joe Friel; James Wilson’s MTB strength training programs; or Lynda Wallenfels coaching  to create a training plan to reach all of the above goals. Why a coach? A coach can provide you with a structured training program designed to reach your goals, keep an objective eye on your skills and physical training, motivate you and share his/her wisdom, all of which will speed up your improvement.

Step Three: Act on your training program! Ride! Workout! Visualize! Constantly update your goals and training program based on improvement or lack of improvement.

Remember, unwritten goals are just dreams, goals you write down you will commit to and strive to reach. Good luck next season and feel free to call or e-mail with any questions.

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.