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The Best Mountain Bike For Learning Skills?

BetterRide Head Coach Andy Winohradsky’s take on long travel “trail” mountain bikes:

Recently, a friend of mine rode one of the latest “longer travel” trail bikes (around 160 mm of rear wheel travel) and was blown away by the bikes capabilities on the trail. He couldn’t come up with a reason why he shouldn’t have one and he asked me what I thought.

I told him that I may not be the best guy to talk to when trying to make the decision on whether or not to buy a new bike – of course you need one of those! Who doesn’t!

But he asked me another very interesting question about having a “bigger” (more travel, slacker angles, heavier – more “all-mountain” or “free-ride”) bike versus a “smaller” (lighter, less travel, steeper angles – more XC race oriented) bike, and which would be the best bike for skill progression.

I think that most riders believe that the smaller bike would be. It would require more skill to ride: it would force better line choices, near perfect riding position, etc, and therefore, make a rider learn proper technique. While with the big bike, one could simply plough into obstacles, and the bike would do all the work – no skill required!

But I actually feel that the opposite is true: the bigger bike is more likely to give the rider the tools necessary to learn proper technique while the smaller bike may actually inhibit the learning process.

Why?

First, we don’t learn very well when we’re scared or in “survival mode”. With many bikes that are very much on the XC racing side of the spectrum, the combination of things like tire choice, stem length, the geometry of the frame, the rigidity and strength of the parts (or lack thereof) – especially having the seat jacked up to the climbing height when descending (no adjustable height seat post) – can all add up to a pretty dicey ride when trying to negotiate difficult terrain. Will the thing climb like a rocket ship? Yep, probably will. But as soon as these bikes get pointed downhill or into tough terrain, a lot of riders end up in the “just-try-not-to-crash-mode”. And this is obviously not a very good environment for learning and applying new techniques.

On the other hand, the bigger bike will instill confidence. The rider will now have a controlled setting of sorts, and have the ability to focus on specific aspects of riding instead of simply “just-trying-not-to-crash”.

More importantly, the larger bike allows for higher speeds in the tough sections, thus, allowing the rider the opportunity to process the trail at these higher speeds and get accustomed to them. This is huge.

Anyone who has ever taken BetterRide instruction comes away with a new understanding and respect for how important vision is on the bicycle. We spend a lot of time on vision, breaking down the techniques for using vision on the bike, how and why they are necessary. We stress that if you can only learn one chunk of the instruction of the three-day camp, make it vision because it is the most important thing when riding the bike.

Though very few do it properly, most riders do understand the importance of seeing the good lines and putting the bike in the right place on the trail. This aspect of vision is obviously very important (and kind of complex and counter-intuitive). But there is way more to vision and bike riding then just that.

Of our five senses, vision is giving us nearly all of the information about what is happening with our ride. If I am scared, it is because I see obstacles that Iook intimidating or maybe because I’m going – what I perceive to be – too fast. The way we see the trail and its perceived dangers affects us psychologically and this determines the decisions that we will make.

Again, a bigger bike gives you the opportunity to learn how to see and process the trail at higher speeds. You become comfortable at these speeds and therefore confident. Now you are able to work on techniques and learn skills and apply them at speeds and in terrain that would be very difficult to do with a smaller bike.

Yes, you will eventually find your limits on the bigger bike. And, yes, you do have to pedal the thing to the top (usually). But now, even if you do go back to that svelte XC race machine after being on the big dog, you now have the ability to process at those higher speeds. Speeds that used to be intimidating, no longer are. Of course you will have to slow down for stuff on the small bike that you didn’t have to slow down for on the big bike, but now that decision is more academic and not driven by fear and intimidation.

A few “for instances”:

Speeds on my XC/trail bike don’t seem fast because I’m used to the speeds of a downhill bike. Obstacles on an XC trail aren’t intimidating because I’m used to the obstacles on DH track.

Most of us have probably heard the story of someone’s buddy, who is a dirt bike rider and went on a MTB ride for the first time in his life, and was extremely fast on the descents – right away! Well, this person is used to processing the trail at dirt bike speeds (that are usually much greater then MTB speeds). He’s not intimidated, he’s seeing good lines; he’s doing this part of riding – the most important part – very well.

The above is also a big reason why many pro downhillers ride a lot of motocross in the off-season.

And, if we put an average DH racer on an XC bike and point her downhill, she’ll ride the wheels off the thing, only slowing because of the perceived limitations that the bike imposes on her – but not because of perceived limitations of her skill!

So, if you were on the fence about getting into a longer travel trail machine, jump off and grab that credit card! Not only will you have a blast, but also you’ll own a great new tool for developing skills that will transfer over to you XC race bike very nicely!

For Gene article on finding a confidence inspiring bike click this link: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/the-ideal-confidence-inspiring-mountain-bike/

Our Mountain Bike Camp Students Love Us on Facebook!

Lots of thank you posts on our facebook page!  www.facebook.com/BetterRide

Dana Hantel This turned out to be one of the best weekends of my life. Jackie and Dante are amazing coaches and, as Ned said, great people too. The other campers were also super nice and supportive. We all learned so much in just three days, and I know we’ll see dramatic improvements in our riding as we continue to practice our new skills. Thank you!

Michael Takahashi Gene, I keep telling everyone I learned more in your 3 day camp than I’ve learned in 20yrs of riding a mountain bike! Much better investment for your riding – instead of buying that new fork, wheelset etc. that we all think we need to be faster!

Thank you thank you thank you for the incredible coaching of jackie harmony and dante this weekend at steamboat!!!!!!!!!!! today on my home trail I focused on getting over this rock that was a challenge before. got on it and. stuck. nothing. I tried again. got on the rock then boomp. nothing. then I could hear jackie’s voice saying “look ahead!” and the third time, I got on it and rode right on across onto the rest of the trail! HOORAY!!!!!!!! (also met some amazing women and can’t wait to ride with them again. thanks again. THIS IS AN AMAZING CAMP!!!!!!!!

Stop being a Mountain Bike Bigot!

In 12 years of coaching mtb skills I still cannot get over how closed minded mountain bikers can be! “Oh, he is a single speeder, they always…”, “damn downhiller’s with 8″ of travel, of course they can ride that section, no skill, the bike does all the work, bet he can’t climb to save his life”, “look at that idiot on that fully rigid bike doesn’t he know…”, etc. Well, we are doing the exact same sport! Riding bicycles off road and guess what? The Core, Fundamental Skills are All The Same no matter what kind of mtb you are riding!

Cornering on a downhill bike is fundamentally the same as cornering on a full rigid bike. There are some advanced skills you can add with 8″ of  suspension travel and cornering on a fully rigid bike is harder (because no matter how smooth you are you will have less traction on a rigid bike) but the fundamental, most important skills are the same.

This is true with jumping, climbing technical sections, descending technical sections, riding a bike!

Why is this important to you? Because if you want to improve you can learn a lot from riders that are different from you. The skill it takes for Greg Minnaar and Mitch Ropelato to corner so well is the exact same skill all mountain bikers need, regardless of the bike they are on or the label they give themselves. Think about it, if the best downhill racers in the world need those skills to corner a bike that has way better traction* than most non-downhill bikes, those skills must be extra important on a “xc” bike. So an “xc” rider can learn from the watching a rider like Steve Peat corner even though Steve is on a different mountain bike.

*Downhill bikes have longer travel/better working suspension (which keeps the tires on the ground better than non-dh bikes), downhill bikes have wider tires with likely less air pressure (producing a bigger contact patch), softer rubber compound tires (which grip way better than harder rubber but roll slower, wear out quicker and cost more) and more tread patterns designed for hooking up on the surface they are riding (providing more traction than a general purpose tread pattern).

So open your mind and stop labeling people/riders/things. You can learn from our examples/videos/coaching even if the example we us is on a much different bike that yours.  We are fortunate enough to coach many of the best races in the world in all disciplines of mtb racing and we teach them all the same core skills (although in our downhill camps we don’t teach climbing skills as climbing on a 40lb bike isn’t much fun!). Yes, we taught singlespeed World Champions Ross Schnell and Sue Haywood the exact same cornering skills in the camps they took from us as we taught World Cup downhill racers Mitch Ropelato and Jackie Harmony in their downhill camps.

Why I am the Most Fortunate Man Alive!

Although we are most famous for having the best mountain bikers in the world  (like World Champions Ross Schnell and Sue Haywood) taking our camps most of our students are just passionate riders looking to improve. While it feels really good and strokes my ego when MTB racers like Ross tell me how much they leaned in our camps it is emails like the following too that really make my day. Last week, Andy (BetterRide Head Coach) said his job is the best job in the world and providing him with it (and having him do such a good job) makes me feel fortunate indeed!

Andy with students, Fruita, CO

 

Here are two emails that students have send Andy recently:

Andy — I wanted to write to say thank you SO much for your awesome instruction at the Madison Better Ride camp.  I was one of the three Chicago roadies at that camp and the three of us had gotten together a few times since the camp ended to work on skills.  Believe it or not, Brian (Francine’s husband) just bought cones to practice with.  We’ll be using them soon.

Before Better Ride, I would go to the Kettle Moraine (one of WI’s state parks in the southern part of the state) with my group and I’d be promptly dropped on one of the more technical loops that we’d ride.  We went again yesterday.  It was my first time doing extended riding with the group since the camp and it was fantastic!
I didn’t get dropped because my skills this time (it should be noted that I did get dropped on the climbs, but that’s what happens when you put a track rider uphill). I felt like I was flying through the course.  Of course, at times, I was a little wobbly trying to stay low, and work on the skills you taught us.  I’m still very new to mountain biking but I had significantly improved since the last time I was there and it was pretty obvious.   I’m still working on cornering, among many other skills, but I was so happy to have made the improvement that I did.  Thank you so, so much for your help.

Angie

Andy Coaching a BetterRide Student, Fruita, CO

Hey Andy,

Thanks again for a great class in Cincinnati, worth every dime. You are great at what you do, and a perfect teacher…..keep it up!

Got my 31in bars and 50mm stem along with the seat post…..AWESOME!

It’s like a new bike, I love it. Really amazing the difference that all makes…….who’d a thunk it. lol

Thanks again for everything and I will be in the 2nd class for sure.

Have a great summer….

Dan