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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

This Email from a BetterRide MTB Skills Student may Make You Mad!

A warning to you, if you have a big ego you might not want to read this. I heard from many people the Whiskey Off-road had super technical sections and half the field or more walked a lot of the course. Well Elaine and many of my students rode right by the walkers. They weren’t more daring, just simply in balance and in control, way to go Elaine!
Elaine’s email:
Hi Gene,

My husband, Zac, and I took your DH camp at Bootleg back in March and wanted to give you an update. I had been working on the skills on my local XC trails (Fantasy Island and Starr Pass). I figured otherwise if I only practiced on DH runs I’d hardly get any practice in.

Earlier this year I did the Whiskey off-road in Prescott. I was doing the 25 miler for fun, as I had never done it before. Took my camera along to take pics during the ride and everything. At the pre-race meeting they said we would have 2 really long downhills to ride in amongst all the climbing. So I was really looking forward to that! The trail was super crowded and I stood in line on the climbs for about 15 min before the stream of people got going again. Good thing I was only doing the event for fun and wasn’t racing and worried about a time.
I got to the first downhill and it was awesome! This was the first time I had to practice the new body position I learned in camp. No more stretching out over the rear tire. I had the elbows out, back flat, chest down and even though it felt a little strange because I was still getting used to it, I told myself to trust it and stay in that position. The trail was very loose with scree, but my rear tire was planted. Everyone in front of me was steering around the water bars and I was going straight over, passing when I could. I was watching the XC riders in front of me and it was scary. They were twitchy and all over the place and I just stayed in my body position, at some points at almost a track stand while I waited for them to get over an obstacle.

At one point the trail opened up onto a ridge down the mountain. Everyone in front of me was walking but I stuck to my guns and started down the hill. I called out to those down below “rider up” and they moved off the line as I rode down. Everyone was standing with their bikes as they hiked down and I rode by, and it felt like I was in my own personal World Cup and they were spectators on the side of the trail. It was awesome! I totally cleaned the DH and felt like a rockstar as the other riders watched.

Anyways, that has been my highlight moment so far. We have a couple of trips planned this year up to Sunrise and a week at AngelFire, so I’ll be practicing more skills.

Hope all is well with you!

Take care,

Elaine

If you want to ride like Elaine or simply improve your mountain bike riding, invest in yourself instead of your bike and sign up for a camp today.

BetterRide MTB Skills Coaches Earning High Praise from Students

It really feels great when students thank me for creating the BetterRide skills progression and training great coaches to teach our curriculum. When expanding to more coaches  leading camps I was really concerned about keeping the high standard that has made our camps so sought after. This has meant slower growth than many students would of liked (we can’t always meet the demand for camps in their area) but it has paid off with our certified coaches getting enough training (in our camps and then our certification school) and experience (assisting me and Andy) to become confident, inspirational coaches.  Here are a few of many recent emails:

Hello Gene,
I wanted to personally tell you what a great job Andy did with me and the rest of the group.  We all came in as experienced riders that knew we still had much to learn and your teaching methods along with Andy’s top notch  demonstration and presentation skills open us up to what we really can achieve.
The real key for me was how  very inspirational Andy is!  For someone with that much humble talent to be able to teach at such a high level with passion really brought the camp’s and my goals together for me and my fellow riders!  I will be practicing (hopefully) with some of that same exuberance to continue to improve my skills.  It was the best money I have ever spent on biking!
Hope to see you gents soon and good luck in spreading the BetterRide Word!  You and Andy really make a great Team!
Best regards,

Ken Gauthier, May 16, 2011

Hi Gabe (Gabe is BetterRide’s Operations Director),

I had a great experience at the Camp this past weekend with Dylan and my fellow students.  Your curriculum made some problem areas that I’ve always struggled with (e.g. cornering) seem much less confusing/intimidating.  I now feel like I have the tools (i.e. the drills Dylan taught us) to go out and work on my weaker skills in a structured and safe way as opposed to just “riding it” and hoping for the best.

Dylan was a great teacher, he made sure everyone felt comfortable and explained the concepts in a sensible, friendly manner.  Could I get his email address for any follow-up questions I have about the class and topics we covered?

I also look forward to receiving any follow-up materials or tips to remember that you send to participants after the class.

Thanks Gabe.

Alan Ting May 23, 2011

Gene,

The Bend two day camp this weekend exceeded my expectations.  We had a group with a very wide range of ability and riding experience.  Jeff was perfectly patient and framed the information in language that we could all understand.
The techniques we learned truly were counter intuitive and many of them would have taken me years to figure out on my own if I ever discovered them at all.
Once again, thank you for offering the clinic and give my regards to Jeff.

Terry Keele May 23, 2011

Terry riping some Bend, OR Singletrack

 

MTB Control (Brake/Shifter) Set Up With Andy Winohradsky

Setting the handlebars and controls up correctly on your MTB is a crucial part of being able to ride it properly when riding conditions become technically difficult. Unfortunately, though these are fairly simple adjustments to make, there are very few riders out there that understand how to do this, and why it is extremely necessary (bike shop employees and even professional “bike fitters” included! – most of the time you’ll get the same exact fit on a ROAD bike as you will on an MTB even though the applications, body position, type of terrain, suspension, etc, are night and day different!). Below, I’ll explain how to set up your handlebars and controls correctly and why it matters.

(Remember, the few hundred words that I hunt-and-peck into this article are by no means a substitute for actual, live, BetterRide instruction. Obviously, your controls relate to a lot of other aspects of riding the bike that I may allude to, but don’t have the time, nor the space, to go into detail about here.)

O.K. … first, there are many aspects to riding a MTB correctly that are quite counter-intuitive. One of these things is that we really want to control our bike primarily with our lower body. We want to engage the large muscles of our body and also our feet and ankles (which are excellent at keeping us balanced – unlike our hands, arms, and upper body). When we’re doing things correctly, the majority of balance, power, and control, should be transmitted to the bicycle through the lower body. Most riders use way too much upper body input to try to control the bicycle.

However, since our feet aren’t super great at grasping and pulling (especially with biking shoes on – and, no, you can’t count on your pedal-clips!!), we need to rely on our upper body to manipulate the bicycle into position so it can be driven with the lower body. I like to say that the reason that the handlebars are on the bike is to manipulate it into position so you can “drive” it with your lower body (with balance, power, weight-shifts, etc).

So … even though we need to use the big powerful, intuitive, athletic muscle systems in our lower bodies to assert the majority of control over our bicycles, obviously, we do push, pull, crank, leverage, etc, the handlebars with all of our strength at times. Therefore, obviously, our set-up needs to jive with what we’re trying to accomplish.

Another tremendously misunderstood and grossly overlooked essential skill to riding correctly – especially when the conditions get nasty – is also initiated at the handlebars: braking! We’ll get into that and how proper brake lever position is essential.

If our goal is to be able to control our bicycle in challenging terrain, then the goal of out bike set-up is to maintain proper body position – as much as possible – in said terrain. The proper position of your upper body – in the powerful, athletic, neutral, and balanced riding position – is half-way through a push-up. This allows for range of motion in all directions, and adequate application of power by engaging the larger muscle systems of the upper body such as you shoulders and back, chest, etc. Our handlebars need to be at a width that allows us to maintain that position. Too wide: no good! And – much more common – too narrow: even worse!! (Exaggerated example: try doing push-ups and pull-ups with your hands nearly touching vs. hands just over shoulder width apart … )

… and I’m not buying the “Well, where I ride the trees are too narrow …” So, on a two hour ride – you’re tellin’ me – you’ll give up having proper control over your bicycle for 1:59:55 in favor of the five seconds it will take you to negotiate a few sets of trees? Hmmm ….

Also, note where my hands are on the bars: all the way out at the ends. I like to feel the lock ring of my grip with my pinky finger. Why? Because of our inate body awareness, we know almost exactly where the outer edge of our hands are without having to look at them. We will instinctively make adjustments around or in between obstacles so that our hands won’t hit the obstacles. Although an inch of “un-manned” handlebar to the outside of your hand doesn’t seem like a whole lot, its plenty enough to cause bad things to happen if you hook it on an obstacle at 20 mph. More often, a rider will over-compensate for this extra handlebar width by giving up essential aspects of controlling the bike such as bike lean in corners (by standing the bike up – over-compensating – to miss an obstacle by a foot with that extra inch of bar) because – unlike their hand – they can’t “feel” or sense exactly where the end of that bar is.

Next, for reasons that we won’t go into here, almost (all?) MTB’s are sold with the controls (from the outside of the bar toward the stem) in the order of: grip, brake, shifter.

To obtain the position that is shown in the photo, we must switch this order to: grip, SHIFTER … then, brake. Some models of shifters have “shifter indicators” that tell you what gear you’re in. These are nearly useless and downright dangerous (if you do actually look away from the trail to look at the shifters) and often can get in the way if this order is switched. Sometimes the indicators can be removed or altered. Sometimes these indicators are permanent, and if this is the case with yours, still try to do your best to achieve the following proper position with your controls.

So let’s look at the first photo. With my index fingers resting on the brake levers (as they should be anytime you’re riding difficult terrain) notice where the fingers contact the levers: all the way at the end. These are brake levers, as in leverage. So, the farther to the outside of the lever that you can squeeze it, the more power you’re able to transmit to the braking system. (Some riders use their middle fingers on the brakes instead of their index fingers, which is fine, the important thing is that you are using only one finger per brake, and that it contacts the lever all the way at the end (I wouldn’t, however, use my pinky or whatever you call the slightly stupid finger next to the pinky as my braking finger!). The idea, itself, of using two fingers on the brakes – not to mention three or more – scares me to death!! The difference in the control of the bicycle is huge!)

Andy's mtb control placement

All modern disc braking systems (even v-brakes … usually!) have plenty of power to be engaged like this and instantly lock both brakes if desired. Also, all systems have “reach adjustment” allowing the lever to be positioned closer or farther from the bar to accommodate different sizes of hands and fingers. Often, once the shifter and brake are switched, the brake lever feels as if it is too far away from the grip. Use the reach adjustment to position the lever at a comfortable distance from the grip (I like a 90 degree bend in my finger when the brake engages).

Next look at the photo taken from the side of the bicycle. Notice how my brake levers are in a rather “high” position, nearly level with the bars and definitely not underneath or below the handlebars. Why? Because they need to be positioned correctly when I really need them!

I need to generate as much power as possible to push and pull the bike into position and I need to keep my wrists straight in order to do this. Imagine trying to push your handlebars through the floor. Now imagine trying to dead lift your handlebars through the ceiling. In both of these scenarios, your wrists are straight, not bent. Can you imagine trying to bench-press 200 lbs with your wrists bent? When you’re in your powerful athletic position on the bike, half-way through a push-up, with your wrists straight; and you extend your fingers: that’s where your brake levers should be. Makes sense, right?

Andy's mtb Brake/shifter angles

The problem is, most riders find this setting when they are in the parking lot (on level ground), or maybe their professional bike-fitter set them up when they were seated on their bikes, on a trainer, in the shop! This is fine if all we ever did was ride around – seated – in flat parking lots or on trainers in shops, but when we really, really need to be in control (when we can really, really crash bad if things aren’t nearly perfect) is when things get steep (going downhill). When this happens, the front of the bike drops significantly in relationship to our bodies, we need to stay as low as possible with all of our weight on our feet. The fork will compress some (as the brakes are applied) because there will be significantly more rider and bike weight on the front wheel (even though rider’s weight is still on the feet). Now, if your brake levers were in a good position in the parking lot or on the trainer, they will be way too low – almost directly under your handle bars – and you will have to bend your wrists and reach over your bars and down to your levers in order to reach them. This is bad for all the reasons we stated above.  (note from Gene: Andy is 5’6″ and therefore is shoulders tend to be quite a bit lower over the bike than someone my height (6’3″) so your height has a lot to do with brake lever placement, I run mine “down” quite a bit more than Andy’s. The goal is to have a straight wrist when braking)

Look at the photo of the fella riding the bike down the steep switch back. That dude is in really good position (o.k., that’s me …). Despite the steep pitch of the terrain, all of my weight is on my feet (this is essential for control in this type of situation). My arms are beginning to straighten out because the steepness of the trail is forcing me near the end of my range of motion (seldom will you find a section of trail as steep as this particular section). The steepness necessitates that I am extremely low on the bike. My brake levers, which were a little high for parking lot or trainer cruising, are now positioned perfectly (they will also be a little high for braking on steep climbs. Though I do occasionally use my brakes on climbs, its quite seldom, and I’d much rather have my brakes set up perfect for steep descents – where I almost always use my brakes). Can you imagine having to bend your wrists and reach over the bars in this situation?

Steep Switchback Body Position on MTB

Because speed control is mandatory in a situation such as in the photo, often riders get “pulled” forward and up (to simulate the position of being seated in the parking lot – the place where they set their brakes up) in order to try reach the brake levers. In this case, they can’t stop effectively, and they are completely out of position as they try to do it.

So, we want to set the angle of your brake levers so that they are in the proper position when you need them most (when the bike is pitched downhill) and so that they are accesible from your descending body position (knees bent, low on bike, half-way through a push-up with upper body).

As far as the position of the shifters or perhaps a remote switch for an adjustable-height seat post (which we all should have!), I’m not super particular, as long as you are easily able to reach the control and you aren’t accidentally contacting it and engaging it.

Every top rider that I can think of, where technical control is mandatory to the success of their riding, sets their bars and handlebar controls up nearly identical to the above. If your bike is not currently set up similar to the above, and if your goal is to have control of your bicycle in difficult terrain, do what ever it takes to make it happen.