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More Praise for Andy and the BetterRide Core Skills Progression!

Hi Gene,

Thank you for creating what has been one of the best learning experiences of our lives.  We traveled all the way from Australia to attend your camp in Golden, Colorado and it was worth every penny! Andy was a fantastic teacher with great personal skills. He has our highest commendation for creating a safe, exciting and fun environment for learning.

It is refreshing to find someone who understands their field well enough to be able to deconstruct difficult and often hard to pinpoint concepts. This is a rare talent. We appreciate all of the careful thought that you and Andy have put into creating the mountain bike skills curriculum. The content was well-organized into different sections, and logically progressed from foundational skills (like body position and braking) to more difficult skills (like cornering). It is obvious that you have spent a lot of time not only thinking about how to mountain bike, but also how to teach it to others.

Learning these mountain biking skills has truly made us “betterriders”.  Thank you for the opportunity to attend your camp and we look forward to attending a core skills camp #2 !

Sincerely,
Tracy and Matt from Canberra, Australia

Learning/improving takes place best away from riding on trail!

The winter is the best time to improve your skills and take a mountain bike skills camp.  Learning takes place best away from the sport you are learning! That’s right, if you are spending a lot of time doing a sport it is hard to improve. This is true because perfect practice is what builds skill, not simply doing something for hours.  There is a general rule among coaches, teachers and physiologists that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a sport (or a game, an instrument, etc.).  While your goal might not be to master mountain biking the more time you spend doing deliberate practice the better you will get.

When I rider says, “I ride 20 hours a week! I am getting tons of deliberate practice!”  I have to smile as chances are not one minute of that 20 hours was deliberate practice.  Deliberate practice means working on one specific skill (or movement) with a focus on quality, not quantity.  Many skills, such as cornering involve a lot of different movements/components which means practicing “cornering” is not deliberate practice. Deliberate practice would be practicing vision through a corner three times, stopping and analyzing what you did right and wrong then refocusing and doing it three more times. This is hard to do when a beautiful singletrack is beckoning you to ride it!  In season it is hard not to just go out and ride mile after mile with a big grin on our face! The only problem with riding as much as we can is that we get really good at what we already are doing, which is often a series of bad habits.  So to improve we have to step away from the trail, learn the proper techniques and then practice these techniques one at a time with a focus on quality.  This is why you see all the basketball, football, ski teams and pretty much every sport requiring skill teams doing drills more than 70% of their practice time!

Use the off-season to learn the correct core skills and then practice them with a focus on quality and your skills, confidence and enjoyment will soar.  Snowing outside?! Hit that parking garage and spend 20 minutes doing the core skills drills we teach in our camps and then spend 10 minutes imaging perfect technique.  A few weeks of this quality practice (mixed with resistance training and cardio work) will do more than years of just winging it on the trail (according to Ross Schnell who said, “I learned more today than in the last 10-11 years of just riding” (in a rushed 3.5 hour lesson, BetterRide camps are 19-22 hours over 3 days!).

Email from reader about stem length and bar width. (from New Zealand!)

I love getting happy emails from students but happy emails from halfway around the world from riders I have never meet?! That is cool! Feels great to be helping riders all over the planet.  Here is the email:

Hey there
Low, wide bars.

I am 5 ft 8, broad shouldered and ride a medium Ibis Mojo.

Until last week I had an 80mm stem, 670mm bars set at (XC) saddle height.

I had thought this a great setup.

However after pondering your suggestions for a while I finally made the change:

60mm stem, bars 1.125″ below saddle, and 725mm width.
Wow.
Amazing.

No downsides, no oversteering, just way way better stability, agility smoothness and control.

My local trails have heaps of close trees and rocky banks, however the increased stability combined with greater agility means the extra width is not an issue.

And with more practice things will only get better.

My bike loved cornering before (low BB etc) however it settles into a turn much more quickly and is just plain way more fun.

Downhill braking is much nicer, and climbing is uneffected.

And the front end is way better planted over the rough stuff.

cheers!

Rob

The Ideal Confidence Inspiring Mountain Bike!

I just received a great question from a newsletter subscriber: “Hi Gene, I’ve been following your blog posts and emails. After recently moving and having to sell my old hardtail, I am now in the market for a new mountain bike. I would like to get one that would be ideal for improving my skills. I don’t care much about performance at this point. I know from you that wider tires, shorter stem, wider bars and an adjustable seat post, all improve confidence and control, and I’ll make sure I get all of these. But since I am not dealing with an existing bike that I’m riding — since I’m in the situation where I can pick any kind of mountain bike — which characteristics would you recommend? E.g. large vs short wheelbase; what kind of suspension and how much travel; type of breaks; size of frame (go smaller, go bigger), etc. Thanks! Alon

A lot of this really depends on the goal/s of the rider and Alon gave me his goal/s: “…ideal for improving my skills. I don’t care much about performance at this point.”.  So we will go from there.

Unless you are a cross country racer and/or really care about being as absolutely fast as you can on climbs I feel most riders would greatly benefit from a 5 or 6″ travel “all-mountain bike”.  They tend weigh a little more than a 3-4″ travel bike but have a lot of features that make them more fun and confidence inspiring.  The number thing they have is a slacker head angle (which means the front wheel is further in front of you).  There is a tired out standard of 70 and 69.5 degree head angles on “cross country” bikes. These angles make descending terrifying compared to the slacker (68.5 to 67 degree) head angles on “all-mountain” bikes. The steeper head angles do help on really steep climbs though so you must weigh how often you do really steep climbs and if you want to have a bike that climbs those climbs a little better but descends scarier (steep head angle bike) or a bike that causes you to worry about body position a little more on a steep climb but is confidence inspiring on the descents.  Yeti is one of the few companies that make 4-5″ travel bikes with 68.5 or slacker head angles.

As far frame size my head coach Andy (who is 5’6″ a great technical climber and pro downhill racer) likes to ride bikes on the big side.  He likes the longer wheel base of medium because it makes the bike a little more stable and predictable.  He also likes the longer top tube allowing him to run a 40mm stem for greatly control. He feels this worth giving up the ideal amount of stand over height for. His weapon of choice, a medium Yeti 575.  I too like longer top tube bikes and being 6’3″ that means I ride a large or XL depending on the company (some XL’s are just a little too long for me, more fitting for 6’4″ and up).  The bike I ride most is my Specialized Enduro SL set in the low bottom bracket/slack head angle position. The low bottom bracket keeps my center of mass lower (making the bike corner better) and I love the 67 degree head angle (with an adjustable fork I can slacker the head angle and drop the bars two inches for steep climbs).

As for suspension design, most companies make great full suspension bikes now and there is definitely not one way to go.  As long as you do your research in general the more you spend (within each company) the more you will get (the shocks themselves will be better). Spend enough to get at least rebound adjustment on both front and rear suspension.  As for brakes you definitely want hydraulic disc brakes.

I hate to but a price on this because nearly all bike store bought bike are pretty darn good these days but if look at $2,000 msrp bikes and up you will get a lot of nice features such as good components and quality shocks and forks

Well that sums up what I am looking for in a 26″ mountain bike.  The two main things are a slack head angle (67-68.5 degrees) and a longer top tube (over 24 inches for a large).

Another option is definitely a 29er. I love 29ers and feel that they are a great bike for many riders.  Since this is about confidence inspiring bikes first I will mention where 29ers really shine, going over obstacles! Their taller tires just plain roll over things easier. The only real down fall (confidence inspiring wise) is many 29ers have steep head angles to keep their wheel base short (this is slowly changing at some companies) which has made many of my students say that they were intimidated on steep descents.

The pro’s of 29ers: They get over obstacles easier, they hold their momentum well, they have better traction do to a larger contact patch, they plain ride smoother and with less effort

The con’s of 29ers: Their big gyroscopes (wheels) make going from tight left to right turn slower and more difficult, their longer wheel base makes tight switchbacks more difficult, they are a bit more cumbersome, especially in the air, they don’t fit shorter riders well (they make them to fit short riders but the handle bars end up way to high for good body position), they are bit slower to accelerate.

In short for riders who really enjoy cornering and jumping 29ers are not the best choice (yet). For most other riders, especially riders that really enjoy long rides and want to make getting over “step up” type obstacles easier, 29ers are great.