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mountain bike student cornering

65 Year Old Mountain Biker Killing It! BetterRide Students Have More Fun!

Although we are most famous for coaching World and National Champions* in our skills progressions we coach riders just like you too! In the same camps with those world champions! Here is a short video of a John Palmer, a 65 year old mountain biker and student who started riding bike when he was 59!

 

 

John proving that skills trump “balls”! We love helping riders like John improve just as much as the world champions. Anyone who learns to ride a bike at 59 and does steep descents like that at 65 is a World Champion in our book! Keep it up John!

 

*Mitch Ropelato, Ross Schnell, Sue Haywood, Jackie Harmony, Greg Minnaar, Marla Streb, Fred Schmid (photo below)

Mountain bike racer Fred

Fred was actually 81 at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race this year!

Fred is a two time World Masters Champion and finished the 2012 Leadville 100 in less than 12 hours when he was 80! Such a pleasure to coach inspiring riders like Fred and John!

Andy Cornering

Mountain Bike Better By Riding and Racing More? Advice from an Olympic Champion!

Can you Mountain bike better by riding and/or racing more? I sure thought so and it worked for a few years! I realize you might not have any competitive ambitions but bet you want to ride at your best. Wouldn’t you like to confidently ride the toughest trails in your area? In Whistler and Moab? This article is for all riders who would like to mountain bike better! Some Advice from an Olympic champion with way less riding and racing time than the competitors she beat!

Mountain Bike Better With Skills!

Mountain Bike Better With Skills!

When I first started mountain bike racing in 1993 I wanted to race every weekend as that is what everyone said would make me faster and better. It kind of worked, I turned pro two years later and I had gotten much faster. Then, the strangest thing happened, I felt like over my first three years in the pro class I barely improved, I hit a plateau despite riding and racing as much as I could. I realized one of the biggest things holding me back was cornering, no one entered corners faster than me but many racers exited a lot faster. So I asked more experienced, faster pro racers how to corner faster and they said things like, “let off the brakes you wuss!” which really didn’t help. There had to be an actual technique (like in ski racing and snowboard racing) but no one could teach me and after 10 years of riding at that point I had not managed to just stumble upon the technique. So in my first five years of riding my “skills” seemed to grow by leaps and bounds then just stopped growing in the next five years. This was frustrating!

I which I read this article, “The Secret of Mikaela Shiffrin’s Success: Always Practice, Never Compete” when I started riding:  http://www.slate.com/blogs/five_ring_circus/2014/02/21/mikaela_shiffrin_sochi_the_secret_to_the_18_year_old_s_success_was_to_practice.html So Mikaela’s advice is to practice more, not ride more!

Turns out, riding everyday does make you “better” at first then you quickly reach a plateau as you reach the limit of the habits you have developed. As stated in the books Outliers, The Talent Code, Talent is Over Rated and Mastery just doing something over and over again doesn’t make us better. What you need is deliberate practice! Deliberate practice is the opposite of going out and riding out in the wilderness, it is short, focused practice sections with a focus, making mistakes, figuring out why/what mistake you made, correcting it, practice with purpose. This is done in all sports by being coached in the proper, often non-intuitive skills and then doing drills to master those skills! So if  you want to ride at your best follow Mikaela advice, invest in solid coaching and practice your way to success. Then you will be able to confidently ride the toughest trails in your area, in Whistler and Moab!

Sure, Mikaela’s competitors probably had a lot more fun (and possibly more frustration) over the last few years but who is having more fun now?! Practice can be fun and confidently riding trails that once scared you is really fun!

Mountain bike myths

BetterRide Coach Chip assisting students in a cornering drill designed to ingrain the right habits.

Don’t make the mistake I made and ingrain bad habits when you could be creating new, correct, in balance and in control techniques! Start practicing more and riding trail just a little less and your quality of ride will greatly improve!

 

xc-thumb

Mountain Bike Braking, it is Still Riding! How not to Die on Your MTB!

Wow, the dangerous concepts well meaning people and unqualified coaches share with other riders! Mountain bike braking happens while riding you bike! That means the same body position that puts you in control and in balance while riding should be used while braking too! We stress being in a balanced, centered and neutral position while descending and we need to maintain that while braking. As a matter of fact, because of braking forces (remember the brakes on our light weight bike, not our much heavier body) it is even more important to stay balanced, centered and neutral while braking.

Mountain Bike Braking

This poster is terrifying! Mountain Bike Braking and riding should not look like this!

Since applying our brakes slows the bike but not necessarily our body we have to stay centered to keep from being pitched forward! If we get our weight back or as some coaches say, “use your butt as the third brake” we end up in an off balance, non-neutral position setting us up for a host of bad things to happen to us. Think about why you brake while riding, usually one or a combination of three things; you are approaching a corner and need to slow down, you are approaching a more difficult section of trail (such as a steeper or rockier section) and want to slow down to feel more in control or you need to stop, sometimes in a hurry! Do you want to be in the position in the photo as you enter a corner or a tougher section of trail? Not if you want to live to ride again tomorrow! Remember the video tutorial/blog post on descending body position?  If not or for a refresher click this link:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT

Here is just the video but please go the blog post and read more about the why’s and how’s of doing this.

Well that getting “yanked down” effect from your straight arms will be multiplied by your weight wanting to keep going forward as your bike slows and you will get pitched over the bars, with authority! A high school mtb coach I know took the “butt is your third brake advice” and broke is collarbone as he was braking and his front wheel went down a 20 inch ledge on semi-steep descent. Had he stayed centered and neutral he would have been fine!

Almost as bad as flipping over is having your front wheel slide out! There is little to no weight on your front tire if your butt is back over the rear tire so it has little to no traction! Not only is there no weight on the front tire you are probably a little out of balance which could cause your front wheel to slide to one side and your chest to violently hit the ground on the other side. This why many people are afraid of their front brake, sliding front tires are scary!

Lastly, with all your weight over the rear tire you are minimizing the weight on the front tire, thereby reducing the effectiveness of your POWERFUL front brake! You plain can’t stop in as short a distance with your weight back as you can when you are centered.

How to stay centered and neutral while braking:

1. First master riding in the centered and neutral position (in the video tutorial linked above and taught much more deeply in our skills progressions).

2. Ride in the centered and neutral position and when braking stay there! Do this by fighting your body’s forward motion. Do this by “sinking into your bike” drop your rear end and chest to lower your centered of gravity, dropping your heels so you can push against the pedal spindles and using the “heel” of your hands to push against the bars to resist the forward motion of your body. Having a dropper post really helps you do this by getting that darn seat out of your way.

3. Review the braking part of our free mini-course and remember that your front brake is 70-100% of your stopping power. Use that front brake, become friends with it! Do the braking drill from the mini-course and learn how much pressure you can apply to each brake and learn to modulate those brakes.

4. Look at the “Bad Clinic” photo above and then watch World Cup Downhill racing on Redbull dot com and watch to see if you can find Aaron Gwin, Greg Minnaar or Steve Peat in that position before any steep rocky section or corner. You won’t find them in that position as you can’t even qualify much less win a World Cup if you are riding out of balance like that.

Mountain bike braking is all about staying balanced, centered and neutral. We do need to fight the forward motion of our body but we do that by resisting, not by getting our weight back! Go out and enjoy a more in balance and in control ride!

drops and jumps on your mountain bike

Hit Big Drops and Jumps on Your Mountain Bike!

Disclaimer, drops and jumps on your mountain bike can be dangerous, make sure you are wearing the appropriate safety gear and have the basic skills I mention below wired before practicing them. Always practice with a friend in case you do get hurt!

A common email and/or phone call we get starts off like this, “Hey guys, I’m a really skilled mountain biker, I don’t need your whole curriculum,  I just need to learn how to do bigger drops and hit jumps better.” So, since that is a common question I will give you a detailed answer so you can got out and hit those big drops and jump better!

Drops and jumps on your mountain bike are not really hard so I have to ask this question to those emailing us claiming to be experts who simply can’t do drops, “If you are a really skilled rider, why can’t you hit big drops and jump better?” I mean isn’t that what skilled riders do? Could it be that you are not as skilled as you think you are? Maybe your ego is getting in your way? I mean you basically said, “I can ride really easy trails well but I struggle with more difficult trails” but at the same time you called yourself a skilled rider! I’m confused! Seriously, not trying to be a jerk, just being realistic. Maybe you feel drops and jumps are separate skills from “riding skills” as most/all of the trails you ride don’t have jumps are bigger drops. You may be saying, “Gene how can I become good at drops and jumps if I never encounter them on trail?” The simple answer is to become a better rider (on the ground).

Drops and Jumps on Your Mountain Bike

Gene Hamilton hitting the 48 foot gap jump at Sol Vista, 2009 US Mountain Bike National Championships

So, how does a 47 year old rider like me (who doesn’t have near the “nerve” he used to have) hit 10-30 foot drops and 48 foot gap jumps? Through coaching and lots of deliberate practice I am very good at the basic skills of body position and vision, not near the most skilled rider in the world but good enough at the basics to hit this 48 foot gap when I was 43. Not saying that to impress you but to impress upon you the value of core skills as it doesn’t take “balls” to do a jump like this, it takes confidence in your core, basic skills. We teach how to do drops and jumps in our camps without doing them (we do do small drops). Which often leads to this question, “How can you teach me to jump with no with no jump?”. Which I fully understand it would seem at first thought that, “you need a jump to teach someone to jump. duh!” On further thought you might realize that that is like teaching someone Karate while they are fighting! Remember “wax on, wax off”?, you first need to not only understand the basic skills required to do a drop or jump but also be really good at doing them!

Drops and jumps are pretty easy actually, you just ride off them, in balance and in control. This is something any “skilled rider” can do! The 15-25 foot drop below is no harder than going off a curb correctly. It was a lot scarier as the penalty for failure is pretty massive but it really didn’t take much skill. Here is how to do a big drop like “Mushroom Rock”.

Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton Mushroom rock

Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton dropping Mushroom Rock

First learn to ride in control, in balance and in a neutral position why looking ahead 100% of the time (and get so good at it that you do this all the time, even on the steepest, scariest mountain bike trail, drills are the best way to do this). See this video tutorial on body position for help with being in balance, in control and in a neutral position: http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT  . This is something any “skilled rider” should already being doing but if you go to a place like Whistler you will realize that 75-95% of the riders are not doing this. Those riders are easy to spot as they just look a little off balance, they aren’t smooth, they are stiff, their head is moving a lot (the head of rider in balance and neutral almost never moves), herky-jerky is a great description of the majority of mountain bikers. If your view keeps changing, your head is moving or you are getting “eyeball jiggle” you are not in balance nor in control.

Once you can ride in balance and in control baby step your way up by using the drop techniques we teach (As a matter of fact they are barely techniques, we teach them on the first day of our skills progression and 8 to 78 year old students have an excellent grasp of them by the third day) on smaller drops (such as a curb) and working your way up to bigger drops. What are these techniques? Well, at speed, above 12-15 miles an hour you simply ride off the drop in balance (all your weight on your pedals). Going below 12 miles an hour you will have to do a little baby manual or coaster wheelie off the edge of the drop. I say little because you aren’t actually trying to lift the front wheel, your goal is to simply keep the front from dropping quickly. On drops with a flat landing your goal is too decrease the angle of incident that you hit the ground at (and land in a centered, neutral position looking ahead, ready for the next thing the trail throws at you). This means slightly front wheel first or both wheels landing at the same time is best.

Once you are consistently landing both wheels at the same time, in balance, in control and looking ahead off a curb find small drops with a steep downhill landing (you can often find these in the local elementary school playground or if you are fortunate enough to have a bike park near by at the bike park) so you get used to landing on a “transition” (which will ease you back to earth, much less jarring than a flat landing). A big focus should be looking past the landing! Must crashes on drops don’t actually happen on the drop, they happen after the drop! On a drop with a downhill landing your are going to being going much faster when you land than when you take off so knowing what the trail looks like after the drop and looking where you want to go after the drop (not at your landing) is very important. Also, as you work you way to bigger drops that will have a blind landing (where you can’t see the landing before you take off) make sure your thoroughly inspect the landing and make a plan of where you want to go after the landing before you do the drop!

What “technique/s” or skills am I using in the photo above? None, I am simply rode off the edge in control, in balance and in a neutral position. Then I stayed in control and in balance throughout.

Jumps are pretty similar, at least the jumps you will be learning on, steep “dirt jumps” are not the best place to learn. Find table top jumps (no gap to clear) without steep take offs to practice on. Once you have found a safe jump to practice on (safe is a tricky word as any jump can be dangerous, wear your helmet and safety gear) set your bike up for jumping by stiffing your suspension a bit and slowing the rebound (so it doesn’t “buck” you on the take off or landing). Then simply ride off that jump slowly in balance, in control and in a neutral position. Pretend there is a clear piece of plexiglass under you and you aren’t actually leaving the ground, just riding over an arc. Focus on how would stay centered and neutral as you ride over that arc and look past the landing (where you want to go) once you take off. Once you are comfortable slowly increase your speed until you are landing both wheels at the same time or slightly front wheel first on the “backside”.  That is really all there is to it but many people get hurt jumping as they aren’t doing those seemingly simple skills. Mountain bikers get hurt jumping when they ride off balance, ride off the back of their bike, try to do something as they leave the jump (like yank up on the bars or pedals), ride stiff and let their suspension buck them, aren’t looking where they should be and don’t “baby-step” their way up to bigger jumps.  There are advanced jumping skills that I didn’t mention because you need to master these basic skills first!

Hitting bigger drops and jumps on your mountain bike isn’t hard, you just need to have a few core skills wired. Once you are consistently riding in control, in balance, in a neutral position and looking ahead you are ready to practice small drops (start with a curb and baby step your way up to bigger drops as you feel comfortable). Jumping is a little more dangerous but if you find the right table top jump and start slow you figure it out.

Create a great ride,

Gene