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Mountain Bikers

Setting Up to Rail a Corner On Your Mountain Bike

Setting up to rail a corner on your mountain bike! Interesting braking and cornering question asked by one of our students:

“Just a quick follow up question.  I have been having a problem getting out of position before cornering, primarily caused by hard braking (especially if there is rough terrain before the corner or if I come in too hot).  As I brake, my body gets behind the center and lower as well, and by the time I start entering the corner, I am out of the “attack” position.  My front wheel feels light, and it becomes difficult to get in the correct cornering body position.

If you have suggestions as to how to properly transition from braking into cornering (especially under hard braking), I would appreciate it.”

Interesting question, this is a common problem with riders of all experience levels. I spent a lot of time working on the same issue a few years ago and still practice braking a couple of times a week for this reason. The problem stems from getting back while you brake, getting low is good but we need to stay  centered so when we release the brakes and the bike accelerates we are centered and ready to attack the corner. Although we stress a centered braking position in our skills progressions I was taught the old school, “get way back while you brake” and it is plain instinctual to move away from danger. Staying centered while braking took me a while to master and if I stop practicing it I find myself reverting to scooting back as I brake. Scooting back does help the rear brake a bit but actually hurts the effectiveness of the much more powerful front brake.   Getting back also puts you out of balance and makes it hard to corner correctly.  A great on trail drill is to focus on staying centered as you brake for a corner. Use A LOT of front brake, only brake in a straight line before the corner and then let off and attack the corner.

 

Rail a Corner on your mountain bike

BetterRide student Matt showing proper body position (centered and neutral) for descending and braking.

Stay centered and you will brake more effectively. When working with World Champion Greg Minnaar he really stresses this. It sounds scary but once you do it you realize two things: 1. you can brake in a much shorter distance with more control (less front wheel slide) 2. you are in a much better position to corner when you let off the brakes. This is another reason to practice the braking drills from the camp you took with us.

One of our fastest students, Cody Kelly (who won the Sea Otter Dual Slalom this year) told me that he now wears out two sets of front brake pads for every set of rear pads! That should be every riders goal! The steeper and/or looser the terrain the more you have to rely on your front brake.

As always it comes down to doing drills to master skills then practicing with purpose and a focus on quality! Have you practiced the braking drill from our mini-course recently?

Pro Tip:  Now that you are in the right body position where and how you do you braking is very important. ALWAYS brake in a straight line! In other words, finish your braking before you start your corner! Your tires can’t multitask, asking them to slow you down in one direction while asking them to change direction at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Have you noticed all those braking bumps on the entrance to the corner? Well, why are you riding in them? Usually there is a nice smooth section of trail just to the outside of those braking bumps, use the smooth part of the trail!

Create a railed corner (or two)! Stay tuned for next weeks article on line choice for cornering!

BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton explaining one of many important aspects of cornering to our students.

BetterRide Mountain Bike School On TV, Again!

Wow, I didn’t even know about this until it came up in my news feed! BetterRide Mountain Bike School On TV, Again! Not as in depth or as far reaching as our Discovery Channel special in 2004 but cool never the less!

http://www.nbc11news.com/home/headlines/Moutnain-Bike-clinics-help-with-safety-277285731.html

 

BetterRide Mountain Bike Skills Coaching on TV!

BetterRide Mountain Bike Skills Coaching on TV!

 

This is proper body position (centered and neutral) for riding and braking.

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide?

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide? As someone who preaches that a short stem and wide bars will give you much better handling on a mountain bike (both climbing and descending) I get asked that question a lot. The short answer is, of course your mountain bike handlebars can be too wide, but most likely your’s aren’t wide enough!

The reasons we have been preaching about wide bars since 1999 are that they simply give you more stability, more leverage to fight sudden jerks to the side and more leverage for cornering. A quick baseline to start from is to do a push up and experiment with hand width and find out where you feel most stable and powerful. From this starting point go out a bit wider and start working your way in. What we are looking for is for your forearms to slope outward slightly from your hands to your elbows when you have lowered your chest in a “half push-up” position (see photo below). At the widest your forearms should go straight up to your elbows when in this position.

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Correct Width

This width will give you the optimum amount of control. From this position you can absorb shock, keep the wheels on the ground over a small drop, resist twisting/jerking forces and power you way trough a corner by getting enough counter pressure leverage to give you the right lean angle.

Unfortunately as this trend has caught on I have seen a few riders who are too short (or narrow shouldered, short armed) for the widest bars made and they look like this photo below:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Wide!

I saw a lot of young riders at Whistler last summer with a setup that looked like that. Really hard to control the bike when you are stretched out like that! Those riders need to cut their bars down a bit!

Most riders, especially cross country/endurance oriented riders run bars on the narrow side (perhaps because of tradition?) and they look like this:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Narrow

This also severely hampers control (really twitchy with no leverage to fight sudden bar jerks, and no leverage for cornering pressure) and collapses the lungs a bit making it hard to breathe! It is more aerodynamic though, which unfortunately doesn’t help much at the speeds you travel at on your mountain bike and aerodynamics are not worth sacrificing control over.

The widest bars I have found are the SMAC innovations SW820 Moto Bars ( http://smacinnovations.com/bars.php , 820mm wide) and at 6’3″ I run these uncut on both my xc and dh bikes. BetterRide coach and one the best technical riders I know, Andy Winohradsky is 5’6″ and runs 30.5″ wide bars on both of his bikes. We put on camps all over the country and have not yet found a trail with trees too narrow for these bars. The tightest trees I have found are on the East Coast, in Texas and in the Mid West. In some of these places there were two to four spots an hour where I had to slow down and wiggle through some tight trees. Four, even six times an hour is no reason to compromise your handling though, I would rather you have the most control 99% of your ride and have to slow down a bit a few times an hour than be out of control for 99% of your ride and be able to go faster over about 20 feet every hour! If you honestly live in an area with more than six tree gaps less than 32″ wide in an hour ride, cut your bars!

There is not yet a scientifically proven perfect mountain bike handlebar width as there are so many variables; height, shoulder width, arm length, stem length, top tube length, reach measurement, etc. The easiest way to find out what is right for you is to start at the widest width available to you (or that you feel is appropriate, if you are 5’1″ no need to start at 820mm!) and ride at that width (on a trail without narrow tree gaps at first!) and then keep moving the grips in a bit until your arms look close the “correct” photo above and you feel like you have the most control (not necessarily what feels best as what often feels best is what you are used to which may not be correct).

 

cody kelly has mountain bike skills

What You Know (correctly) About Mountain Bike Skills is Hurting You!

I’m not kidding or trying to be controversial when I say, “What You Know (correctly) About Mountain Bike Skills is Hurting Your Progress!” Let’s say you know to ride in balance in the correct body position, how could that possibly be hurting you?  The answer is simple, if you are like I was when I first turned pro you aren’t doing what you know! Also, again, like me, you might know 50-80% of the skill but are probably missing a few/a lot of the details of that skill.

Knowledge can be a scary thing as it often makes us feel competent when we aren’t. An example of this in my first 10 years of riding   and in nearly every rider I see on trail (from beginners to pro cross-country racers) is the skill of looking ahead. We all know to look ahead, heck I came from snowboard racing background and then snowboard coaching background, I won a lot of races looking ahead and taught told the athletes I coached to do the same. The scary thing is, as a mountain biker I wasn’t looking ahead on trail, maybe sometimes (when it was easy) but I finally realized I was looking down, a lot! That is the trap of knowledge and why I say knowledge is worthless without action. What good is knowing how to do something if you aren’t doing it? When needed! We teach our students HOW to look ahead and provide drills to master this mountain bike skill.

cody kelly has mountain bike skills

BetterRide student Cody Kelly showing what practice can do for your mountain bike skills!

A couple of students summed this up pretty well, one,  Peter Tsang  in this review on mtbr:  http://reviews.mtbr.com/review-betterride-three-day-mountain-bike-skills-camp and another, Matt MacKay in his comments after reading the article. Matt wrote, “I can’t say enough good things about this camp. I went to Las Vegas in February to ride in Gene’s camp, and like the reviewer, I had knowledge of a lot of what was being taught. However the structure of the camp and Gene’s teaching style brought all of that knowledge and technique together. All of the pieces fell into place, and seemingly overnight I was a better rider. There is still a lot of learning for me to do. But now I know what my mistakes are and how to fix them.” (you can read his entire comment on mtbr) A real simple way of saying this is both Peter and Matt were not doing what they know (at least not very well).

We do this a lot in life, especially on our mountain bikes (Were you looking ahead in the last rock garden you encountered? The entire way?) because our big brain knows how to do something we think we are doing it! The problem is we don’t use our conscious, thinking brain to do anything athletically. We rely on our subconscious “autopilot” and it needs structured repetition to first understand and then master a skill. Even once we master a skill if we don’t use structured practice we will soon use the sharpness of that skill!

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills!

So, once you learn, hear and/or read about a skill take the time to drill it into your body (after making sure the skill is correct!). There is an old saying sports, “Amateurs practice until they get it right and pros practice until they can’t get it wrong”. Sadly, 95% of mountain bikers have never practiced at all, they just go out and ride. Practice is the way to create your best ride yet!

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow and look further through the corner like he did on the pavement. A few more sessions of drills and he will be solid!