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!
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!
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!