Posts

Have Your MTB Upgrades Made it Less Safe and Less Fun?

I am often amazed at the mountain bike setups I see! Great bikes, sometimes with great “upgrades” but the wrong upgrades for that rider or that rider’s purpose that day. Then when I ask why did you switch to those tires/bars/pedals etc. the answers I get crack me up! “Because Bob Bobaliny (the fastest local xc racer) was using these tires at 24  Hours in the Old Pueblo”, “I saw World Champ Greg Minnaar using these tires”, “my friend Scott said they are the best”, “I read on mtbr that these were the lightest bars made”, etc. MTB upgrades and components such as pedals, shoes, handlebars, tires, stem and wheel set can have a huge positive or negative effect on your riding! Choose the components and equipment for you, the conditions and your purpose that day.

Would you use this slick, Hookworm tire in loose conditions?

 

Maxxis Hookworm MTB Tire

Why can copying the World Champion’s setup sometimes do more harm than good? The World Champ had those tires on for a specific purpose (in Greg Minnaar’s case winning a downhill race with the conditions the way they are that hour of race day. The mud spike Greg used in the slick conditions at a rainy wold cup in France would be outright dangerous even in the pouring rain at a rocky hard packed place like Bootleg Canyon (in the Nevada desert). Listening to or mimicking other “experts” (in quotes because they are often not experts) can also have a negative effect on your riding and safety. One, because they might not be experts and two, because their purpose is different than yours. On a technically easy trail like the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo course a racer will be concerned more about rolling resistance than control so she runs a semi-slick tire front and rear. The same racer on a more technical course would likely run a knobbier tire that rolled a little slower but gave her more control.

Some things to look out for:

1. Light weight components, light bars, light wheel sets, light tires, light cranks etc.. Our obsession with shaving weight off our bikes needs to end. Yes, given the exact same performance I would rather have a 22 pound bike than a 32 pound bike, but right now that doesn’t exist.

First, what is your purpose? Do want a bike that handles all conditions you may encounter really well or the lightest bike on the market? Often, the two end up being at odds with each other (the lightest bars are narrow, the lightest tires are narrow and have weak sidewalls, light weight seat-posts are not height adjustable on the fly, all compromising control). If you are simply a passionate rider who wants to ride your best, focus on ride quality and control. If you are a cross county or endurance racer you need to really weigh the benefits of weight shaving vs. control, which often means different equipment for different race courses. The more technically challenging the race the more likely you would want to add a dropper post and better tires for more confidence and control. The less technical the course the more you would favor light weight and semi-slick tires.

2. Pedals. Clipless pedals are not an upgrade (see our blog posts on this topic:   http://betterride.net/blog/2010/clipped-in-vs-flat-pedals/ ,  http://betterride.net/blog/2010/interesting-info-on-pedal-stroke-efficiency/) they are simply another way of pedaling. If they cause you to lose ANY confidence on the trail, how can they be an upgrade?!

Clipless shoes, there are two main different styles of clipped in shoes, softer and wider soled shoes for wide clipless pedals (platform pedals with clipless) and super stiff and light xc racing shoes. If you are an xc racer a carbon soled shoe provides amazing power and light weight, tough to beat. If you like to explore when you ride, ride technically challenging trails and want more support and comfort for your foot the softer soled 5.10 type shoe with the platform clip-in is a better bet. For more on each of these pedal types and shoes see Andy’s post: http://betterride.net/blog/2011/betterride-mtb-skills-head-coach-andys-summary-on-pedals-shoes/

3. Seatposts. A light weight non-adjustable seatpost will definitely save a little weight but it isn’t worth it! A  “dropper post” will give you more control and allow you to descend with much more confidence, control and help you to descend faster! You CANNOT get into proper descending body position with your seat at full pedal height! So the 3-6 ounce weight penalty of a dropper post is worth it on trails that have steep descents, fast corners, drops, or technical sections! See my article on dropper posts: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/the-4th-thing-you-can-buy-that-will-instanty-improve-your-bike-handling/

My 6 year old Gravity Dropper

Tires, the sport is called mountain biking for a reason, we ride off-road! So I nice knobby tire will give you much more traction than a semi-slick or tire with minimal tread.

Nice tread for more control!

Figure out the goals for your mountain bike riding and then make sure you aren’t compromising them by using the wrong equipment for your goals! Of course the number one goal is, having fun!

A Frustrating Thing That Often Holds Us Back on the MTB Trail! (video)

Is this frustrating thing (that we all experience) holding you back on the mtb trail?

Are you letting failure hold you back?! Or worse yet, fear of failure? Dan Millman (World Champion Gymnast, Coach and Author) said, “Failure is natural and necessary part of the learning process.” He is not recommending failing for the sake of failing but going for it and when you do fail, learning from it.

Some fear of failure can be good, if more 12-35 year old males with an inflated belief in their skills feared failure a little more there would be a lot less trips to the emergency room! If the fear of failure involves a 40 foot double jump you might want to listen to it. In this case you can use the fear to ask, “why am I afraid to do that” and you might have a great answer, “because I have no idea how to do that in balance and in control”! If the fear of failure is keeping you from doing something less dangerous, such as cornering a little faster when you know proper cornering technique and you have knee pads on, the fear of failure can really hold you back. In this case the answer to “but what if I fail?” is usually, “your pride will be hurt for a moment”.

So let fear of failure protect you when it can, but don’t let it defeat you when there are little or no consequences for failure.

As I was writing this I found this video on you tube, check it out:

A common “failure” in mountain biking is sliding out in a corner. If this happens to you out on the trail, instead of kicking your bike and cursing it, figure out why you slid out and design a plan so that it doesn’t happen again. This exact failure is why I started BetterRide. It went something like this, “Wow, that stinks, my front wheel just slid out and I skinned my knee! It is a loose, gravel corner, maybe I was going to fast. No, Dusty made it through going faster than me, speed wasn’t the issue. ‘Hey Dusty, what tires are you using, I think my tires made me slide out.’ Dusty replied, ‘Dart/smoke combo, same as you.’ ‘Well how did you go so fast through that corner?’, I asked. His reply was something to the effect of, ‘let go of your brakes and hang on!’ Which made me realize, I really don’t know proper cornering technique, I wonder who can coach me?” I won’t bore you with my struggle to find a coach but that is a great example of failure leading to success in two aspects of my life. I eventually learned to corner correctly and founded a company helping others to corner and ride correctly!

Back to your riding and how to let failure inspire you instead of hold you back. Next time you fail on the trail, before just riding off, or retrying whatever it was that you failed at, stop and analyze what happened. Was it lack of proper technique, loss of focus, tension, panic or fear? Once you figure out why you failed you can design a plan to succeed!

My plan to succeed at cornering was to find a coach to teach me how to corner correctly and then use drills to master cornering technique (I realize that isn’t most people’s thought process, I was a former professional snowboard racer and a snowboard team coach at the time). In my case it was because I was doing nearly everything wrong in corners; my vision was off, my balance was off and I thought to tighten up a turn I needed to steer tighter! Looking back on it the main reason my front wheel slid out was my body position. I was going relatively fast into the corner so I was a little tense and scared (not horrified, just a little worried that I wasn’t going to make it) so instinctively (see this article on instincts: http://betterride.net/?p=1837) I shifted my weight back away from danger which unweighted my front wheel so it slid out. This is something I still work on in fast descending corners, I have to fight the urge to creep back on my bike a bit. I am sure the fact that I was looking at the apex of the corner (not through the corner like I should have been), was leaning with my bike and sticking my knee out didn’t help either! In this case simply being centered over the bottom bracket instead of having my weight back over the rear wheel would have been enough to give the front wheel traction and make the corner.

In short, don’t be afraid of failure, make the most of your failures, use them to learn and improve. As Michael Jordan said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. When you do fail, learn from it and use the failure as inspiration to learn and improve!

The “Pain Cave” MTB Training

By BetterRide Head Coach Andy Winohradsky

This article deals with extremely high levels of physical exertion. If you plan on pushing your body in this manner, first make sure that you are physically fit and healthy enough to do so. This may mean seeing your Doctor and making sure that you’re up to par, especially if its been a while since you really exerted yourself or if you’re a bit (or quite a bit) out of shape. Also, if this is the case, you may want to look into professional programs and trainers to help you properly build your fitness up to the levels that I’m about to touch upon.

While most of the articles that I write for this site are aimed at the average rider – probably a recreational rider or beginner or novice racer – this one is intended more for a higher level, competitive athlete. But even if you’re a Newbie, hopefully the following will show that in order to “succeed”, especially at the higher levels of riding, it takes more then just raw fitness and more then just being extremely skilled; it takes becoming a “whole” or “complete” rider, and obviously the mental aspect plays a very important role in this.

In this article I’m going to talk about maintaining a high level of fitness during the off-season, and more specifically, a high level of “mental fitness”. I’m talking about going to the “Pain Cave” and about how to do it effectively in regards to riding a MTB without injuring yourself or burning-out over the winter.

If you’re a fairly serious athlete that participates in events where endurance is required (IN THIS CASE, any athletic event that lasts over a couple of minutes), then you’ve probably heard of the Pain Cave.

Hopefully, you’ve been there.

While BetterRide is mainly about MTB skills instruction and coaching, and not necessarily about fitness programs, or physical conditioning, let’s face it: being physically fit and strong is going to help you ride your bicycle well, and, for the serious athlete, the off-season is the time to build that fitness in order to fine tune and focus it as the riding season approaches. Like-wise, being MENTALLY “fit and strong” is essential to riding your bike well. The Pain Cave – if used correctly – offers valuable lessons in both of these areas.

The Pain Cave is “where we go/where we’re at” when we feel intense pain and severe discomfort combined with muscle fatigue – and inevitable muscle failure if the activity persists – resulting from all-out, total physical exertion. It can be an enigmatic state of complete physical torture while simultaneously offering a time-slowing type of exhilaration (yep). And, as an athlete becomes more fit (both mentally and physically) they are able to stay in the Cave and function for longer periods of time. They become more and more familiar with it. But no one can stay there for very long. I believe that in any athletic competition that involves anaerobic activity, the Pain Cave is where the competition is almost always won or lost.;

As mountain bikers, whether you’re a world-class athlete chasing world championships or a recreational rider trying to master the local trails, you will find yourself at least knocking on the door of the Pain Cave from time to time. And whether the competition you partake in is official and organized or simply with yourself as you try to top that nasty climb that you’ve never quite made before, at some point, you will need to be able to function in the pain cave in order to reach your goal(s).

What this means is that you will still need to perform – with near perfection – despite severe physical discomfort and impending physical failure. You will need to maintain concentration and focus in order to maintain proper form and technique. You will need to battle. There is skill required in this, and like any other type of skill, it takes some time and effort to develop it properly.

If you’re a high-level athlete and MTB is your priority sport, then you’re probably already involved in some type of off-season conditioning program. This program should put you in the Pain Cave on a regular basis. But too often, I feel that MTB’ers seem to hit the gym and the road bike (yes, these are/can-be extremely important fitness tools, also) and go to the “gym-Pain Cave”, but lose sight of the “real-life-MTB-Pain Cave”. And, by this I mean they’re not getting involved in activities that force them to maintain a level of focus and concentration that enables them accomplish intricate and technical activities (similar to bike handling on technically challenging terrain) while totally physically exerting themselves. The physical exertion of busting out three more agonizing reps of an exercise in the gym in the face of muscle fatigue, or pushing it on a stationary trainer or on a road bike, will definitely cause you some pain and discomfort; but it’s still a long ways away from threading the needle between trees and rocks at 35 mph, eight minutes into a super-d race; or holding it together at the bottom of a DH run; or clinging to that billy-goat line on the side of a cliff, forty minutes into a lung and leg-burning climb.

The latter require a much higher level of commitment and accountability, focus and precision. This is where many athletes find a reason to “let off” and concede victory to a competitor who is more prepared and committed to continue to perform at the highest level. And, very realistically, this is also where season ending outcomes may result if a mistake occurs at the wrong time.

Most athletes can ride pretty well when they are fresh and strong. But it’s when it starts to hurt really, really bad; when our bodies begin to give out on us… that’s when it really counts and that is usually the place that will define our successes or failures. We need to be familiar with this place and be able to adequately perform under these conditions.

The off-season is not a time to let ourselves slip and lose our edge, and if done correctly, the off-season is a great time to make gains, and often through none-bike activities. Most of us need some time away from the bike. The last thing we want to do is burn ourselves out before the season even starts. But the smart rider finds ways to make gains during the off-season and still be hungry when the riding season begins.

Obviously, performing at the level of exertion mentioned above can also be dangerous. This is when we are most likely to make mistakes, so be careful. But there are many non-bike winter activities, that are fairly safe, where you can experience this with minimal chances of getting injured: XC skiing and snowshoeing provide great cardiovascular workouts, require technique and rhythm, and once you begin to fatigue it becomes difficult to maintain both of these. You could also get together with a few of your overly-competitive buddies and get some nasty games of racquetball or basketball going on. Maybe try some Martial Arts? All of these activities offer you the options of success or failure in the face of fatigue when done at a level of high intensity. I’m a huge fan of backcountry snowboarding. I really like the activities that get you outside. When you’re out in the elements, you’re dealing with changing weather conditions, changes in terrain, perhaps difficulties with equipment. One of my winter-time favorites is a lap I do at a backcountry area that involves snowshoeing to the top, changing equipment (shoes go on pack, snowboard goes on feet, parka, helmet, goggles, gloves and floor it!) and snowboarding down, then switching to “up-mode” again and shoeing back to the start. I try to do this in an allocated amount of time. This is one of my big cardio workouts. Trying to push extremely hard on the last ten minutes of a climb with one snowshoe falling off and making the necessary adaptations on the fly can be very similar to trying to finish an MTB race with a mangled derailleur – especially in the frustration department! Dealing with a jammed zipper or dropping a glove 20 ft down the hill while switching gear can very much resemble missing a line or having a small crash in a MTB race. Just as I do in MTB, I’m trying to make up for small mistakes and make intricate adjustments at full exertion while trying to be fast and efficient. I’m trying to keep a cool head and problem solve while, physically, it feels as if I’m going to die!

The closer I can get to simulating the riding experience, going to the Pain Cave and still getting the job done (and, off the bike, so that I will still be hungry when the season begins), the more prepared I will be to deal with that type of stress, on the bike, when its time to do so.

So, in closing, don’t let yourself slip! Stay strong and stay sharp. Be creative, intelligent, and honest with your off-season training and you’ll have fun and still benefit immensely on the bike in the spring.

There are a lot of off-season fitness programs out there that, I feel, allow riders to get lazy and lose sight of some of the most important aspects of performance. Don’t allow yourself to fall into this trap!

And don’t lose your keys to the Pain Cave!

Mountain Bike How To Video, Getting Over Big Rocks or Logs

BetterRide Certified coach Chris Skolnick demonstrating how easy it is to get over a big rock when have master two simple skills, the coaster wheelie (manual) and the weight shift. This is great test, if you can’t do this you aren’t very good at these two Core Skills of mountain bike riding, if you can do this smoothly and easily you have these two skills pretty wired.