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mountain biking too much

Mountain Biking Too Much?

For most of my thirties and forties I was mountain biking too much! How can that be you ask? Well, let me explain.

From the time I did my first race until very recently I was completely obsessed with mountain biking, it was my life. I moved into my van and took my summers off from work to race and train full time. Then I spent my winters coaching snowboarding during the day and DJing nightclubs at night to pay off all the debt I racked up in the summers chasing my pro racing dreams. I didn’t have time for things I used to love. Couldn’t go skateboarding (might get hurt and not be able to ride), no time for playing in rivers and creeks (all my time was spent training or recovering), not much time for a social life (have to go to bed early to recover and feel rested) basically, little to no time that wasn’t mountain bike focused. Eventually I quit snowboarding and moved to Boulder, CO to ride year round. Another way of thinking about this was I was completely focused on the future (except when riding) and often didn’t fundamentally enjoy my day to day existence. Don’t get the impression I was depressed or sad doing this, at the time I loved it, but, it was all I knew. Life can be better! I didn’t do intervals because I enjoyed the feeling of getting stronger and faster, I did them so I could hopefully win a race six to 12 months in the future. Oh, and you know what I did EVERYDAY? I rode my bike! For most of us, mountain biking is an escape, for me it was an everyday routine, that surprisingly I didn’t burnout on until years of doing this.

To some of you this might sound like a dream life and at the time, for me, it was a dream life. Looking back though, I missed out on a lot and became very unbalanced. Compare this to some of my former teammates like Ryan Sutton and Kain Leonard who were not only much faster than me, they had more balanced lives than I had. They spent the winters skiing and snowboarding, they made time for a social life. In the summers they still played off their bikes, playing in rivers, riding dirt bikes and they maintained a social life, sometimes, gasp, they missed a big race to stay home with their girlfriends. I remember thinking, “you’re missing your big chance! You could make it as a sponsored athlete!”. Kain is now married to that girlfriend and they have two kids, probably worth missing a race or two for that!

Would you miss family reunions for a bike race? I did, many of them and a few dear friends’ and close relatives’ weddings too. All so I could race my over priced kids toys! Are my three World Masters Championship medals worth all I sacrificed to get them? No way! Standing on those podiums was glorious, but, really, who cares? I honestly don’t even know where those medals are right now. Racing mountain bikes is great if you have the life balance that my teammates did or the balance of Steve Peat (who has found the time to get married, have a child and from his videos do silly and fun things off his bike too).

 

mountain biking too much

In Third Place at the 1999 UCI World Masters Championships, a moment of glory not worth what I sacrificed to get there.

I remember feeling guilty when I didn’t ride, sometimes I still do, “you’re a mountain bike coach, you should be out riding!”. Where, I know this might sound blasphemous but there is a lot more to life than riding bikes. Don’t be like me, focus on a healthy, balanced life and keep mountain biking as a healthy part of that life. Make time for friends, play in rivers, go surfing, travel without your bike, attend friends’ weddings and keep mountain biking special, not something you must do everyday. I realize that mountain biking can be addicting, for me and for most “lifestyle” riders it is our meditation (the only time time our busy minds go quiet and we are actually living in the moment) and that it keeps us sane and happy but, relax, learn to actually meditate and make time for friends, family and other pursuits.

 

Mountain bike racer Fred

Please Stop Hating on MTB Race Promoters! Like You, They Need Love.

“$100, that is way too much!” “45 minutes before the results are posted, who has time for this!” “Remember when MTB races were $35 bucks, what a rip off these days…” “$100, these guys are getting rich, I did the math …..”

First, no MTB race promoter is getting rich. Some who provide an amazing experience for their racers are doing quite well but shouldn’t they be doing well? Restaurant owners that provide great dining experiences do really well? Bike shop owners that sell you $2,800 carbon wheelsets and $10,000 bikes are doing well. Why shouldn’t race promoters be able to make a living? They are working hard to please you, shouldn’t they make more than $9 an hour?

Second, your math is wrong! On a three day weekend race with a $100 entry fee and 500 racers the promoter is not making 500 x $100 = $50,000 for three days work! He/she is grossing $50,000 for  two or three months work. Promoters spend months trying to find sponsors, dealing with awards, advertising, securing permits, marking courses, renting shuttle vehicles, dealing with USA Cycling, dealing with insurance, recruiting both paid and volunteer help, finding a timing company, answering thousands of phone calls and emails, dealing with upset people who PUT themselves in the wrong category, making sure their are enough porta-potties, marking the course/courses, watering the slalom track, finding shuttle drivers, running registration and i’m sure I’m leaving a lot out.

BetterRide racers tear it up at Sea Otter

BetterRide racer Cody Kelly wins the Sea Otter Dual Slalom, on the podium with legends Kyle Strait and Brian Lopes! Now the Sea Otter makes bank but, it takes a year to put on and has thousands of racers and spectators!

 

Third, gross income is way different than net income. Grossing $50,000 doesn’t guarantee making even $10 an hour. there are A LOT of  expenses in putting on a race. Insurance, advertising, timing, porta-potties, medics, USA cycling fees, permit fees, medals/awards, employees, renting/buying a PA system, re-bar posts, finish corral scaffolding,  …, again, I’m sure I’m leaving a lot out.

I hope I never see another rider on a $7,000-$10,000 carbon bike complaining about an entry fee! You should be complaining about the $7,000 bike not the person working his tail off to provide you with a fun and fair racing experience. If you feel it is too expensive, don’t race, you have a choice.

Now, if the race is really poorly run, that can be frustrating and then I understand complaining but it rarely helps (usually just makes you more angry to complain). Instead of complaining, take a deep breath, relax and offer the promoter a solution, “man, I know you didn’t anticipate this many people but if you can open up another registration line I (or my husband/boyfriend/wife/mom/sister/brother/teammate/s, etc) could help out for an hour/day.”

 

 

 

mtb skills

MTB Cornering, Braking and Setting Up to Corner

MTB Cornering, Braking and Setting Up to Corner

Interesting braking and mtb 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 are 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, I have been working on the same issue, especially last weekend at Bootleg Canyon. The problem stems from getting back while we brake, getting low is good but we need to stay more centered so when we release the brakes and the bike accelerates we are centered and ready to attack the corner.  I was taught the old school, “get way back while you brake” which does help the rear brake a bit but actually hurts the effectiveness of the much more powerful front brake.  Getting back also puts me out of balance and makes it hard to corner correctly (straightening my arms which puts me in a non-neutral position, shifting my weight back and taking weight off the front tire).  My main focus at the last two races has been to stay centered as I brake, use A LOT of front brake and then let off and attack the corner. Believe me, the entrances to these corners are really rough and brake bumped, but you can still stay centered. When working with Greg Minnaar he really stresses this has it is the only way to stay in control as you brake. It sounds scary but once you do it you realize two things: 1. you can brake in a much shorter distance with more control (more weight on the front wheel means no front wheel slide which means you can brake harder if needed) 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.

MTB Cornering

Aaron Gwin, low and looking way ahead!

In our next cornering article we will talk about line choice for cornering but something you can put into practice today is to stop talking the Lemming line. Lemmings are those little creatures that blindly follow each other off ice cliffs to their death and mountain bikers have a habit of doing the same thing (not to their death but definitely to their determent). When riding don’t always follow the “dominate line” (the most worn in/used path), it is often not the best choice for you. When entering a corner often the Lemming line is full of brake bumps and right in the middle of the trail, if you are doing a good job of  looking ahead as you enter the corner you might notice that just to the outside of that dominate, brake bumped line there is a nice smooth line! That smooth line is better for braking, better for your suspension, won’t beat you up as much and it might just give you a better entrance point for the corner! Give that a try and let us know how it works for you.

More on cornering: Mountain Bike Cornering, Part 1

As always it comes down to doing drills to master skills, then practicing with purpose and a focus on quality!

Create a railed corner (or two)!

mtb skills

You Aren’t Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do! (on your mtb)

On trail you aren’t doing what you know you are supposed to do! Every riding “tip” you have heard or read isn’t working because you don’t mountain bike with the part of your brain that listens to those tips! I know because I was a frustrated, professional mountain biker racer with 10 years of mtb experience who realized that I was looking down, a lot! Despite being a former professional snowboard racer and a snowboard race coach who was always stressing the importance of looking ahead (and was damn good at looking ahead on a snowboard). The listening part of your brain is great at mental tasks, solving math problems, remembering your childhood phone number, reading this blog and THINKING! When riding our bikes we don’t want to think! As a matter of fact thinking is the worst thing we can do. When we are mountain biking well he are simply doing, not thinking, not trying, we are on “auto-pilot” and just doing! Riding a bike is a lot like driving a car, have you ever gotten home from work and as you pulled into your driveway thought, “how the heck did I get home”? You don’t remember the route, you certainly don’t remember turning on your blinker, applying your brakes at a stop sign, looking both ways and then turning left. You don’t remember because your “big”, conscious, thinking brain isn’t being used to do the task of driving.

You don’t mountain bike with your “big brain” because your cerebellum (“little brain”) controls your motor skills and the best way to teach it is through practice. When I explain something to you your “big brain” says, “yes, that makes sense, I will do that from now on” but your “little brain” will go out and do what it is used to doing, not what I just taught you. This is the reason coaches invented drills for sports, musical instruments and even math, because there is a big difference between understanding and doing.

I bring all of this up because when I was out riding on Saturday I saw the most interesting thing. I was descending and saw a rider climbing the trail I was going down, so I pulled over to give him is right of way and watched him climb. He was staring right in front of his front tire, for at least 30 seconds! Yet, this guy works for a large bike manufacturer and has been riding for nearly two decades. I know if you asked him, “is it important to look ahead?”, he would say “yes”! Yet, he wasn’t looking ahead, not even for a second and he was weaving all over the trail and really struggling. So he knows to look ahead but isn’t doing it because he hasn’t taught is body and his cerebellum to look ahead.

You Aren't Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do! (on your mtb)

Wow, pro xc racer looking straight down at the entrance to an easy banked corner at the National Championships!

When you are just learning any new motor skill involving the performance of complex sequenced movements like mountain biking or talking or writing, etc., you use your primary motor cortex, your primary sensory cortex (in order to monitor how your muscles are moving) and two other regions of the brain called the caudate nucleus and thalamus. The role of the caudate and the thalamus is to help coordinate and smooth out the movements in response to how the movements feel to you. They also help you to speed up your movements as you become a better rider.

After you become a highly experienced mountain biker, another region of the brain usually takes over; it’s called the cerebellum (or little brain). Whenever we perform a well-learned movement we access our cerebellum to retrieve the memory of how to move our muscles quickly, efficiently and without thinking. This is why thinking while riding usually gets in the way of riding well. Once you know the movements needed to do the skills to ride well, the cerebellum allows you to execute them without thinking about how to do those skills.

You Aren't Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do! (on your mtb)

Another Pro XC racer looking down (and way out of position). So sad to spend all that time and energy training to be that fit only to lose 2-3 minutes an hour because of poor vision techniques!

In the case above (experienced rider looking down) he has practiced the incorrect method of looking down so much that now is cerebellum is telling him to look down. If he gets wise to the importance of looking ahead it will take months of doing structured vision drills to reprogram his cerebellum so that he starts looking ahead on the trail. A great case of you aren’t doing what you know you are supposed to do.

Through this blog, our free mini-course and our camps we really want to help you to ride your best. Please don’t let your ego trick you into thinking that because you “know” a particular skill that you are actually doing it. I have had the pleasure of coaching motocross racers, GP motorcycle racers and car racers, all sports which require looking way further ahead than we do on mountain bikes (because of their much greater speed). The interesting thing was they were all surprised (and often angry) at how much they caught themselves looking down on their mtb. It surprised me too! It turns out that “little brain” training is sport specific. So do the drills in our mini-course, do the drills in our blog articles and if you have been fortunate enough to take one of our camps do the drills from the camp. Knowledge is worthless until you can consistently put that knowledge into action!

Create your best ride yet,

Gene