Posts

The Best MTB Skills Advice I Have Ever Given. (How we actually “break” bad habits and create perfect ones)

The Best MTB Skills Advice I Have Ever Given. (How we actually “break” bad habits and create perfect ones)

As you may know I am obsessed with learning and teaching. How do we learn? What is the best way to learn a new skill? How can I best coach this skill? How can improve on my methods? These questions are constantly running through my head which is what makes coaching such a great passion for me. Well about 5 months ago I hit the Jackpot!

I have learned some truly amazing information on learning and mastering skill. Two books in particular have really opened my eyes, Slow Practice Will Get You There Faster by Ernest Dras and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. The first book is written by a renowned tennis coach about golf and the second explains the science of learning backing up (and then some) the first with the science behind why slow practice and “deep” practice work so well. If you are fascinated by learning and have always wondered how some people go on to be great at something while others seem to try hard but not get to the top these book are both great reads and I highly recommend them. If you are more a “cliff notes” type scholar I will give you some of my biggest takeaways from the books.

What both of these books explain is Slow, “Deep” or “Deliberate” practice is the best and fastest way to master anything, whether it is playing an instrument, mastering a martial art or becoming a better mountain biker.

Why slow, deep practice? Turns out we don’t fix or change bad habits, we need to produce brand new perfect habits. In layman’s terms a skill (such as doing a wheelie) is a series of impulses transmitted through a wire from your brain to all the muscles and nerves the skill requires. When we first do a skill we put the wire in place but it takes perfect repetition of that skill to make the wire work better. The “wire” starts out with no insulation (imagine a bare wire with no rubber coating under the hood of your car) so it shorts out easily and doesn’t always fire correctly. We build that insulation (called the Myelin Sheath) best through slow, deliberate practice.

BR Coach Gene Hamilton explaining cornering body position

How does this effect you and your mountain bike riding? If you are like me and all of my students so far, when you first started riding your either had no instruction or improper instruction and started doing somethings incorrectly (which for me meant, getting my weight back on descents, riding to upright with straight arms, braking in corners, etc. a ton of bad habits). Unfortunately the Myelin Sheath doesn’t know what is correct or not so the more you ride incorrectly the more you build up that insulation around that wire. Which means the more and more powerful that bad habit becomes. Then you read a “tip” on how to ride better (like in my mini-course) and now you know you should ride with your weight on the pedals instead of getting your weight back. You then practice this by coasting down your driveway with all of your weight on your pedals. Congratulations, you have just created a new, perfect habit! Don’t get too excited yet though, that habit or “wire” isn’t insulated to well so it doesn’t always fire correctly. You are committed to change though so you practice it five times a day for a week. Now the Myelin Sheath has gotten thicker and the wire works better but, the old wire has 8 years of Myelin Sheath building around it so the old habit still takes over when you aren’t focused on the new habit and when ever the least bit of fear creeps into you.

How do you build up enough insulation on the wire for the new, perfect habit take over the old habit? Slow, deliberate practice. What the heck is slow deliberate (or “deep”) practice? Slow, deliberate practice is working on one movement or short combinations of movements slower than you normally would do them. The best musicians learn songs much better and faster by taking 20 minutes to play a three minute song! They are focused on the tiniest of movements and the sounds they produce sound more like elephants in pain than music (my favorite quote from The Talent Code is from a music professor who says, “if a passerby can recognize the melody you are playing it too fast”).

Coach Gene Demonstrating how to practice deeply.

You may be saying, “What does this mean to me? I ride bikes!” Well for you it means we need to first learn the correct, in balance and in control techniques and then practice them at a very slow pace with an eye on perfection and stopping and correcting our mistakes. You are fooling yourself if you think riding a bike will make you better at it (maybe a hair more comfortable as you get used to your bad habits but not better).

Students doing "deep" practice while Gene coaches

If you want to reach your personal best as quickly as possible, slow down and practice deliberately!

What a weekend for BetterRide MTB Students!

What a rewarding weekend! While I was busy coaching a downhill camp (with a healthy mix of pro racers, Cat 1 racers and advanced beginners) I received three emails from stoked students conquering their on trail nemesis’s and BetterRide athletes made to xc race podiums!

Sarah Kaufman on her way to 2nd place!

Congratulations to these BetterRiders on sweeping the pro women’s podium! In 3rd Erica Knight Tingey, in 2nd Sarah Kaufmann, on top of the box Lynda Wallenfels! Interesting that they finished in the order that they have taken skills camps with me! Could be a fluke but seems to show what many books on learning are pointing out, more deliberate practice equals better skill. Check out this article on the race: Desert Rampage, St. George, UT, http://www.mtbracenews.com/view_article.jsp?id=251

Also on the podium was Darren Casden Taking 3rd Place at the Black Mountain Winter Series Final and taking home 1st place overall in the series.

One of the great emails from a student:

Gene,

Wanted to thank you for all of you time an patience this last week in Phoenix, I do appreciate all of your effort. I really did not expect to be e-mailing you so soon about some of the skills that I apparently acquired in Phoenix, but I am. Had a chance to go out on a ride yesterday, not with the intent of testing the skills but to enjoy a ride. I quickly found myself reflecting back on the weekend and began working on looking ahead. I quickly realized that much of the trail that I was riding, very narrow single track and notorious for loosing momentum when you get off of trail was much smoother that I have ever remembered, occasionally when my eyes drifted back to where I was at and now where I was going I would like old, get off track. Within a very short period after starting my ride it was obvious that focusing on looking ahead and using the vision techniques you taught us to do the up close steering was working. In addition to looking ahead, there are a couple of difficult and loose uphill switchbacks that often cause me to dab. Remembering back on the Sunday drills, I focused on not getting impatient and watching my body position and balance and again, probably one of the smoothest runs on the switchbacks I have ever had. I also had the opportunity to work on the various wheelies and bump jumps and like the other techniques felt that they were enhancing my riding. I plan on going back out again today to work on more of the same.

Stay safe, and keep riding….

Jerry

That was from his first ride after the camp! He hadn’t even start to do the drills (that will commit these skills to his subconscious) yet. Wait to all the skills he learned in his camp are ingrained through drills and they just “happen” without thought to them!

MTB Videos: Coaching World Champ Ross Schnell in Sedona

I am so fortunate to coach such a diverse group of riders. From eager, passionate riders just getting into the sport to World Champions like Ross Schnell they all need to master the same core skills that 20 years of riding will not help you stumble upon.

Here are a few short videos of Ross working on descending and cornering.

Notice how he is staying centered on his bike (weight on the pedals) and in a neutral position so we be smooth, maintain his momentum and keep his wheels on the ground.

Ross is balanced, using counter pressure to lean the bike, looking through the turn and back on the gas before he exits the second corner!

Here the corners are steeper and tighter but Ross is still managing to stay low, centered and neutral. In this one he should of slowed down a bit more and finished his braking before the left hand turn to generate more exit speed.

Of course there is a lot more to cornering, first you have to understand descending body position and vision (and then master body position and vision with drills) then understand how to corner, cornering body position, the goal of cornering (we spend 2.5 hours coaching it and teaching you drills to master cornering in our camps. Then another 2 hours applying those skills on trail) but this will give you a good visual of a great rider.

Andy’s Take On Some Great Counter Intuitive MTB Riding Advice

“Gotta go slow to go fast!”  (this for all riders, especially those more concerned with control than speed, please read on!)

The above saying has been floating around racing circles since probably forever. On this website, one of the latest updates contains a video of last year’s U.S. Open Downhill Race. In it, race winner, and super-fast rider and all-around nice guy, Andrew Neethling, stated that it was essential for him to really slow down in sections of the course in order to get the win. Former top U.S. World Cup Downhiller, the legendary Shawn Palmer, who was known for his checker-or-the-wrecker, on the edge style (both on and off the bike), was also known to throw that saying around on more then one occasion.

So here are two guys that pay (or used to pay) their rent by going faster – not by slowing down – telling us we need to slow down to go fast? What gives?

In the following, we’ll explore what the saying actually means and how it can help not only racers, but also recreational riders ride more efficiently, more in control, safer, and, faster.

Let’s first take a look at what the saying is actually implying, and let’s say that for this discussion, we’re talking about riding at speeds that are typical of descending on a MTB (not seated climbing-type speeds). “Go slow to go fast” could easily be translated into managing one’s speed. Or, better yet, managing one’s momentum (different then speed). In other words, we need to use momentum as a tool to help us get over obstacles or go faster and use less energy to do these things, but, at the same time, we can’t let this momentum affect us negatively by pulling us off the trail, over the bars, into trees, etc. When Andrew Neethling won the U.S. Open, he sure as heck didn’t want to come to a dead stop when he needed to slow down, he wanted to maintain as much momentum as possible, but not so much that it forced him into a costly mistake.

Think about this: every time we descend on the bike, its an exercise in momentum management. Every corner we take, every rock or root we drop off, etc. Every time we almost get thrown over the handlebars by improperly negotiating an obstacle, its because we screwed up on managing our momentum. Momentum is what is carrying us over the rocks, obstacles, whatever, and allowing us to generate speed, yet it is also what is forcing us into mistakes.

So I find it kind of amazing that very few riders look at riding a section of trail in terms of momentum management. I get riders who tell me all the time that in order to improve on the bike, they need to “get better at drops” or “ need to learn to corner” or “need to get in shape” … but I’ve never heard, “I need to get better at managing my momentum.”

I believe that one of the reasons conservative, recreational riders often don’t benefit from the “gotta go slow to go fast” idea (or as we’ve defined it here, “gotta manage your momentum”) is because they’re not concerned with going “fast” so they don’t believe the that concept applies to them. When I mention going-slow-to-go-fast in my camps, without fail, the self-deprecating talk starts to flow like water, “Oh, I know all about going slow … ha. ha. ha.” or “You don’t have to worry about the ‘fast’ part with me … heh. heh.” But it seems that it is usually this type of rider that pays the biggest price for improper momentum management – whether that means big crashes because of too much momentum or the inability to clean a relatively easy obstacle because of too little. Every rider generates speed and momentum and, thus, needs to be conscious of these things and the effect that they have on their riding.

Racers, on the other hand, are often so concerned with raw speed (which they often inaccurately equate to less time between point-A and point-B) that they fail to consider that momentum is actually the motor that is carrying them down the hill and too much or too little at any given moment, can be detrimental to their success. Downhill tracks consistently have lines and obstacles where a rider can generate massive amounts of momentum (and gain time) if he were only to slow down (cut momentum) briefly in order reap the huge benefits further down the course.

Coach Gene Hamilton demonstrating how to maintain momentum over a rock in Fruita

This is great skill to acquire and, when done properly, one of the safest, smoothest, most efficient, fastest, and most fun ways you could ever ride your mountain bike.