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MTB, What I Have Learned from Working with Greg Minnaar That Can Help You, Part 1

MTB, What I Have Learned from Working with Greg Minnaar That Can Help You

I have been fortunate to do a number of skills camps with three time World Champion Greg Minnaar over the last 12 years and I have learned a lot from him. You can benefit greatly by doing some of the things he does and by not doing some of the things he does.

What? Not do what Greg does. Isn’t he arguably the best rider in the World? Yes, and you are not the best rider in the world so what works for Greg might work for you because he has way more skill than you do! In the following example, do what Greg does!

Lesson 1: Body Position and Cornering

One thing I have always stressed in my camps is being in balance. Greg really doubled down on this point in my camps and this really showed in this camp! I was explaining to the students that if you normally ride clipped in it is a good idea to also practice with flat pedals. Flat pedals let you know when you aren’t being smooth and force you to bump jump and bunny hop correctly. (Greg agrees with this)

Then I said, “it is also good to be confident riding flat pedals for when it is muddy” and Greg, said emphatically, “NO, even if I am using flat pedals for a race, if it gets muddy I always switch to clips.”

He went on to explain that when riding flat pedals in the mud he has the urge to put his foot down and “whenever you put your foot down you are out of position”. In other words, you are not doing what Greg and I teach, being centered over the bottom bracket. See Greg in great form below.

Notice how his hips are above his bike. Bike leaned to the left, body not leaned near as much keeping his center of mass (think belly button) over his bb and weight on the tires! Look how far ahead he looking too, this is cornering done really well!

When putting your foot down, your weight goes from above your bike to “below” your bike, taking the weight off your tires, causing you to slide towards the unweighted side. See a rare photo of Greg in terrible form below.

MTB, What I learned from Greg Minnaar

I have never seen Greg this out of position, in addition to being leaned in with his foot out he is looking down too! Even the best aren’t perfect!

A great example of this is Danny Hart’s world championship winning run in 2011. Watch the video below even though Danny is riding flat pedals he is cornering like he is clipped in  (both feet on the pedals, dropping his outside foot (to put more weight on his tires) and keeping his center of mass over his bb). In one little corner, he takes his inside foot off and puts it down. Then his rear wheel slides out and he nearly throws away that amazing run!

Watch at 1:11 into this video as Danny almost throws away a World Championship by leaning into one corner!

Long story short, don’t put your foot down in corners! Learn to keep your center of mass (think bellybutton or crack of your butt) over your bb while riding to stay in balance!). Sure, when you make a mistake and are leaned in, but your foot down but, remember that you were out of position which caused your foot to go down.

Another great example of this is Aaron Gwin’s winning run at Mont Sainte Anne last year. He rides it like it is dry!

Yes, I know Sam Hill put his foot down a lot in the last EWS. You aren’t Sam Hill, he is an exception to the rule. Sam rolls the dice a lot while cornering. As a matter of fact, he did throw away a world championship in 2008 by leaning in and sliding out in the last corner (see video below at 2:39 into the video he leans in starts to slide out) he still just missed winning by .53 of a second!

Sam Hill crashing while way up at the World Championships in 2008

Watch Minnaar, Hart, and Gwin in the mud, they ride like it is dry! You should too if you want to stay upright! Stay in balance and above your bike!

I hope this has helped you understand this vital part of body position. Feel free to comment or ask any questions below.

If you know anyone who could benefit from this feel free to share it!

Tune in next week to find out a few things Greg does and did in the past that you shouldn’t do!

 

 

Mushroom Rock in Moab

Mountain Bike That Trail that Scares You With Ease! Faster Too!

I think almost every mountain bike rider reading this will admit they are not as skilled or as fast as Aaron Gwin, Steve Peat or Greg Minnaar, yet many of us would like to be! Often I hear riders say, “That guy is ballsy! I wish I was as fearless as him!” The thing is Aaron Gwin, Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar aren’t “ballsy”, they are skilled!

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp!

So what do we do, we try to ride trails that scare us and/or go faster nearly every time we ride! Which is fun and challenging, two things mountain biking is great at! There is nothing wrong with challenging yourself and having fun, I encourage that. The problem with that approach though is it is very hard, I would say impossible to ride the most challenging trails or ride as fast as a world cup champion without equal skills to the world champion. Don’t you agree? I mean if you have 80% of Steve Peat’s skill (which would be impressive) it would be extremely hard to ride a world cup track, even at 90% of Steve Peat’s pace, much less 100%! Now, let’s flip that around, if you honestly had 100% of Steve Peat’s skill wouldn’t it be much easier to ride a world cup downhill track, as fast as Steve Peat? I know it would be.  Yet so many mountain bike riders believe simply trying to ride harder trails and/or ride faster will improve their skills (including me for the first 8-10 years I rode and raced). Sure, you might stumble into some correct skills this way but you are also going to develop some serious bad habits and likely get hurt!

Unfortunately just riding faster builds fear, bad habits and injury, not skills. Why, well, watch most amateur downhill racers, even though they are going much slower than the World Cup Champions mentioned above they almost look faster as they are out of balance and out of control! Ever watch amateur practice on a steep, technical track? It is scary, and yes, amateur racers have way bigger balls than top pro racers because the amateurs are riding the same track with WAY less skill. Think about it, Aaron crushes most top pro racers, in a four minute downhill he will beat nearly 100% of all amateurs by a minute or more! Yet, how many injuries have sidelined Aaron in his career? I can’t think of one! Yet, those amateurs who are 25% slower are getting hurt left and right! Which means despite riding much slower (which should be safer!) they are getting hurt worse and more often. This approach is proven to fail. World Cup Champions ride with confidence! They don’t “hope” they make that sketchy section, they know they are going to make it!

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills!

So how can you mountain bike that trail that scares you with ease? Faster too? Increase your skills? There is only one way to improve your skills (at anything, mountain biking, playing guitar, painting, surgery, basketball, etc.) learn the correct techniques then do structured practice (drills) to in grain those techniques. Read about any “master”, in sport, in surgery, in music, etc. and you will read about all the time they spent doing deliberate practice, not simply “having fun” at what they have mastered.

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 like he did on the pavement.

 

Think you are going to somehow learn to ride at your best by just riding? I am sorry, it isn’t going to happen. Your instincts are millions of years old and designed to save your life on foot, not ride a bike, not surf, not play football, not play the piano! For more about your instincts read this: http://wp.me/p49ApH-tD  ,  Why Our Instincts Fail Us On Our Mountain Bikes!

In short, learn the correct, in control, in balance techniques and then spend your time deliberately practicing those skills and you will see your ability, confidence and fun sky-rocket!

Mountain Bike Braking, it is Still Riding! How not to Die on Your MTB!

Wow, the dangerous concepts well meaning people and unqualified coaches share with other riders! Mountain bike braking happens while riding you bike! That means the same body position that puts you in control and in balance while riding should be used while braking too! We stress being in a balanced, centered and neutral position while descending and we need to maintain that while braking. As a matter of fact, because of braking forces (remember the brakes on our light weight bike, not our much heavier body) it is even more important to stay balanced, centered and neutral while braking.

Mountain Bike Braking

This poster is terrifying! Mountain Bike Braking and riding should not look like this!

Since applying our brakes slows the bike but not necessarily our body we have to stay centered to keep from being pitched forward! If we get our weight back or as some coaches say, “use your butt as the third brake” we end up in an off balance, non-neutral position setting us up for a host of bad things to happen to us. Think about why you brake while riding, usually one or a combination of three things; you are approaching a corner and need to slow down, you are approaching a more difficult section of trail (such as a steeper or rockier section) and want to slow down to feel more in control or you need to stop, sometimes in a hurry! Do you want to be in the position in the photo as you enter a corner or a tougher section of trail? Not if you want to live to ride again tomorrow! Remember the video tutorial/blog post on descending body position?  If not or for a refresher click this link:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT

Here is just the video but please go the blog post and read more about the why’s and how’s of doing this.

Well that getting “yanked down” effect from your straight arms will be multiplied by your weight wanting to keep going forward as your bike slows and you will get pitched over the bars, with authority! A high school mtb coach I know took the “butt is your third brake advice” and broke is collarbone as he was braking and his front wheel went down a 20 inch ledge on semi-steep descent. Had he stayed centered and neutral he would have been fine!

Almost as bad as flipping over is having your front wheel slide out! There is little to no weight on your front tire if your butt is back over the rear tire so it has little to no traction! Not only is there no weight on the front tire you are probably a little out of balance which could cause your front wheel to slide to one side and your chest to violently hit the ground on the other side. This why many people are afraid of their front brake, sliding front tires are scary!

Lastly, with all your weight over the rear tire you are minimizing the weight on the front tire, thereby reducing the effectiveness of your POWERFUL front brake! You plain can’t stop in as short a distance with your weight back as you can when you are centered.

How to stay centered and neutral while braking:

1. First master riding in the centered and neutral position (in the video tutorial linked above and taught much more deeply in our skills progressions).

2. Ride in the centered and neutral position and when braking stay there! Do this by fighting your body’s forward motion. Do this by “sinking into your bike” drop your rear end and chest to lower your centered of gravity, dropping your heels so you can push against the pedal spindles and using the “heel” of your hands to push against the bars to resist the forward motion of your body. Having a dropper post really helps you do this by getting that darn seat out of your way.

3. Review the braking part of our free mini-course and remember that your front brake is 70-100% of your stopping power. Use that front brake, become friends with it! Do the braking drill from the mini-course and learn how much pressure you can apply to each brake and learn to modulate those brakes.

4. Look at the “Bad Clinic” photo above and then watch World Cup Downhill racing on Redbull dot com and watch to see if you can find Aaron Gwin, Greg Minnaar or Steve Peat in that position before any steep rocky section or corner. You won’t find them in that position as you can’t even qualify much less win a World Cup if you are riding out of balance like that.

Mountain bike braking is all about staying balanced, centered and neutral. We do need to fight the forward motion of our body but we do that by resisting, not by getting our weight back! Go out and enjoy a more in balance and in control ride!

drops and jumps on your mountain bike

Hit Big Drops and Jumps on Your Mountain Bike!

Disclaimer, drops and jumps on your mountain bike can be dangerous, make sure you are wearing the appropriate safety gear and have the basic skills I mention below wired before practicing them. Always practice with a friend in case you do get hurt!

A common email and/or phone call we get starts off like this, “Hey guys, I’m a really skilled mountain biker, I don’t need your whole curriculum,  I just need to learn how to do bigger drops and hit jumps better.” So, since that is a common question I will give you a detailed answer so you can got out and hit those big drops and jump better!

Drops and jumps on your mountain bike are not really hard so I have to ask this question to those emailing us claiming to be experts who simply can’t do drops, “If you are a really skilled rider, why can’t you hit big drops and jump better?” I mean isn’t that what skilled riders do? Could it be that you are not as skilled as you think you are? Maybe your ego is getting in your way? I mean you basically said, “I can ride really easy trails well but I struggle with more difficult trails” but at the same time you called yourself a skilled rider! I’m confused! Seriously, not trying to be a jerk, just being realistic. Maybe you feel drops and jumps are separate skills from “riding skills” as most/all of the trails you ride don’t have jumps are bigger drops. You may be saying, “Gene how can I become good at drops and jumps if I never encounter them on trail?” The simple answer is to become a better rider (on the ground).

Drops and Jumps on Your Mountain Bike

Gene Hamilton hitting the 48 foot gap jump at Sol Vista, 2009 US Mountain Bike National Championships

So, how does a 47 year old rider like me (who doesn’t have near the “nerve” he used to have) hit 10-30 foot drops and 48 foot gap jumps? Through coaching and lots of deliberate practice I am very good at the basic skills of body position and vision, not near the most skilled rider in the world but good enough at the basics to hit this 48 foot gap when I was 43. Not saying that to impress you but to impress upon you the value of core skills as it doesn’t take “balls” to do a jump like this, it takes confidence in your core, basic skills. We teach how to do drops and jumps in our camps without doing them (we do do small drops). Which often leads to this question, “How can you teach me to jump with no with no jump?”. Which I fully understand it would seem at first thought that, “you need a jump to teach someone to jump. duh!” On further thought you might realize that that is like teaching someone Karate while they are fighting! Remember “wax on, wax off”?, you first need to not only understand the basic skills required to do a drop or jump but also be really good at doing them!

Drops and jumps are pretty easy actually, you just ride off them, in balance and in control. This is something any “skilled rider” can do! The 15-25 foot drop below is no harder than going off a curb correctly. It was a lot scarier as the penalty for failure is pretty massive but it really didn’t take much skill. Here is how to do a big drop like “Mushroom Rock”.

Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton Mushroom rock

Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton dropping Mushroom Rock

First learn to ride in control, in balance and in a neutral position why looking ahead 100% of the time (and get so good at it that you do this all the time, even on the steepest, scariest mountain bike trail, drills are the best way to do this). See this video tutorial on body position for help with being in balance, in control and in a neutral position: http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT  . This is something any “skilled rider” should already being doing but if you go to a place like Whistler you will realize that 75-95% of the riders are not doing this. Those riders are easy to spot as they just look a little off balance, they aren’t smooth, they are stiff, their head is moving a lot (the head of rider in balance and neutral almost never moves), herky-jerky is a great description of the majority of mountain bikers. If your view keeps changing, your head is moving or you are getting “eyeball jiggle” you are not in balance nor in control.

Once you can ride in balance and in control baby step your way up by using the drop techniques we teach (As a matter of fact they are barely techniques, we teach them on the first day of our skills progression and 8 to 78 year old students have an excellent grasp of them by the third day) on smaller drops (such as a curb) and working your way up to bigger drops. What are these techniques? Well, at speed, above 12-15 miles an hour you simply ride off the drop in balance (all your weight on your pedals). Going below 12 miles an hour you will have to do a little baby manual or coaster wheelie off the edge of the drop. I say little because you aren’t actually trying to lift the front wheel, your goal is to simply keep the front from dropping quickly. On drops with a flat landing your goal is too decrease the angle of incident that you hit the ground at (and land in a centered, neutral position looking ahead, ready for the next thing the trail throws at you). This means slightly front wheel first or both wheels landing at the same time is best.

Once you are consistently landing both wheels at the same time, in balance, in control and looking ahead off a curb find small drops with a steep downhill landing (you can often find these in the local elementary school playground or if you are fortunate enough to have a bike park near by at the bike park) so you get used to landing on a “transition” (which will ease you back to earth, much less jarring than a flat landing). A big focus should be looking past the landing! Must crashes on drops don’t actually happen on the drop, they happen after the drop! On a drop with a downhill landing your are going to being going much faster when you land than when you take off so knowing what the trail looks like after the drop and looking where you want to go after the drop (not at your landing) is very important. Also, as you work you way to bigger drops that will have a blind landing (where you can’t see the landing before you take off) make sure your thoroughly inspect the landing and make a plan of where you want to go after the landing before you do the drop!

What “technique/s” or skills am I using in the photo above? None, I am simply rode off the edge in control, in balance and in a neutral position. Then I stayed in control and in balance throughout.

Jumps are pretty similar, at least the jumps you will be learning on, steep “dirt jumps” are not the best place to learn. Find table top jumps (no gap to clear) without steep take offs to practice on. Once you have found a safe jump to practice on (safe is a tricky word as any jump can be dangerous, wear your helmet and safety gear) set your bike up for jumping by stiffing your suspension a bit and slowing the rebound (so it doesn’t “buck” you on the take off or landing). Then simply ride off that jump slowly in balance, in control and in a neutral position. Pretend there is a clear piece of plexiglass under you and you aren’t actually leaving the ground, just riding over an arc. Focus on how would stay centered and neutral as you ride over that arc and look past the landing (where you want to go) once you take off. Once you are comfortable slowly increase your speed until you are landing both wheels at the same time or slightly front wheel first on the “backside”.  That is really all there is to it but many people get hurt jumping as they aren’t doing those seemingly simple skills. Mountain bikers get hurt jumping when they ride off balance, ride off the back of their bike, try to do something as they leave the jump (like yank up on the bars or pedals), ride stiff and let their suspension buck them, aren’t looking where they should be and don’t “baby-step” their way up to bigger jumps.  There are advanced jumping skills that I didn’t mention because you need to master these basic skills first!

Hitting bigger drops and jumps on your mountain bike isn’t hard, you just need to have a few core skills wired. Once you are consistently riding in control, in balance, in a neutral position and looking ahead you are ready to practice small drops (start with a curb and baby step your way up to bigger drops as you feel comfortable). Jumping is a little more dangerous but if you find the right table top jump and start slow you figure it out.

Create a great ride,

Gene