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The Most Important Mountain Biking Skill

Have you ever been told you are really smart? Told/know that you have a high IQ? Are you really analytical?

Then you probably suffer from the same mountain biking skill error I have been fighting all my life, trying to think your way through physical skills!

This was written for a student who frustrated me because he reminded me so much of myself! They say people are mirrors of you and when something bugs you about someone it is a reflection of something about yourself. It definitely was in this case and I desperately wanted to help him overcome is reliance on his analytical, thinking brain. That part of your brain is great for solving math and engineering problems but terrible at athletic skills. It’s actually not so much that it is terrible at athletic skills it is that it has nothing to do with athletic skills.

Have you ever noticed that knowing a skill doesn’t seem to make you able to do that skill? That’s because you need to train your “procedural memory” not simply understand the skill. If understanding the skill was enough to get you to do a skill there would be no coaches, simply read a book and aha, you’re a great skier, snowboarder, surfer, mountain biker, etc.

I’ve had the same problem as this student all my life. I have to completely understand a skill before I will commit to it! Ever hear the phrase “dumb jock”? Well, most jocks aren’t dumb but often the best athletes don’t sound too bright when they are asked about their performance.

This has nothing to do with what we think as intelligence, the reason they don’t sound bright is the questions they are asked can’t really be answered. “What were you thinking as you took off for the double backflip?” Well, she wasn’t thinking, she was doing. Her conscious, thinking brain was shut off. So she has to make stuff up when asked that question.

You’ve experienced this, it’s called the zone. Where everything just seems to happen perfectly as when it needs to be done. It is a blissful state and one of the main reasons you enjoy mountain biking enough to read this article but, you wish you could hit that state more often.

Another hard question is, “how did you do that?” Often, top athletes have trouble with this question because they don’t know exactly what they are doing and have trouble putting it into words. This is because skills are stored in our procedural memory, where a circuit is designed for each skill. That circuit is called the cortex-basal ganglia-thalamus-cortex loop.

The book Choke goes into great detail about this. I noticed this the first time I worked with Greg Minnaar. I was explaining a skill and Greg kept saying, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s exactly what I do! You could tell he was astounded that I could break it down and put it into words. Greg executes most skills so well he has long forgotten or maybe never knew the mechanics of the skill.

You know what, Greg is very bright too! His good fortune is though he is bright in the IQ sense he also bright in the body sense (using his basal ganglia). He knows when to use his IQ (managing his career, businesses, and investments) and when to turn off that thinking brain and use his basal ganglia (all physical activities).

I’ve been a geek trying to be cool all my life. It all started one day when I was seven and came home really upset that I didn’t make the baseball team. My sweet mom trying to protect me said, “honey, your just not a natural athlete but, you are so much smarter than those boys, your IQ is blah, blah, blah ..”. Not exactly what this seven-year-old boy wanted to hear.

Looking back though there was a lot of truth in that statement. School was easy for me, I didn’t even buy textbooks my senior year of college, I just went to class and paid attention and got mostly A grades. Sports, they were a struggle though. I never passed the presidential fitness test (was often the slowest in the 50-yard dash) and in college, I learned that I had asthma.

So when it came to the two sports I actually did okay in, snowboarding and mountain biking, I knew I couldn’t out power the competition so I tried to outsmart them! Sometimes it worked a bit with strategy and “smarter” training programs but where it didn’t work was in the skills department. I tried to think my way through the skills.

Are you proud of your knowledge of skills? But, deep down you know that you aren’t always or perhaps are rarely doing what you know? That was me.

In 2007 I took a great motorcycle camp (American Supercamps) with the hope of learning more about bike handling. I was the only one who asked questions, out of 16-20 riders. When I asked questions all the other students just looked at me with that STFU look. They completely trusted the coach and just did what he said (lucky guys!). I had to know “why” before I would buy in, which, looking back was my problem all through my athletic career (or lack thereof!).

The athletes that just do what the coach says are the lucky ones, their mind doesn’t get in the way! Now, knowing why a skill works does help most of us buy in and I have spent the last 28 years helping students understand that why. However, my best students, aren’t focused on why it works. Once they felt a skill work that was all they needed, they practiced it until they couldn’t get it wrong.

There is hope for the rest of us though. We simply need to find ways to either shut off the over analyzing part of our brain or distract it.

I first experienced this in 1992 when my snowboard coach would yell multiplication problems at me when I was training. He said when I was solving problems I rode my best. Unfortunately, I didn’t truly understand it then, as a matter of fact, I was confused. How could being distracted be good?

That was before I knew about procedural memory. Once we have trained our procedural memory with structured practice (something I had plenty of as a snowboarder) when we shut off or distract our analytical brain our procedural memory takes over and we rip!

So far, the best way I have found to distract my analytical brain is to use music. I ride best with music at low volume (I have to be able to hear my tires, chain slap, and wind all of which give us cues to what is happening). My favorite riding song is the Gin and Juice cover by The Gourds.

I also practice meditation which also helps by focusing my analytical mind on my breathing, letting my body “just do”.

Your assignment is to drill, drill, drill the proper skills in (riding trail is not skills training as you quickly lose focus and return to any dominant habits you have (which are often, old ingrained bad habits)) in a controlled environment like an empty parking lot. On the trail work on shutting off or distracting your analytical mind and letting the drilled in skills take over.

Experiment, try singing, listening to music at a low volume, do multiplication problems, learn to meditate, anything you can do to let your procedural memory take over.

Do have a favorite way to shut off that overactive mind? Let us know below.

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

Shut that brain off and create your best ride yet!

 

 

 

dumb motorcycle camp guys asked zero questions

used to think I needed to know every little detail of how and why a skill worked to commit to it.

I have work with GM, very bright guy, was amazed I can but what he does into words so smarter than me because he knows when to use analytical brain and when to use body brain

For this article we have two brains, our “smart, thinking brain that solves math problems” and our “body brain” called procedural memory (book Choke?) when to use each… smart when stopped and figuring out a line, body while riding

Answers: meditation, music, distract the overthinking brain, math problems racing slalom  examples to prove my point but condoning these uses Doc Ellis , Wille Warren , Sutton,  ross rab, Jimi Scott

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!

 

 

How to mtb, weight shift

MTB Manual Over Obstacles w/Overlooked Move, Video Tutorial

MTB Manual Over Obstacles w/Overlocked Move, Video Tutorial and frame by frame break down

Going up and over obstacles takes a lot more than just a manual.  It is all about finesse, not speed (though there is a minimum speed for this, which I found by testing how slow I could do this 🙂  ). Last week I said, “smooth equals fast and efficient” and I’m saying it again. This is all about being smooth!

Watch the video for the 2-minute tip and check out the frame by frame breakdown below. Please don’t think you will never use this by the size of the wall I’m using, I do the exact same thing on obstacles of six inches or more. I used this wall to graphically demonstrate the technique and show how these two very basic skills can achieve massive results.

As you can see it is a really simple but committed technique using two simple core skills I have been teaching for 19 years on the first day of my famous three-day skills camps, the manual and the weight shift. As a matter of fact, I have had several students work their way up to doing this by the end of my three-day camp.

By committed I mean you can’t try to do this! Either do it or don’t because stalling halfway will end badly! So baby step your way up to this. Find something much smaller and/or less steep to start on. Luckily, connected to this wall is a smaller wall that goes from a curb with just to pavers on top and has one paver increments up to this height, perfect for practicing.

First the manual breakdown. The manual isn’t a pulling or lifting maneuver, it all about pushing your bars forward while pushing your hips back (which pushes your feet forward and powers your arms). There is no need to push down and load your fork either (though it appears I’m doing it a bit here, I taught to start with a push down until about 2010 when Andy Winoradsky (one of my former BetterRide coaches) showed me that is was unnecessary, old habits die hard!) that simply wastes energy and could spell trouble on a loose, slippery or off-camber surface (your front wheel could slide out).

Start Low, centered and hinged with knees bent, elbows out (tutorial on this important descending position: http://betterride.net/blog/2018/mountain-bike-body-position-the-fundamental-movement-video-tutorial/ ). Ready to power that handlebar shove with your hips.

Drive your hips back and push your handlebars forward (not up, simply away from you). Notice, my hips are almost

over my rear axle and arms are starting to straighten.

My hips are now further back, bars further forward and I’m looking to the top of the wall.

My front wheel is unweighted and leaving the ground, arms nearly straight hips over the rear axle. Notice my heels

have dropped and legs have straightened out a bit as they push my hips back and pedals forward.

mtb how to manual

My legs are much straighter having driven my hips behind the rear axle and pushed my pedals forward. I’m now

looking past the wall, where I want to end up (looking to victory!).

MTB how to weight shift

Now I’m starting my weight shift. I am going to drive my hips and chest forward and slightly upward to keep my momentum

going up and over this wall (instead of straight into it which a manual without the weight shift would do, stalling the rider out).

How to mtb, weight shift

Look at that weight shift, my head and chest are over my handlebars, my hips have moved 2.5 feet forward and the bike has pivoted beneath me into an almost vertical position. Notice how lightly my rear tire is hitting the curb at the bottom of the wall! This is why the weight shift works, without the weight shift all of my momentum would have slammed straight into the curb, stalling me out and probably pinch flatting my rear tire.

Almost there! Almost done with my weight shift, bike pivoting back towards level and weight almost recentered.

Mountain Bike How to Manual

Victory is mine! 🙂 On top, centered and neutral ready for the next thing the trail throws at me!

I hope this has been a help to you! If it has please let know in the comments below and/or on youtube. If you know someone who could benefit from this please feel free to share it.

Thanks for tuning in, now go practice this!

 

MTB Rock Roll

Mountain Bike Steep Rock Rolls, Video Tutorial

Mountain Bike Steep Rolls and Rocks, Video Tutorial

Smooth equals fast and smooth equals efficient, here is how to roll down a steep face smoothly!

Riding steeps and steep rolls is perhaps the most misunderstood skill in mountain biking. The LAST thing you want to do is start with your weight way back! No matter what anyone says, this is a scary position and unsafe position. You are starting at the end of your range of motion. With your weight back will be yanked down the steep roll and likely endo.

You want to do it smoothly and in balance, as I explain in the following video. For a more detailed break down please read and check out my photo sequence breakdown below after watching the video.

Mountain biking well requires being in balance, in control and being as smooth as possible. When descending that means we always start with our weight centered on our pedals and in a neutral position where we can proact or at least react to anything the trail throws at us. For a video tutorial of this starting position please read/watch this: http://betterride.net/blog/2018/mountain-bike-body-position-the-fundamental-movement-video-tutorial/

As you approach a roll in this position you will alter your position in relation to the height of the roll in. If the roll is equal in height or taller than the length of your arms you want hinge so you are practically brushing your chest on your handlebars and your knees are bent close to your chest.

MTB Rock roll

MTB Rock Roll starting position

Then as your front wheel starts down the descent you will extend your arms at about the same rate the wheel is dropping away from you. As your rear wheel starts to descend you will straighten out your legs about the same rate as your rear wheel is descending.

MTB Rock Roll

Starting to extend arms

 

Fully Extended Arms at impact, knees bent (notice, I’m only in this position for a millisecond as my front wheel goes from steep to flat, never ride in this position! Use it then return to centered and neutral) 

Already re-centering by bending arms and starting to straighten legs

Arms bent, centered, legs nearly straight ready to absorb rear wheel impact

Back to flat as smooth as possible (looks at that rear tire, still a fair amount of impact but smooth enough not to flat with 18 psi)

Example: If the roll is the exact length of my arm extension I will start with my chest practically on the bars and finish extending my arms at almost the exact same time my front wheel is hitting the ground (same with my legs and rear wheel). On a roll the length of your arm extension or less your head and chest should not move at all as you do this. If the roll is taller than arm extension I will extend my arms a little slower than my front wheel is descending with the goal of reaching full arm extension at the same time my front wheel is hitting the ground, then do the same with my legs.

For a short roll or drop such as a curb simply stay hinged and gently push down with your arms as the front wheel drops then do the same with your legs as your rear wheel drops.

The bonus of this is that in addition to being safer and much smoother is also faster and more efficient!

Often, when it comes to being smooth and efficient we want to look at mountain biking as being a game of momentum. The better you can maintain your momentum the less effort you will need. Momentum likes slack angles, if you are coasting downhill into a steep uphill you will slow down quickly, if you coast into a mellow uphill you will maintain speed longer. The same with downhills, a steep downhill with a sudden transition to flat ground (a steep approach angle) will cause your momentum to slam into the ground, not propel you forward. A less steep downhill with a lesser approach angle will be smoother and not slow you as much as you transition from the hill to flat ground.

While in almost any body position the approach angle of our bike remains the same, we can greatly change the approach angle of our momentum. By simply starting hinged and low and extending your arms and legs as you descend your hips and upper body take a much slacker approach to the ground. This makes you smoother as you have less impact and allows you to carry more speed.

This is easy to test, find a short, steep descent or a set of stairs and roll down with weight way back, you feel a big impact when the rear wheel slams into the ground. Now repeat the same descent, starting at the same speed as before but this time get centered and low and extend your arms and legs as you go down. You will find it is much smoother (less impact) and you carry more speed after the descent.

Have you had trouble with steep rock rolls like this? Have a particularly challenging roll on your favorite trail? Tell us about it below.

Want to go up a wall like this? Check out my next 2-minute tip and breakdown!

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