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Why Our Instincts Fail Us On Our Mountain Bikes!

As a matter of fact our instincts fail us in most sports. Why, because fear and self preservation are much bigger motivators than logic and reason! You will always instinctively move away from danger, if your computer suddenly burst into flames would you stay right where you are or jump back away from it? Intuition also fails us in sports as we tend to use it  instead of logic and reason. In other words what feels good often isn’t correct and most people tend to learn by doing what feels good, they don’t spend hours studying how to stay in balance and in control.

Moving your rear end way back on a descent feels good, you are moving away from danger! Skiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers instinctively do this yet it puts them in an out of balance, non-neutral (once shifted/leaned back we can only move or react in one direction, forward) out of control position. Despite all the logic that says we should be centered without practicing staying centered and neutral we will naturally creep back on descents. Getting riders to stop leaning back into the “safety position” is  one of the skills ski and snowboard coaches work on the most. Especially in skiing where you actually want your weight pushing against the tongues of your boots which not intuitive at all!

Leaning into a turn also feels natural but again puts you off balance (you weight is no longer above your bike pushing down on the tires) and makes you likely to slide out. We are not on 350 pound motorcycles on swept pavement with 12″ wide sticky tires! Leaning works on street bikes but is a recipe  for sliding out on a mountain bike. Ever have your front wheel slide in a high speed corner? Fast corners tend to be downhill and we accelerate through them. The steeper the corner and/or the higher the speed the more your instincts want to get back off the rear of your bike which un-weights the front wheel (if you also lean with your bike this really increases the odds of having the front wheel slide).

Looking straight down at the trail to avoid rocks feels good and makes sense, “I have to see the rock to avoid it, don’t I?” Yes, it helps to see the rock but not stare at it when it is 5-10 feet away, by then (or sooner, when the rock is 15-30 feet away) we need to be looking past it. Wow, is that hard to do! Even after spending 40 minutes explaining to our students how their vision works and doing 5 different drills that prove to the students that they don’t need to look down they tell us it is still hard to look ahead (and many of these students are pro racers who have been riding for 10-20 years!), especially hard to look past rocks. That is why we have drills, to master our vision, logic alone is not powerful enough to overcome fear and the survival instinct, to overcome fear you need a lot of proof and practice over a long period of time.

Experiment, go ride a trail with rocky sections and see if you are looking past rocks when they 15-30 feet ahead of you. If you catch yourself looking only 3-5 feet in front of you you are not looking ahead correctly, causing you to, tense up, go slower, react and mirco-manage the trail and likely stall out. Watch videos of the best racers in the world like Greg Minnaar, Aaron Gwin and Steve Peat, you will notice that they are always looking 20-100 feet ahead and never glancing down. This is much easier said than done!

Other times instincts hurt our riding and endanger us:

Ever put your foot down in a corner?! Putting you foot down inside of you puts you off balance and makes you more likely to slide out yet we all do it. Even world champ Greg Minnaar does it occasionally, because it is instinctive, but Greg will be the first to say that putting your foot down is a bad idea!

Ever skid your rear tire because you are not using enough front brake? Again, until you master that front brake you will always be a little timid to use it to its full potential. Fear is powerful.

Ever get the death grip (a very tight grip) on your bars?  This just makes everything worse as you stiffen up and ride really rough but when at all scared (I don’t mean terrified, just a little concerned for you safety) riders instinctively do this (I know I do!) despite knowing that it is wrong.

This is the reason all top athletes have skills coaches (ever see an Olympic skier, tennis player, golfer, martial artist, wrestler, etc. without a coach/es? Nope, can’t master or reach you personal best at any sport without first understanding the fundamental skills and then doing drills to master those skills), I can’t think of a single sport that is intuitive and instinctual. Heck, even runners have stride coaches, what could be more “natural” for us than running? (well, if you ever see me run you will understand the need for stride coaches!)

If you are tired of letting your instincts rule your riding and put you in out of control and out of balance positions, looking only a few feet in front of you in technical sections (even though you know to look ahead) and want to start riding smoother, safer and faster invest in your skills and take a mountain bike camp from us that is guaranteed (or your money back) to greatly improve your riding.

Is More Power Making You Mountain Bike Slower?!

One of the Huge, Little Things When Mountain Bike Riding!

While riding some steep technical climbs today I realized an interesting skill that I use quite often on my mountain bike yet have trouble with on my dirt bike (which has a lot of power!).  Although I am a professional mountain bike racer I am an intermediate (at best) motorcycle rider but both sports require a lot of skill when climbing steep and loose trails.

More power! Isn’t that what us men are always searching for?! The more power I have the faster I climb (and sprint!), right? Well, not so fast power boy. Often power can be our biggest weakness. Sometimes we power through sections on power alone, so we make the section but we weren’t particularly efficient and we got lucky, we could not consistently rely on power alone to make that section. Other times power is what slows us down or stops us. Loose and/or technical sections (especially climbs and switchbacks) require precision. The precision I am talking about isn’t line choice precision (which at .5-2 miles an hour is much more important than it is when going faster but not the topic of this post) but what in motorcycling is called throttle control, for mountain biking we will call it power control.

I was climbing a tight, steep, loose and way off camber switchback today. At about the 3/4 point around I almost came to a complete stop on nearly the top of the “berm” (banked part of the turn). Years ago I would of just put all of my power into at this point and would of had a 50/50 chance of making it. I might have flew through, might have spun the rear tire and stalled or slid out. Today, I realized I was slightly off balance (a little leaned down the hill) and because of the off camber and loose conditions I could not power through. So I stalled, shifted my weight up the hill a bit and then eased on the pedal pressure and crawled through the switchback, but I made it! This was situation where patience and a couple of key core skills (trackstanding, body position, switchback line choice and vision) really paid off.

This switchback was approximately number 10 of at least thirty switchbacks in about 25 straight minutes of granny gear climbing. It really got me thinking about power control (and how bad I am at it on my motorcycle!) and I started really paying attention to this seemingly little detail for the rest of the climb. I was blown away but how much modulation I used in my power out put for the rest of the climb! One of the big goals of climbing that we teach is to apply constant, steady power to the rear tire (not sudden surges that can break the tire free) but I never realized that on some climbs (like this one) it isn’t steady. It is carefully modulated power, accelerating or increasing power as much as I could with breaking loose, slowing or backing off the power when necessary then increasing power again.

This precision of power output  is easy to explain but it takes years of deliberate practice (not just random riding but really focusing on the skill) to master. It is mastered when you can subconsciously adjust you power output so that you can make all but the trickiest steep climbs and switchbacks. Which like so many skills means you will never master it! One day you clean all the switchbacks the next ride you miss one or two.

The fact that you can constantly improve with deliberate practice and drills but never completely master (where no matter how challenging the trail you never make a mistake) mountain biking is what keeps me riding! The challenge is always there no matter how good you get!

So go out and practice your power output and if you don’t have the core skills wired (remember, we do a lot of things wrong because they are intuitive, humans intuitively move away from danger, which on mountain bikes, skis and snowboards means we instinctively move or lean back away from the downhill. While instinctive it puts us in an out of balance, non-neutral, out of control position in all of those sports*) make the best invest you will eve make in your riding and lean the core skills (and dills to master those core skills) in one of our three day skills progression camps.

*Please checkout this article on intuition and instinct. http://betterride.net/blog/2011/why-our-instinicts/

The Best Mountain Bike For Learning Skills?

BetterRide Head Coach Andy Winohradsky’s take on long travel “trail” mountain bikes:

Recently, a friend of mine rode one of the latest “longer travel” trail bikes (around 160 mm of rear wheel travel) and was blown away by the bikes capabilities on the trail. He couldn’t come up with a reason why he shouldn’t have one and he asked me what I thought.

I told him that I may not be the best guy to talk to when trying to make the decision on whether or not to buy a new bike – of course you need one of those! Who doesn’t!

But he asked me another very interesting question about having a “bigger” (more travel, slacker angles, heavier – more “all-mountain” or “free-ride”) bike versus a “smaller” (lighter, less travel, steeper angles – more XC race oriented) bike, and which would be the best bike for skill progression.

I think that most riders believe that the smaller bike would be. It would require more skill to ride: it would force better line choices, near perfect riding position, etc, and therefore, make a rider learn proper technique. While with the big bike, one could simply plough into obstacles, and the bike would do all the work – no skill required!

But I actually feel that the opposite is true: the bigger bike is more likely to give the rider the tools necessary to learn proper technique while the smaller bike may actually inhibit the learning process.

Why?

First, we don’t learn very well when we’re scared or in “survival mode”. With many bikes that are very much on the XC racing side of the spectrum, the combination of things like tire choice, stem length, the geometry of the frame, the rigidity and strength of the parts (or lack thereof) – especially having the seat jacked up to the climbing height when descending (no adjustable height seat post) – can all add up to a pretty dicey ride when trying to negotiate difficult terrain. Will the thing climb like a rocket ship? Yep, probably will. But as soon as these bikes get pointed downhill or into tough terrain, a lot of riders end up in the “just-try-not-to-crash-mode”. And this is obviously not a very good environment for learning and applying new techniques.

On the other hand, the bigger bike will instill confidence. The rider will now have a controlled setting of sorts, and have the ability to focus on specific aspects of riding instead of simply “just-trying-not-to-crash”.

More importantly, the larger bike allows for higher speeds in the tough sections, thus, allowing the rider the opportunity to process the trail at these higher speeds and get accustomed to them. This is huge.

Anyone who has ever taken BetterRide instruction comes away with a new understanding and respect for how important vision is on the bicycle. We spend a lot of time on vision, breaking down the techniques for using vision on the bike, how and why they are necessary. We stress that if you can only learn one chunk of the instruction of the three-day camp, make it vision because it is the most important thing when riding the bike.

Though very few do it properly, most riders do understand the importance of seeing the good lines and putting the bike in the right place on the trail. This aspect of vision is obviously very important (and kind of complex and counter-intuitive). But there is way more to vision and bike riding then just that.

Of our five senses, vision is giving us nearly all of the information about what is happening with our ride. If I am scared, it is because I see obstacles that Iook intimidating or maybe because I’m going – what I perceive to be – too fast. The way we see the trail and its perceived dangers affects us psychologically and this determines the decisions that we will make.

Again, a bigger bike gives you the opportunity to learn how to see and process the trail at higher speeds. You become comfortable at these speeds and therefore confident. Now you are able to work on techniques and learn skills and apply them at speeds and in terrain that would be very difficult to do with a smaller bike.

Yes, you will eventually find your limits on the bigger bike. And, yes, you do have to pedal the thing to the top (usually). But now, even if you do go back to that svelte XC race machine after being on the big dog, you now have the ability to process at those higher speeds. Speeds that used to be intimidating, no longer are. Of course you will have to slow down for stuff on the small bike that you didn’t have to slow down for on the big bike, but now that decision is more academic and not driven by fear and intimidation.

A few “for instances”:

Speeds on my XC/trail bike don’t seem fast because I’m used to the speeds of a downhill bike. Obstacles on an XC trail aren’t intimidating because I’m used to the obstacles on DH track.

Most of us have probably heard the story of someone’s buddy, who is a dirt bike rider and went on a MTB ride for the first time in his life, and was extremely fast on the descents – right away! Well, this person is used to processing the trail at dirt bike speeds (that are usually much greater then MTB speeds). He’s not intimidated, he’s seeing good lines; he’s doing this part of riding – the most important part – very well.

The above is also a big reason why many pro downhillers ride a lot of motocross in the off-season.

And, if we put an average DH racer on an XC bike and point her downhill, she’ll ride the wheels off the thing, only slowing because of the perceived limitations that the bike imposes on her – but not because of perceived limitations of her skill!

So, if you were on the fence about getting into a longer travel trail machine, jump off and grab that credit card! Not only will you have a blast, but also you’ll own a great new tool for developing skills that will transfer over to you XC race bike very nicely!

For Gene article on finding a confidence inspiring bike click this link: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/the-ideal-confidence-inspiring-mountain-bike/

Why I am the Most Fortunate Man Alive!

Although we are most famous for having the best mountain bikers in the world  (like World Champions Ross Schnell and Sue Haywood) taking our camps most of our students are just passionate riders looking to improve. While it feels really good and strokes my ego when MTB racers like Ross tell me how much they leaned in our camps it is emails like the following too that really make my day. Last week, Andy (BetterRide Head Coach) said his job is the best job in the world and providing him with it (and having him do such a good job) makes me feel fortunate indeed!

Andy with students, Fruita, CO

 

Here are two emails that students have send Andy recently:

Andy — I wanted to write to say thank you SO much for your awesome instruction at the Madison Better Ride camp.  I was one of the three Chicago roadies at that camp and the three of us had gotten together a few times since the camp ended to work on skills.  Believe it or not, Brian (Francine’s husband) just bought cones to practice with.  We’ll be using them soon.

Before Better Ride, I would go to the Kettle Moraine (one of WI’s state parks in the southern part of the state) with my group and I’d be promptly dropped on one of the more technical loops that we’d ride.  We went again yesterday.  It was my first time doing extended riding with the group since the camp and it was fantastic!
I didn’t get dropped because my skills this time (it should be noted that I did get dropped on the climbs, but that’s what happens when you put a track rider uphill). I felt like I was flying through the course.  Of course, at times, I was a little wobbly trying to stay low, and work on the skills you taught us.  I’m still very new to mountain biking but I had significantly improved since the last time I was there and it was pretty obvious.   I’m still working on cornering, among many other skills, but I was so happy to have made the improvement that I did.  Thank you so, so much for your help.

Angie

Andy Coaching a BetterRide Student, Fruita, CO

Hey Andy,

Thanks again for a great class in Cincinnati, worth every dime. You are great at what you do, and a perfect teacher…..keep it up!

Got my 31in bars and 50mm stem along with the seat post…..AWESOME!

It’s like a new bike, I love it. Really amazing the difference that all makes…….who’d a thunk it. lol

Thanks again for everything and I will be in the 2nd class for sure.

Have a great summer….

Dan