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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.

Mountain Bike Trail Building Passion!

By BetterRide Head Coach Andy Winohradsky

So its not quite too late for New Year’s Resolutions … and here’s one for anybody that rides a bike on dirt: get out there and get your hands dirty with a few days of trail maintenance this season.

Little story: I just got back from Miami, Florida and was blown away by the quality of the riding and the vibrant MTB scene in the area.  What?  Great mountain-bike riding in South Florida?  If you find yourself with a response similar to this, you’re not alone.  I tell my riding buddies here in Colorado the same bit and they think I’m joking, and previous to my recent journey to F-L-A, I would have thought the same.

So how do you get great riding out of a place that is a flat, sandy, swampy, bug-infested jungle?  Simple (or not), you build it!  There is one reason that the trail systems that I rode were in existence and a blast to ride: a massive amount of trail work.

Anyone that has a bit of trail building experience understands that you can’t blindly hack a trail out of the side of a hill or through a forest and expect to end up with a quality result.  Proper trail building takes knowledge and experience in addition to hard work.  A good trail has to flow well, use the natural features of the area, have some good variety, among a lot of other things that can be argued about or discussed at some other time.  But to do it right takes some skill, some vision – and in the case of South Florida – a lot of creativity … and tons of hard work.

While some trail systems benefit from beautiful vistas, lush forests, and/or diverse eco-systems, the Miami area trails had none of these.  They were drained swamps, and at least one of them was an unofficial garbage dump at some point.  They appeared to be built on discarded land, and the builders had only a few acres to work with.  Trail builders created artificial and additional elevation (in addition to the natural twenty feet – tops) with wood, rocks, dirt, old carpet … sometimes 50′s era washing machines (decoratively spray painted).  Bridges were built and snaked precariously over the numerous still swampy areas (there was even a large decaying old boat grounded in what must have previously been a canal – won’t get that in Colorado) .  The trails were undoubtedly “tree-wrappers”, which can be scoffed at by us snooty western folk, but this actually added to the atmosphere and character.  Many of the tight turns were perfectly bermed, and small – but fun – jumps and rollers were dispersed through-out in order to help keep speed and momentum.  Nothing was unsafe for a beginner, yet even a washed-up, pro-downhiller like me could have a blast (Think high-speed-six-mile-singletrack-pump-track in a tropical forest).  There were some beautiful areas that wound through the everglades, and some sections of trail went right up to the ocean, so it wasn’t like you were riding through a Mad Max themed, day-glow carnival the entire time.

My point is this: from the above rant, did it sound like I had a good time?  Those people made some awesome trails out of nothing.  I don’t plan on moving to South Florida anytime in the future but if I do, I’ll still be an avid MTB’er and I won’t be hurtin’ for a wide selection of fun trails – all because a few people were willing to dream the dream and then put it into action.

And if you ride, you too should be part of that action.  Help the cause.  There are a lot of great trails already out there, but (not enough) maintenance is always an issue.   Access to MTB’ers on many trails is threatened because of this.  There are many proposed trails (some probably near you) that need as much help as they can get.  Also, trail building doesn’t only happen out there, in the dirt: good trails need well spoken people on the paper work side of things, at the board meetings of the Recreation Department, etc.

So, skip a ride or two this season and help build some trails.  Trust me, the cold beer will taste just as good at the end of the day … maybe even better!

Flow, the Key to Happiness While Mountain Biking?!

Interesting talk by Flow author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on the state of flow and how this is the state when we are most happy. It is a little dry though, if you start to lose interest skip ahead. In the last three minutes he talks about and uses a great chart that shows you that flow starts when our challenge and skill set are both pushed above average.

This means when we have great skill and are not challenged at all we will often be bored. When we face a challenge and our skills are weak we feel worried.

Then when challenged a little (but still beneath our skill set) we will be relaxed, challenged just below our best skills we will feel in control and challenged to the point of using all our skill we will reach flow (and happiness). When challenged just more than our skills can handle it will create worry, then pushed further the worry becomes anxiety.

This is why as you skills increase the trails you once enjoyed become less interesting or you have to go faster and/or take harder lines to keep that trail as fun as it was with less skill.

He doesn’t mention it but I believe the same thing happens as your fitness increases. As you fitness increases you need to challenge it by going faster and/or further to reach the same level of enjoyment.

Conversely to continue to reach a high level of enjoyment and “flow” or “Zone” state experiences we need to increase our skill set.