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This is proper body position (centered and neutral) for riding and braking.

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide?

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide? As someone who preaches that a short stem and wide bars will give you much better handling on a mountain bike (both climbing and descending) I get asked that question a lot. The short answer is, of course your mountain bike handlebars can be too wide, but most likely your’s aren’t wide enough!

The reasons we have been preaching about wide bars since 1999 are that they simply give you more stability, more leverage to fight sudden jerks to the side and more leverage for cornering. A quick baseline to start from is to do a push up and experiment with hand width and find out where you feel most stable and powerful. From this starting point go out a bit wider and start working your way in. What we are looking for is for your forearms to slope outward slightly from your hands to your elbows when you have lowered your chest in a “half push-up” position (see photo below). At the widest your forearms should go straight up to your elbows when in this position.

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Correct Width

This width will give you the optimum amount of control. From this position you can absorb shock, keep the wheels on the ground over a small drop, resist twisting/jerking forces and power you way trough a corner by getting enough counter pressure leverage to give you the right lean angle.

Unfortunately as this trend has caught on I have seen a few riders who are too short (or narrow shouldered, short armed) for the widest bars made and they look like this photo below:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Wide!

I saw a lot of young riders at Whistler last summer with a setup that looked like that. Really hard to control the bike when you are stretched out like that! Those riders need to cut their bars down a bit!

Most riders, especially cross country/endurance oriented riders run bars on the narrow side (perhaps because of tradition?) and they look like this:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Narrow

This also severely hampers control (really twitchy with no leverage to fight sudden bar jerks, and no leverage for cornering pressure) and collapses the lungs a bit making it hard to breathe! It is more aerodynamic though, which unfortunately doesn’t help much at the speeds you travel at on your mountain bike and aerodynamics are not worth sacrificing control over.

The widest bars I have found are the SMAC innovations SW820 Moto Bars ( http://smacinnovations.com/bars.php , 820mm wide) and at 6’3″ I run these uncut on both my xc and dh bikes. BetterRide coach and one the best technical riders I know, Andy Winohradsky is 5’6″ and runs 30.5″ wide bars on both of his bikes. We put on camps all over the country and have not yet found a trail with trees too narrow for these bars. The tightest trees I have found are on the East Coast, in Texas and in the Mid West. In some of these places there were two to four spots an hour where I had to slow down and wiggle through some tight trees. Four, even six times an hour is no reason to compromise your handling though, I would rather you have the most control 99% of your ride and have to slow down a bit a few times an hour than be out of control for 99% of your ride and be able to go faster over about 20 feet every hour! If you honestly live in an area with more than six tree gaps less than 32″ wide in an hour ride, cut your bars!

There is not yet a scientifically proven perfect mountain bike handlebar width as there are so many variables; height, shoulder width, arm length, stem length, top tube length, reach measurement, etc. The easiest way to find out what is right for you is to start at the widest width available to you (or that you feel is appropriate, if you are 5’1″ no need to start at 820mm!) and ride at that width (on a trail without narrow tree gaps at first!) and then keep moving the grips in a bit until your arms look close the “correct” photo above and you feel like you have the most control (not necessarily what feels best as what often feels best is what you are used to which may not be correct).

 

Practicing Cornering on Trail, Hurricane, UT Camp

Mountain Biking Advice from the Most Respected Motocross Coach!

What mountain biking advice does Gary Bailey have that can help you? What he says to all his students (which applies to all riders that want to reach their best):

“It all comes down to this; practice. What is it? Practice is not a race. It’s also not time to go out and just bust out laps. It’s time to figure out where your problems are and what you need to do to fix them. Then you must have the discipline to go work on that problem until you have it better. Like all other sports, practice is not going out and playing the game, rather, in practice, whether it be baseball, soccer, basketball or any other sport, practice is when you work on drills to improve your skills. In motocross too this is what practice should be. Unfortunately, for most though, they practice motocross by just riding laps and this not what you should be doing and will not improve your motocross skills. Rather, you will just repeat the same bad form and bad habits lap after lap. -Gary Bailey”

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills!

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.

 

He even talks about Perfect Practice later in the article. This means it is time for you to stop just riding and actually start practicing! Soon you will be driving your bike (active) instead of riding your bike (passive)! Don’t know what to practice? Don’t know how to practice it? We are here to help you!

Practicing means focusing on one particular aspect of a skill using drills and quality repetition (not quantity, which can get sloppy) to master it. Can your corner on pavement (where there is no great traction and no fear of sliding out, hitting a tree or going off the edge of a trail) as well as our guest coach Greg Minnaar does on off-camber loose dirt? When we first coached many of our World and National Champion students they could not corner like Greg anywhere. Through understanding and practicing body position and vision first, then understanding how and why to do each of the 10 elements of cornering, doing drills on pavement and finally applying on dirt what they learned through their drills they now corner as well as Greg Minnaar on dirt! Of course most of our students don’t have world championship goals, they simply want to ride more efficiently, in balance and in control with more confidence on the toughest of their local trails. Deliberate practice is the way to do that!

 

cody kelly has mountain bike skills

What You Know (correctly) About Mountain Bike Skills is Hurting You!

I’m not kidding or trying to be controversial when I say, “What You Know (correctly) About Mountain Bike Skills is Hurting Your Progress!” Let’s say you know to ride in balance in the correct body position, how could that possibly be hurting you?  The answer is simple, if you are like I was when I first turned pro you aren’t doing what you know! Also, again, like me, you might know 50-80% of the skill but are probably missing a few/a lot of the details of that skill.

Knowledge can be a scary thing as it often makes us feel competent when we aren’t. An example of this in my first 10 years of riding   and in nearly every rider I see on trail (from beginners to pro cross-country racers) is the skill of looking ahead. We all know to look ahead, heck I came from snowboard racing background and then snowboard coaching background, I won a lot of races looking ahead and taught told the athletes I coached to do the same. The scary thing is, as a mountain biker I wasn’t looking ahead on trail, maybe sometimes (when it was easy) but I finally realized I was looking down, a lot! That is the trap of knowledge and why I say knowledge is worthless without action. What good is knowing how to do something if you aren’t doing it? When needed! We teach our students HOW to look ahead and provide drills to master this mountain bike skill.

cody kelly has mountain bike skills

BetterRide student Cody Kelly showing what practice can do for your mountain bike skills!

A couple of students summed this up pretty well, one,  Peter Tsang  in this review on mtbr:  http://reviews.mtbr.com/review-betterride-three-day-mountain-bike-skills-camp and another, Matt MacKay in his comments after reading the article. Matt wrote, “I can’t say enough good things about this camp. I went to Las Vegas in February to ride in Gene’s camp, and like the reviewer, I had knowledge of a lot of what was being taught. However the structure of the camp and Gene’s teaching style brought all of that knowledge and technique together. All of the pieces fell into place, and seemingly overnight I was a better rider. There is still a lot of learning for me to do. But now I know what my mistakes are and how to fix them.” (you can read his entire comment on mtbr) A real simple way of saying this is both Peter and Matt were not doing what they know (at least not very well).

We do this a lot in life, especially on our mountain bikes (Were you looking ahead in the last rock garden you encountered? The entire way?) because our big brain knows how to do something we think we are doing it! The problem is we don’t use our conscious, thinking brain to do anything athletically. We rely on our subconscious “autopilot” and it needs structured repetition to first understand and then master a skill. Even once we master a skill if we don’t use structured practice we will soon use the sharpness of that skill!

Rick Practicing is mountain bike skills

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills!

So, once you learn, hear and/or read about a skill take the time to drill it into your body (after making sure the skill is correct!). There is an old saying sports, “Amateurs practice until they get it right and pros practice until they can’t get it wrong”. Sadly, 95% of mountain bikers have never practiced at all, they just go out and ride. Practice is the way to create your best ride yet!

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 and look further through the corner like he did on the pavement. A few more sessions of drills and he will be solid!

BetterRide Student Aaron Mattix Palisade Ride

BetterRide Mountain Bike Skills Students Continue to Amaze Us! The Ultimate Upgrade?!

BetterRide Mountain Bike Skills Students Continue to Amaze Us! Whether it is an 81-year-old student finishing the Leadville 100 in 13 hours, a passionate rider hitting a step up that previously kicked his butt, a 65-year-old riding steeps and drops with ease or a young racer entering his first full World Cup season on the Specialized/Monster Energy team we are inspired by our students. Reaching your best is hard work and takes consistent deliberate practice, something they have to make time for and commit to despite their busy schedules.  Over the last few weeks we have witnessed our students riding at their best and gotten so many emails, facebook posts and phone calls that I thought I would share a few stories, photos and links with you.

Professional trail builder and beard farmer Aaron Mattix posted an interesting review of his camp and what has happened to his riding in the two years since. At first he was pretty bummed to be doing drills on pavement but goes on to say this: “My bike still has its fair share of parts that need replaced, but now that I have the knowledge, drills, and experience from Gene’s camp, I can continue to upgrade my riding level, which is the ultimate upgrade.” It is a really fun read and cool to see one of our camps from a students prospective:  http://localstash.net/2014/04/2-years-later-better-ride-camp-review/  The rest of blog is great too, really heart-felt and often entertaining.

 

BetterRide Student Aaron Mattix Palisade Ride

Aaron Mattix having fun in Palisades, Colorado!

Dale Watterson posted this on our facebook page the other day:

“Awesome time at Over the Edge Sports bike festival this weekend. I got to apply more things I learned from my Better Ride class and was able to clear a step up and sand pit that had previously kicked my butt. Thanks again Dante and Jackie.”

BetterRiders had a great showing at the KHS/Five Ten Reaper Madness at Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City. We had students on the podium in all pro classes and tons of fast amateurs on the podium too, including an all BetterRide Jr. Expert (Cat 1 podium)! Really impressed with riders hard work and commitment.

BetterRide Students

All BetterRide top 3 in Jr. Expert (the future pros) Galen Carter in first, Niko “Kill It” Kilik in second and Tyler Krenek in third!

 

 

BetterRide Mountain bike skills students

Pro Women podium students Adrienne Schneider in first and Joy Brinkerhoff in third

 

There is a great interview with five time BetterRide Camp veteran Mitch Ropelato on pinkbike, he talks about his career, his choice of using a 29er for many downhill races and there are some GREAT photos too! Read it here: http://www.pinkbike.com/news/29er-questions-mitch-ropelato-2014.html

And I got to ride and coach John Palmer again!  http://wp.me/p49ApH-13G

We love helping you reach your best and it is great to see you practicing instead of just riding! Keep up the great work!

Don’t just ride your bike, drive your bike,

Gene