Mountain Bike Lesson

Mountain Bike Lesson That Ended With a Broken Collarbone

Would you be upset if you paid for a mountain bike lesson that ended a broken collarbone? All because the instructor wasn’t trained well enough to keep you safe?

Two weeks ago a friend called an invited me to ride Winter Park resort with him. He said his wife and her friend would be taking lessons while we were riding. I was excited as I didn’t think any resorts in Colorado were still operating during the week so this would be my final lift served riding of the year! The day started out great, no lift lines, cool weather, a perfect day, Hans and I were having a blast! Then, after lunch Hans’s phone rang, it was his wife, her friend had broken her collarbone and punctured a lung. We raced down to the onsite emergency room and checked in, she was in a lot of pain!

A mountain bike lesson should NEVER end with a broken collarbone! She was no where close to having the core skills mastered enough to be hitting jumps on Rainmaker (Winter Park’s expert “jump trail”). Why did her “instructor” take her there? No good can from trying to short cut the learning process! In this case a lot of bad happened, a student was injured and her confidence was set back a few notches.

mountain bike coaching

Suzy, doing her first few wheelies! Confidently, and not getting injured!

I never want my students feeling “lucky” that made some feature on the trail. I want them to approach a feature with confidence, knowing that they can make it (not hoping they can make it). You do this by slowly, using baby steps as you progress. I love getting emails from students who just made a rock garden or loose corner that they had never made before and they mention that coolest thing wasn’t just making it, the coolest thing was knowing how and why they made it and being able to confidently do it again.  Just because you made a jump/rock garden/switchback/etc without crashing does not mean you have the skill to it consistently. Riders get away with mistakes all the time but, when those mistakes happen in a tougher situation (such as big jump vs. a little jump) the consequences can me disastrous.

How do riders learn enough to hit big jumps with confidence? First they master the two foundation skills that all mtb skills are based on, body position and vision. Notice, I did not say they understand vision and body position, I said they “master” those skills. Mastering means that they do both of those skills correctly 100% of the time no matter how challenging the conditions are. Once they have mastered those two skills jumping is actually fairly easy, especially if you start small, master small jumps, then baby step your way up to bigger jumps.

I feel sorry for both the student who broke her collarbone and her well meaning instructor. The student is still in pain two weeks later and her confidence is at rock bottom and her fitness getting worse by the day. The instructor probably feels really guilty (as he should) but it isn’t 100% his fault. His training and education as an instructor are at fault. He should have been taught that many, many students want to do things they are not ready for and part of your job as coach is to protect your student from doing what she isn’t ready for yet. Instead, he did the opposite (as I might have done too at his age, he looked to be in his mid to late 20′s).

As someone who has been coaching and studying how to coach since 1989 I am really disappointed in what is happening to well meaning mountain bike “coaches” and students. The coaches, as well meaning as they are simply aren’t coaches yet. I respect their desire to help others and 99% of them really, truly want to help other riders, they simply don’t know how to do it yet. It took me ten years of being coached, taking coaching and teaching classes, studying books on the subject and coaching five to seven days a week to become a good coach. It took another ten years to become a much better coach than I was then (17 years ago) and I’m still learning after 27 years of coaching.

Coaching isn’t just about sharing knowledge, coaching is about getting the student to consistently do what you are teaching, not getting them to simply understand how to do it. Did you ever receive an A in class that was really hard? Did you feel that you could effectively teach that class after you got that A, I doubt it. Well, imagine taking a two day class in a subject and then becoming a teacher!

In short, coaches need a much better educational than are getting. An education based on how people learn physical skills, how to teach those skills and with the skills being taught backed up by physics and by the top riders in the world ! I hope I never see another well meaning but under educated coach teaching students to ride off balance and not in complete control or a coach coaching all students as if they were the same person, ignoring physical and mental differences in their students.

My goal as always been to help others reach their life goals. Since my camps usually sell out and I don’t want the stress of running a business with 13 contractors anymore I have decided to offer a certification program in 2017. This certification will cover my holistic approach to coaching (learning physical skills is not just physical, there is huge mental component too) and  require at least ten days (in three day sessions plus one day of testing) with me, and at least 100 hours of study time (with tests). More on that in my next blog post.


Mountain Biking and Back Pain, The Final Piece of the Puzzle!

If you have been reading my blog for awhile you probably know that I have been suffering from back pain for the last 10 years or so. I had found some temporary cures and a lot of pieces of the mountain biking and back pain dilemma but had not found something that got rid of the pain for good. I have found the problem and the solution to my back pain! Since many of you have asked I will share the cure I discovered. Remember, I am simply a mountain bike skills coach so I left the details up to the experts.

It all started with this article aptly titled Why Your Approach to Fixing your Low Back Is making It Worse : BTW, I have no relationship with this website other than owing to them my sanity as this article and the ones below fixed my back pain!

Note: Before doing anything to do with your back make sure something isn’t really wrong such as a bulging disc, slipped disc, fractured disc, etc. See a doctor and make sure your body can handle these therapeutic exercises before you start.

I’m still doing a lot of the exercises/stretches I have blogged about in the past as I feel they are important to this process. By process, I do mean process, you will have to do your version of my back routine daily (some pieces twice a day if/when you notice your back pain starting to flare up). My original mountain biking and back pain post can be found here:  

The new exercises I have found MUST BE DONE BEFORE all of the exercises in my previous article. As a matter of fact, most of the stretches and yoga postures in my previous article can exacerbate your back pain if the new exercises aren’t performed first. It turns out mountain biking isn’t the pain culprit in my back pain, it is all the sitting I do, while writing articles like this and driving from camp to camp (or driving, flying then driving again!).

The main new “exercise”, lying on your back with your feet and legs up a wall. Sounds hard and complicated, huh?! Seriously, one of my students emailed back, “that’s it” and replied, “yes”. It seems to simple and easy to be true but this “exercise” is life changing!

mountain biking and back pain

This simple exercise will eliminate most back pain! Photo courtesy of Breaking Muscle dot com

For details on how to do this correctly (doing almost any exercise incorrectly can lead to more damage than good) and why it works so well please read this article: I do the above for two to fifteen minutes at time one to three times a day and always for at least two minutes before doing yoga or any back, hip or core stretches. When driving long distances I will often pull over and do this and yesterday I did between rounds of working on my bikes (as by back always starts to hurt when working on my bike).

The second one is lying on your back with your feet and lower legs hinged over something at knee level, like a couch. More details on it in the linked article above. Honestly, I don’t do the other three exercise in the article (but I probably should). The angle of the knee bend is really important so I don’t want to most a photo, I want you to read the linked article and do all of these exercises correctly!

I have also been working on my standing posture using the exercise in this article: I added in this posture exercise and now I can stand through a two hour concert with no back pain! This allowed me to stand for two hours, on a concrete floor at a concert without ever having the urge to stretch my legs or feel any back pain! I had not been able to do that since my early thirties!

The next piece of the puzzle is rolling out your gluteus medius with a lacrosse ball. I thought I had written a blog article on this but apparently I haven’t. Here is a video describing this process: when he mentions “it’s easy to find the muscle” he means when you touch it it will hurt a bit!

My routine, I start with 2-15 minutes of the legs up the wall exercise (easy and relaxing, great time to meditate)  then I do 5-10 minutes of gluteus medius rolling on a lacrosse ball (OH, the pain!, you may want to start with a tennis ball). Then I do the exercises in my previous article linked above. It takes an hour a day on average but I feel it is worth it!

I really hope this helps you! Please post your results here or email me, would love to hear if/how this is working for you.


mountain bike coaching

Mountain Bike Coaching, Are you Wasting Your Money?

Mountain Bike Coaching, Are You Wasting Your Money?

I have uber-students, they take every opportunity to learn more about riding. They take a three day camp from me, three day camps from other coaches, 2-4 hour clinics from other coaches, etc. They ask me all kinds of great questions, they go online and participate in forums on mountain bike skills, etc. These students are stoked on learning and I love their enthusiasm! Sadly, most of them haven’t improved nearly as much have they could have with the amount of time and money they have invested in their riding (from me, and/or all the other coaches).

Now, don’t get me wrong, they possess a ton of knowledge, often jumbled and contradictory knowledge but there is a lot of knowledge stored in their big brains, “look at the big brain on Brad!” (Pulp Fiction quote) So, why are they wasting their money on that coaching (including my coaching)? They are wasting their money because they keep looking for that next piece, the little piece about cornering that is going to make them finally corner like Aaron Gwin, or wheelie like Robbie Root! The thing thing is, there is no little piece they are missing.

What they are missing is mastery of the core skills. The core skills that I and any other coach that is an actual coach taught them! Dan Millman (World Champion Gymnast, coach and author of “The Inner athlete”, Body Mind Mastery” and The “Peaceful Warrior Series”) state’s, “Athletes’ problems with learning or improving their skills are tied to weak fundamentals. To raise athletes’ potential you need to rebuild their foundation for success”. Famous Alabama Football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant would tell you the same thing as would all US Team Coaches (US Skiing, Tennis, Soccer, etc).

I understand, we want more! More skills, more $1,000 rims that make the trail feel rougher (whoops, different blog topic ;) ) more little “tips” that will finally get us where we want to go!

The problem is, they (the uber-students mentioned above) may understand the fundamentals, and probably do them a fair amount of the time but, they are not doing them all the time!

They haven’t mastered the basics from their first 3 day camp with me. What they are missing is mastery of the core, fundamental skills! Which means when the trail get challenging their lack of mastery shows as they make mistakes and/or revert to old, bad habits.

Watch Greg Minnaar and/or Aaron Gwin (or any other top 10 World Cup downhill racer) what “advanced skill/s” are they using? None! They are just executing the basics flawlessly. Watch them through a gnarly rock garden, their head isn’t moving, watch Aaron Gwin or Minnaar in a corner, they are simply executing the basics, flawlessly.

Mountain Bike Coaching

Greg in 2010 at Fort William, centered, balanced , fast and consistent nothing fancy here, just executing the basics!

Are they also doing a little “thing” or two that maybe aren’t basic, fundamentals? Yes, but they are little things! Do those little things help Aaron Gwin win? Yes, they do. (the top three pro men were separated by less than a second in the last World Cup in Cairns, AU)  Will those little nuances help someone who rides at 80% or less of Aaron Gwin’s ability, NO! Why? Did I mention Aaron Gwin executes the basics flawlessly?!

There is hierarchy to skills and the fundamentals are the most important, advanced “little things” don’t work on a flawed foundation!

“What about in bermed corner, what is the difference in technique in a berm corner vs a flat corner Gene?” I get some version of that question almost daily and the answer for most riders/racers is, “nothing, if you aren’t looking through that corner” and nothing if you are going faster than that berms ability to help you (all berms aren’t created equally). (for the actual differences in bermed vs flat corners check out my next blog article)

In all “mature” sports (sports that have had coaching for 30+ years and top athletes make a good living in) such as ski racing, football, golf, tennis, basketball, etc.. The top athletes spend 80-90% of their time deliberately practicing their sport (doing drills with a focus on quality, not quantity) and only 10-20% of their time actually doing their sport. Football great Jerry Rice spent 99% of his football related time practicing and only 1% playing (as referenced in the book “Outliers”).

In those more “mature” sports athletes spend years/decades practicing the basics five to six days a week. Once they have truly mastered the basics they start adding in the more advanced skills to their practice but, the bulk of their practice continues to be the BASICS, everyday, using drills that they “mastered” 5-15 years ago.

The majority of us need to focus on the basics (that will make us 20-100% better) and get them wired before we work on the little nuances that might make us 1% better.

Are you honestly looking ahead 100% of the time? Looking past the exit of every corner? Always cornering in perfect body position? Are you always returning to a centered, balanced, neutral position after every rock garden, jump, drop and obstacle? If your answer is a resounding yes, then it might be time to add the little 1% skills to your foundation training.

Until then, work on mastering your foundation, your time spent/reward ratio will be much higher than working on skills you lack the foundation to execute.

Dirt Magazine to 2009 Pro 4x and Jr. Cat 1 Downhill US National Champion Mitch Ropelato (now on Specialized Factory Team) in a interview in the Oct. 2009 issue: Dirt Magazine: “You seem to be able to turn amazingly, what do you put that down to? Got any special tires on there?

Mitch Ropelato: “Ya, Gene Hamilton is to thank for that, I took is clinic last December in Bootleg Canyon and he was able to show me the correct technique I needed to pull them off.”

Mitch cornering back in the day, notice his vision and body position. Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

Mitch cornering back in the day, notice his vision (looking way past the exit of the corner) easy to talk about but takes a lot of quality practice to master). Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

That was after 1 or 2 “basic camps” with me. Mitch understood that he didn’t need to know more, but that we needed to know better. He did is drills, religiously! Mitch didn’t say, “now I know this, time to find something new”. He said, “now I know this, time to master this”.

Mitch went on to take a total of five basic camps, and then my downhill race camp and some private lessons (where I still focused on having him execute the basics). Can you corner like Mitch? If not, time to work on the basics!

Look, I could make a fortune if I offered basic, intermediate and advanced camps and sent students down the line through my series of three, three day camps but I’m in this to help people, not pump them up and lie to them. You don’t need an advanced camp, you need to master the basics.

Stop searching and wasting your money looking for “more” and focus on “BETTER”. I’m sure your favorite coach would love to continue to coach, critique and work with you on the basics instead of trying to coach you some little nuance that you lack the foundation for.

Master the fundamentals and you will reach your potential as a mountain biker! Keep trying to figure that “magic piece” that you are missing and you will never reach your potential.


Fear is Good

Fear When Mountain Biking is Good!

Fear when mountain biking is good. Probably never thought of it that way but often fear can save you from injury and it can create a great feeling of accomplishment when you overcome it (through practice and baby steps) and fear can make you step up your game!

Fear can hold us back or it can be a big motivator to learn, improve and evolve. Facing/overcoming fear when done smartly is very rewarding and empowering. Think back to the many fears who have had in life and how good you felt you conquered each fear! Fear often means it is time to step up our game and grow, become stronger, smarter, more confident! Fear can be like a teammate that brings out your best performance, because anything less than your best could end up hurting you. Always listen to your fear and decide where it is coming from as some fears are good at saving you from harm while other fears keep you from reaching your potential.

Mountain biking can be anything from a really fun experience to outright terrifying depending on the rider’s skills, experiences and perspective. Of course skill is the number one factor in overcoming fear, imagine our students who race World Cup downhills like National Champions Luca Cometti, Mitch Ropelato and Jackie Harmony riding your local trails. I doubt they would be scared of that section that scares you on your local trail (as World Cup Tracks are gnarly!). They have worked hard on ingraining the correct riding techniques so they are riding in balance and in control consistently so while they may have less “nerve” than you they have great skill.  I’m not trying to sell my coaching though, here are some ways to overcome fear with the skill you currently possess.

Fear when mountain biking is good!

Fear has me gripped when riding trails like King Kong! So much that I get a little out of position (too far back) but I quickly get centered again do to years of deliberate practice. Fear forces me to focus and bring my A game!

1.  Go at your own pace and take “baby steps” when progressing. Taking a big leap over your comfort zone is not a good way to improve. This is a case of fear being good! A big leap over comfort zone likely means you don’t possess the skills to do it! Have you ever been goaded into doing something that you felt was way above your skill level? Even if you make it you often don’t feel like you have gotten better, you feel like you got lucky. Feeling, “Holy cow, I nearly died, that was sketchy!” does not improve your confidence! If you don’t make it,  the crash will often set you back, decreasing your confidence and raising your level of fear. So be gentle with yourself and progress at a pace that is comfortable to you.

3. Focus on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. This sounds simple but pays off big. Our brains don’t understand “not” and “don’t” very well. If you are focusing on not falling your brain has to focus on the concept of falling and then quickly try to refocus on “not” doing what you are thinking about. It is much easier to focus on “getting to that tree” or “ride this section smooth and light” than telling yourself “don’t fall”.

4. Live to ride another day! If you are more focused on “not falling” than you are on getting to where you are going, get off your bike and walk that section. Who knows you might go right through it the next time when you are more warmed up and/or focused.

After/while walking that section figure out what about that section is scaring you then “baby step” your way up to doing it.

Example: If a four-foot drop on an exposed trail is scaring you find a one foot drop with no exposure, get really good a hitting that, work your way up to a four-foot drop with no exposure, then an exposed trail with a one foot drop working all the way to a four-foot drop on an exposed trail. This builds on a series of successes, increasing your confidence!

5. Breathe, relax, breathe and smile it is just a bike ride. Breathing and smiling releases tension which improves our balance, coordination and confidence. I mean deep, belly breathes from your diaphragm which are very calming. Smiling releases endorphins which relax you. The simple act of lifting the corners of your mouth, even if it is a grimace it will release those endorphins and relax you!

6. As you improve make sure you update your self concept to match. Remember that the past doesn’t equal the future. You may have wrecked or not made a section last week/month but if your skills have improved since then the section may be easier for you now. (more on this in the next article on fear as this is very important!)

7. Wear knee pads and elbow pads when practicing a tough section are learning a new skill. I have found that having padding on really increases your confidence when learning or trying to push your limits. As a matter of fact I never ride without knee pads anymore, knees are too valuable and easily damaged!

8. Debunk your fear/s. Is your fear realistic? Often fear is not based in reality and when we realize this the fear goes away.

9. Learn from your mistakes. If you mess up or wreck do your best to figure out why it happened and correct that mistake or improve your technique so it will not happen again.

Stay tuned for part two which will cover why/how/when we feel fear and how this affects us and a few of these techniques in more detail.