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how to brake on a mountain bike

How To Brake on a Mountain Bike (supplement to our mini-course)

How to brake on a mountain bike is a very misunderstood subject and I received this great question from a newsletter reader: ”Going down an incline brings up a question. As I’ve seen stated before, it is suggested to apply 80 – 90% front brake going down a hill. (Keep in mind I’m almost 63 and only MTB a few times a year).

Anyhow……while going down a slope with a curve, a drop off on the left, heading toward a narrow bridge crossing a creek. Favoring my front brake I came upon a very small root crossing the trail. This caused the front wheel to lock or catch suddenly on the root. Which also happens on trails with massive mazes of roots coming out of the base of trees covering the trail. Thank God I release the front and relied on the rear brake to keep a slower speed. Thus, the question to you is….explain the importance and how to use the front brake vs the rear as I often see stated.
When I was little, too much front wheel braking would cause the front wheel to lock and the front would slide out sideways, if the area was wet, sandy, loose dirt or gravel, etc….
Thanks!!”
Great question Dan. I love to hear from riders who are picking up sports like mountain biking later in life! This is the problem when “tips” are substituted for actual coaching, there are so many variables in mountain biking (like the root you hit) that you can rarely say, “always do this …..”. This a great example as we cover many of the most common variables like roots, off-camber, rough and loose conditions while braking in our skills progression mountain bike camps. We teach you the how, why and when, demonstrate them, have you do them then give you drills so eventually (with enough structured drill time) these skills become automatic. Impossible to do with the written word (although your question has made me feel I might be able to write the braking part of the mini-course a little better).

We brake for either of two main reasons, to cut speed or to maintain speed (not accelerate). When cutting speed the front brake does most of the work. Where we cut speed is very important, we only cut speed in a straight line, on-camber and where the surface is smooth and has good traction. As 3 time world champion Greg Minnaar has said in our camps, “don’t brake on off-camber and don’t brake on roots.”. Which means all braking happens before or after off-camber or roots. You did the right thing in letting go of your front brake on that root! Had you let go of both brakes before the root it (the root) would have had little to no effect on your trajectory. Few skills are isolated, there are a lot of important vision and body position skills that allow us to brake more efficiently and safer too. For instance in the first part of our mini-course you read about being centered with all of your weight on your pedals, this is really important when braking because if you shift your weight back the front brake can skid instead of hooking up and slowing you down (and if going off a small ledge braking with your weight back can cause you to endo as you will get pitched forward as your arms, hands and chest are yanked down the ledge). See article, Mountain Bike Descending body position 101, video demonstration:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT

When our goal isn’t to cut speed but simply not speed up and we are descending a mellow to medium pitch hill using just the rear brake will often be enough to keep us from speeding up (“dragging” the rear brake). There are a few pros (it can keep your speed at a comfortable level, keeping you relaxed, and a few other reasons) and cons (it can break traction and slide sideways, your rear wheel will smack into a bump instead of gently rolling over them and many more reasons) to doing this but again, hard to explain with just the written word. On steeper hills the rear brake alone will not provide enough power to not slowly accelerate so on steep hills you will be using both brakes to simply maintain your speed. The photo below is an example of a steep hill on a cross country trail in Whistler that you must stay centered and use a massive amount of front brake on,  just to get down it! (the scary thing is you have to release the front brake for a second for the off-camber left turn he is about to make which about doubles your speed! Then get on that front brake hard!)

mountain bike braking

Shawn Neer staying centered and using a lot of front brake!

Riding a mountain bike in balance and in control on dirt, rocks and roots, up and down steep and often slippery surfaces is rather complicated. Riding a bike in balance and in control on easy trails or on pavement is also complicated, the difference is when the conditions are easy (on pavement or easy trails) you don’t need much skill and can get away with doing a lot of things wrong. This often gives riders a false sense of competence that gets them scared or hurt when they try more challenging trails! Knowing what to do and even knowing how and why to do something are NOT the same as being able to consistently do something! Being able to do something effortlessly without thought requires a high volume of quality practice (usually in the form of drills designed to make something you know but currently have to think about turn into an unconscious habit). This is true in all physical endeavors, sport, music and art and the only way to truly reach your own potential.

A quick recap of the main new braking concepts (not addressed in our mini-course): 1. Only brake to slow down in a straight line 2. Never brake over roots or on off-camber, brake before or after! 3. Stay centered with weight on the pedals while braking. 4.

I hope this has helped. Good luck with your riding and have fun out there. For inspiration I have attached a photograph of our oldest student, Fred Schmid. In the photograph he has just finished the Leadville 100 in 13 hours and 9 minutes, at 81! The year before he finished in under 12 hours!

Mountain bike racer Fred

Fred was actually 81 at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race this year!

Create your best ride yet,

Gene

 

 

 

mountain bike student cornering

Stop Setting Mountain Biking Goals, Do This Instead!

It’s the time of year where you have probably set mountain biking goals and are working towards them, this will help you exceed those goals. Wow, as a coach I never thought I would tell you to stop setting goals! Turns out if you want to improve your mountain biking there may be a better way than goal setting. Whether you want finally clean that root filled climb, ride with more confidence or win a big race this article will help you lay the ground work to do just that.

I recently read an article that talked about not setting goals but creating and doing processes that allow you to grow in the direction you want to. Years ago in the book Body Mind Mastery Dan Millman taught me something similar, to set my goals, write them down and focus on being the best I can be everyday. Focusing on being the best you can be helps keep you in the moment (instead of focusing on the goal which could be months or even years away) and if you honestly do this you are likely to exceed your goals. Also, by being the best you can be each day you will enjoy each day more, not feeling like you are sacrificing today for tomorrow. This really helps if your goals change because your life changes or you get injured. As your goal changes or can’t be met do to injury you won’t be thinking, “Darn! I wasted all that time” because you will have enjoyed every moment. This is similar to the processes idea but you still set a goal.

Here is a quick personal example of focusing on a goal, in 1999 (before reading Body Mind Mastery) my goal was to win the UCI World Masters Championship (WMC for short) and that was my complete focus for a year, from the fall of 1998 to the competition on September 4, 1999. By total focus I mean I quit my dream job coaching the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Snowboard Team, moved to Boulder, Colorado (so I could train more on bike in the winter), lived off my saving and eventually my credit card (hard to work all day and train hard enough to win a World Championship), went to bed early every night so I could recover from my training (so I had no social life) and every time time I did intervals I thought, “this sucks, I hate intervals, but I have to do these if I want to win the WMC!”. Lucky for me, I managed to earn a bronze medal and honestly, it was the best day of my life until that point! However, I woke the next day and realized I was approximately $8,800 in debt to my credit card, I had no job, no apartment and no girlfriend to return to and was in Quebec with two smelly friends in my VW van with a nasty exhaust leak that none of us were confident would get us home! Victory is rather fleeting!

mountain biking goals

Gene in Third Place at the 1999 UCI World Masters Championships

In 2001 I decided to try and win the WMC again, but this time I had read Body Mind Mastery and after setting the goal I set the goal aside and worked on being the best I could everyday. If it was interval day I did the best intervals I could, not to win the world masters but to simply enjoy pushing my body as hard as I could. I led a balanced life, I had a great job, sweet girlfriend and cool house to return to after the race. My qualifying run went great, 2nd place and I didn’t push it at all, I could easily drop 8-10 seconds off my time on race day! I charge out of the gate in my race run and my chain some how comes out of my chain guide  in the first turn! Nooo! I hop off my bike, throw the chain on over the chain guide (as it won’t go back in) but it pops off 30-40 feet later. I angrily pump my way to the finish and hang my head in despair. Probably the worst day of my life. However, the next day it was easy to smile as I was in the best shape of my life, was riding better than ever and had a great life to return to back in Colorado. My life was still pretty darn good! Can you imagine if my chain had come off in 1999? That would of crushed me, all that work and sacrifice for nothing!

Long story short, setting your goals and then focusing on simply being the best you can be everyday is a great way to reach or exceed your goals. However, the article that talked about not setting goals but creating and doing processes that allow to grow in the direction you want to is quite similar to Dan Millman’s idea except they eliminate the goal all together (which I am still not sold on). I am sold on the idea of creating processes, which is what I do every year, I have physical processes (bike training programs, workout routines, yoga, foam rolling and stretching) mental processes (imagery, questioning self-talk and mental toughness exercises)  and mountain bike skills processes (drills to keep my skills at their best and on trail application and feedback from our coaches) that I do to reach my goals. You can find the article here:  http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230333#   I feel it is a great read. Please let me know what you think about it.

Create your best year yet,

Gene

Long time student and now coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

Why Do You Treat Your Mountain Bike Better Than You Treat Yourself?

Why do you treat your mountain bike, car and house better than you treat yourself? To mountain bike at your best don’t you need to have your body functioning perfectly?  I had the pleasure of training and working with our newest BetterRide certified coach Brian Buell this weekend and he made a comment that really resonated with me! We were explaining to our students the importance of taking care of our bodies as mountain biking alone is terrible for us physically (muscles imbalances, tight IT bands, over use injuries, twisting of our legs and core as 99% of us favor a forward foot, etc. (see article, “Is Mountain Biking Wrecking Your Health?”  http://wp.me/p49ApH-J9 ) when Brian mentioned something his massage therapist or Chiropractor had asked him. His body worker asked, “How much time do you spend working on your mountain bike, cleaning it, making sure it shifts right, the brakes are working properly, the tires have the right pressure, the suspension is working correctly, etc.?” To which Brian replied, “at least two to three hours a week.” Then he said, “Wow, you love your bike more than yourself. I mean, you certainly spend much more time fine tuning your bike than you do your body!

Long time student and now coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

Long time student and now BetterRide certified coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

So why do you spend more time making sure your bike works properly than making sure your body works properly? My guess, if you are like I was, is that is feels decedent to “treat yourself” to a deep tissue massage, physical therapy or chiropractor visit.  Society seems to think that a new car every four to five years, a bigger house, marble counter tops, 70″ TV’s and $10,000 bicycles are fine things to spend our money and time on but if we spend money and time on improving ourselves we are being wasteful or extravagant. Not sure why this is but you might want to reevaluate your thinking if you feel that way. Your body is the most important bike “component” so make sure it is functioning at it’s best! Make taking care of yourself a priority!

This goes for how you fuel your body too! It saddens me to think people spend extra for high octane fuel for their automobiles but eat pesticide laden non-organic apples, heavily processed foods and junk that your body can not even convert to fuel. If you aren’t eating a healthy diet start fueling yourself with high octane “whole foods” and treat your body like the fine tuned machine it can and should be.

 

 

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Mountain Bike Handlebar Height and Body Position

Coach Andy’s informative and detailed article on mountain bike handlebar height.

Hi there, this is Coach Andy W. and the following is an email response that I sent back to a confused/frustrated rider.  He was having some issues concerning the height of his handlebars and was also the victim of some bad bike-advice from arguably the most common source of bad bike-advice: a riding buddy!
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