BetterRide Certified coach Chris Skolnick demonstrating how easy it is to get over a big rock when have master two simple skills, the coaster wheelie (manual) and the weight shift. This is great test, if you can’t do this you aren’t very good at these two Core Skills of mountain bike riding, if you can do this smoothly and easily you have these two skills pretty wired.
BetterRide coached athlete and BetterRide coach Jackie Harmony featured on Vital MTB website wallpaper page.
Check out that vision! Jackie is looking way past the exit of the corner and achieving her goal of carrying as much exit speed as possible! If you get a chance check out that fist shoot of Rennie! Rennie was the best at cornering, vision, body position (look how low he is!) and outside elbow are spot on.
Below I’ll address two things that seem to plague many MTB’ers in the off-season: 1) what I call “gym-rat burnout”. And, 2) body weight management.
The following is purposely not very specific or in-depth, but more of something to think about and address on your own. This is mainly because we all have different goals and aspirations, time crunches, athletic endeavors, etc, outside of biking (which is my area of expertise) and the off-season is the time to partake all kinds of other fun/necessary stuff that we have a tough time doing during the summer because we have other very important things to do … like ride our bikes! I’m also not an expert at weight training, pilates, road riding, xc skiing, or many other activities that MTB’ers use for off-season fitness, but I am very aware of how difficult it can be to maintain fitness over the winter. So again, I’ll keep this kind of loose, but these are two things that most of us, as riders, have to deal with in one way or another.
If you’re a fairly serious rider or racer (and you live in an area where it is the off-season) you should currently be enjoying a break from the intensity of training, racing, serious rides, etc. This doesn’t mean that you have to stay off of your bike. But bike rides should be fun and enjoyable at this time. If you’re a cyclocoss racer, or serious skier, or snowboarder, or something of that nature, great, just make sure that you will be able to get enough time to fully recover and then be ready to go again (both mentally and physically) for MTB in the spring.
Just because we don’t have a race right around the corner doesn’t mean that we can completely forget about what our goals are as riders. The off-season can and should play a very important role in your success next spring and summer.
First, I’ll address “gym-rat burnout”:
We ride bikes because riding is fun. Even if we take it extremely seriously, even if we make money doing it, we still do it because it’s enjoyable. We get outside. We get to compete (even if its with just ourselves). There’s often a good dose of camaraderie. Often, bikes give us a reason to travel. For most of us, the gym offers nearly none of this. The gym is a means to an end, and therefore, just not a whole lot of fun (for me at least). Ditto with road riding, running… So, it’s often tough to stay motivated to do these things for a long period of time.
Motivation is the key to anything as far as I’m concerned. This winter, if you spend three intense hours per day on your trainer in your basement, putting in thousands of miles and tons of interval work, and also hitting the gym like Lou Ferrigno, and then when you emerge in the spring, you hate your bike and the pain that it represents… well, you’re probably not going to be very motivated to kick the season off correctly. I’m guilty of this myself pretty much every year (kinda). I take about a week off somewhere in November, and after a week off of the bike, I get super motivated!!! I then get in the gym and put a program together, start trail running, start backcountry snowboarding like a banshee, ride my bike in the snow… I feel like an animal all winter long until around March and then I peter-out. I’m over it, over winter, over the gym, over running, over snowboarding… I end up eating like crap and being lazy for a couple of weeks right when I should be ramping up for the riding season to start. This has happened, consistently, for as long as I can remember. Sounds like I need to make some conscious adjustments to my off-season program, huh?
I’m not the only rider guilty of this. This happens to a lot of people. So relax a little and pace yourself. Stay active but do some other things besides road riding and the gym (that are fun or, at least, mix it up a bit). If you are very serious and want to make some fitness gains over the winter, cool, but be conscious of your mental state and put yourself on a pace where you’ll be chomping at the bit and ready to rip out the throats of your fellow competitors’ and/or riding buddies’ in the spring (literally, of course!!!). You want to be hungry when the season starts.
Something else that many of us need to deal with in the off-season is weight. And I’m not talking about shaving grams off your bike! The off-season is the time to make adjustments in body weight, or, at the very least, keep weight gain (or loss, for some people) under control. In my own case, I would like to slim down and improve my power to weight ratio (o.k., keep it under control, also!). While I’m not necessarily a fat-ass, 5’6” and 165 isn’t really ideal for getting from point A to point B (got some great ‘short-and-stocky’ genes from my mom). I do have a nice layer of beer and pizza induced baby-fat that I can rid myself of, but also, I can lose a bunch of muscle (especially upper body) that actually hinders me, speed-wise, on the bike. But in order to do this correctly, I need to maintain a calorie deficit. During the season — though I definitely don’t get to race as much as I’d like to — I do a lot of hard riding. This includes a lot of intense trail riding, motocross, dirt jumping MTB’s – stuff that I could easily get hurt doing if things go wrong (which, of course, they do from time to time), and often, on back-to-back-to-back days, whenever I have the opportunity. So during the season, recovery with adequate food intake, and being strong and fit is more important then focusing on losing weight (and doing it correctly, which is difficult). The time for me to do this is now (please don’t ask how its going!).
On the other side of this is simply not gaining unwanted weight. We all know how the wintertime, football season (obligatory beer drinking), the holidays, etc, can be a fat-laden kiss of death for keeping weight in check. Let’s be realistic about this: ideally, we’d all get down to our perfect “fighting weight”, during Nov, Dec and be on our way with our off-season training (and if you’re serious, you need to do this). But sometimes real-life does get in the way for real people. However, there’s no excuse for coming into the riding season 10-15 lbs heavier (fat wise – bad heavier) then you were at the end of the previous season. Five lbs.…? O.k., I’ll give you that… But, trying to dial in weight while you’re also trying to get stronger is a difficult thing to do and you’re starting in a hole if you begin your fitness and race training overweight.
A great way to help you keep things in check weight-wise? Keep a food journal. Especially over the holidays! Write down absolutely everything that you eat. Make sure that this is a small notebook or something that can be kept conveniently with you at all times so that you WILL actually do this! Every cheese sample at Whole Foods, every stray piece of Halloween candy, the dressing that you put on the salad… EVERYTHING! If you have to write it down, you’re conscious of it, you can’t simply “pretend it didn’t happen”. You won’t be saying, “man how’d I get so fat… I thought I was doing pretty good…”
So, a little advice on two things that most of us wrestle with during the off-season…
This is Andy’s take on something that is plaguing mountain biking, bad advice by self appointed experts.
Ok, this may seem a bit harsh, but I’m ready to go to war with ignorant, “industry experts” such as bike shop employees, shop owners, especially “professional bike fitters”, (AND husbands and boyfriends of female students who “…know what’s best for my girl’ ‘cause I’ve been riding for twenty years and use to race!” – I love that one!) that refuse to wake up, educate themselves, and understand what equipment is necessary in order to most effectively ride an MTB — both up and down an incline — in technically challenging terrain and therefore, continue to give riders advice and recommendations on equipment that are just plain wrong.
If you’re a normal-joe, just trying to help out with advice, “well, this is what I use…” or “I heard this works really well…” then, hey, I understand. You’re just trying to help another rider out. (Maybe, throw in a, “I’m no expert, but…” first?). But, it’s the people whose job it is to be an expert on the topic — whom other riders should be able to trust — who are too lazy, close-minded, and/or egotistical (or stocked their shop with the wrong stuff) to figure out what is going on in the bike world (not just right out your front door, on your local trail…got news for you: that’s not ‘the bike world!’) and therefore, not only won’t sell riders what they need in order to ride their bikes more effectively, but bad mouth the equipment and the “True Experts” (ahem…us) that recommend it… those are the ones I’m after!
After every camp I teach, I get emails form students, where the above is the case.
ALMOST every rider that buys a stock MTB, — assuming that their goal is to have the best all-around handling bike (which is the goal of the instruction in our camps – and to be the best all-around rider you can be) — can benefit from wider bars, a shorter stem, and an adjustable height seat post. Control set up, proper tire selection, pedal/shoe combination, a frame with adequate angels… all these things matter, also.
This obviously is not the “bike set-up” portion of a BetterRide Camp, we’re not sitting here discussing things real-time. So, I can’t hit every detail and explanation in this article. However, the following is an email response that I sent to a student that maybe can set a few “experts” straight. If a lot of this stuff is completely foreign to you, get on the ol’ internet and check it out!
Sorry to hear about the “opinions” of your local shop owner. Here’s something to consider with bike set up:
Again, we need to know what the goal of our riding is, and what terrain we want to excel on, and set our bikes up accordingly. If I’m racing the Leadville 100 (100 mi’s of dirt road–nothing too technical), or a typical XC race (not very technical, usually not technical at all), then I’m NOT going to use the bike I currently have, which is set up for aggressive trail riding.
However, if I’m riding fun, technically challenging, “expert level” trails, then my current bike set up is exactly what I want. Most campers come to our camp to learn how to ride the latter, and that’s what we focus on with bike set up. And if you can learn to ride this type of riding, and obtain some skills, it will definitely help everywhere else.
I would say that the closest type of MTB racing to the type of riding that I’m talking about above is “super-d” or “enduro” racing (not ENDURANCE racing–different stuff). These are fairly long, primarily downhill races, but also have climbs, flat pedal-y sections, etc. Sometimes, these are multi-day, multi-stage races where as soon as riders finish a stage they immediately have to climb, on trail, to the top of the next course and get there in an allocated amount of time for the next stage. So: fast difficult, technically challenging downhill descents, and large amounts of climbing, sometimes over a few days. You get to use one bike, and, often, your bike is photographed and marked so that you can’t change (most) of the parts.
The idea is that the winner is an all around mountain biker. Endurance, technical skill, proper equipment (a bike that can handle the descents AND climb back to the top–quickly!) is mandatory! True Mountain Biking!
Sound familiar? This is basically what we teach. My bike at the camp is my super-d race bike with few very minor changes. This is the largest growing type of racing because it involves much of why many people ride MTB: scare the shit out of yourself/handle it/have a blast on the way down, but also be fit enough and able enough to crush your competition on the climb. (The races and courses are also kind of unpredictable, forcing riders to be able to adapt — in the true nature of MTB!)
The reason I bring up this type of racing is because — as I said — it is essentially what we teach, and if you look at all the top riders in this type of discipline, their bikes will almost always be set up almost exactly like mine/what we emphasized in camp: the best all-around handling mountain bike you can put together. And, racing isn’t about fashion or what’s cool (when it really comes down to it). It’s about function. As they say, “the clock doesn’t lie”.
Again, I know super-d racing isn’t the goal for all of us, but being a great all around rider is the focus of the camp so that’s also what we focus on with the bike.
DIRT magazine had a feature on a lot of pro bike set ups for this type of racing a couple months ago. Some of these races: Downeville Classic in California, Oregon Super-d Series, Some of the Mega-avalanche stuff in Europe…
And, like I said in camp, a bike-fitter won’t help you out with this, in fact, they’ll take you in the wrong direction. (ask M— how his bike fitter would do a fit on a downhill bike. Downhilling is a big part of the equation, right?)
Unfortunately, M—, like so many other shop owners or “industry experts”, is a bit behind the times…
In racing, riders use what works. A BetterRide bike is set up to be the best all-around handling bike possible. This type of racing is proof of that set up.
… and, please, don’t tell me that I can’t fit through trees with my wide bars. Take a camp, and we’ll show you how to do that, too.
Gene’s Article on on bar width and stem length: http://betterride.net/?p=486
Gene’s Article on dropper seat posts: http://betterride.net/?p=625
Gene’s Article on tires and tire pressure: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/another-thing-you-can-buy-and-instantly-have-more-bike-control/
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- Mountain Biking at Your Best in All Situations (when you’re scared or the pressure is on)
- MTB Power Increase and Back Pain Fix, All in One
- Best Mountain Bike Video Ever?! Inspiring and Funny
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