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Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 3

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 3

Your body has NO idea how to ride a mountain bike correctly! Your brain might know some skills but your body doesn’t preform them. A great example of this is looking ahead, we all know to do this but 99% of mountain bikers fail to do this most/all of the time. You honestly aren’t riding as well as you are physically and mentally capable of because your body doesn’t understand how to consistently ride in balance and in control. I’m not trying to be mean or provocative, I have simply been fortunate enough to coach some of the best riders/racers in the world and none of them had a solid skills foundation. How would they with out first studying the correct skills and then doing a lot of deliberate practice using drills? That is how ALL great athletes get proficient, Michael Jordan was cut from his team his freshman and sophomore year because he wasn’t very good at basketball! The funny thing is we don’t know the name of any of those 10-11 players who were better than Michael Jordan. Why, because they didn’t do as much deliberate practice as Michael did.

The world's best, most respected skills coach agrees!

The world’s best, most respected skills coach agrees!

Why does your body have no idea how to ride correctly? You and your body aren’t dumb, I’m not putting you down, it is just comes down to practice, you haven’t done any deliberate practice! You might have thousands of hours of riding time but that does nothing to help your skills. As a matter of fact the more you ride without deliberate practice the more your survival habits/instincts get ingrained, making you technically worse! Much like Michael Jordan’s teammates who played basketball more than he did but practiced less.

Teaching yourself relies on instincts, and your (and all humans’) instincts are great at protecting you from lions, tigers and bears but not so good at cornering your bike on a loose surface. Example, what is your first instinct when you feel that you have entered a corner too fast? Hit the brakes, right? What is one of the worst things you can do in a corner? Hit your brakes!  For more on your instincts and learning read this:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-tD

You Aren't Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do! (on your mtb)

Wow, pro xc racer looking straight down at the entrance to an easy banked corner at the National Championships!

If you have noticed I said your” body” has know idea how to mountain bike, not your brain/mind. The reason for this is knowing something in your smart, logical thinking brain does nothing to help you ride better. A completely different part of your brain controls your procedural memory (often called muscle memory) which is what you rely on when you do a physical skill like ride a mountain bike. More on this here:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-18u

Coach Gene Demonstrating how to practice one part of cornering body position.

Demonstrating how to practice one part of cornering body position deliberately.

So, the main thing keeping you from riding your best is your body has no idea how to ride. This is why Olympic BMX silver medalist Mike Day and World Champions like Ross Schnell and Sue Haywood seek us out to improve their riding. They have more hours riding than almost anyone but they haven’t spent time practicing. They were fast because of fitness, not skill (although Mike Day was quite skilled at BMX but after three years of disappointing results as a downhill mountain bike racer he knew he needed better mountain bike skills). The only way to get proficient at anything is through learning the correct skills then doing deliberate practice using drills. We would love to help you ride much, much better and help you reach your potential. Look into one of skills progression camps, it will be the best investment you ever make in your riding!

Mountain biking

Mountain Biking, Make Skill Improvements Stick! Forever! Starting Now!

When mountain biking we often overlook crucial mental skills that help us use our physical skills better and more confidently. The mistake we will work on today I have nicknamed, “Riding with Fully Rigid Eyes”.

I came up with the name, “Fully Rigid Eyes” when I realized I was looking at the trail with the same “eyes” as I did on my first mtb ride in 1989! It was 1998, nine years later and my skill and my equipment was head and shoulders better than it was in 1989 but I was looking at the trail like I did on that first ride (on a fully rigid mountain bike)!

Let me explain the situation and how you can use this to help make your mountain biking skill increases “stick” and become much more confident. From 1994-1998 (dates might be off my a year) the first downhill race of the year for me was down the Porcupine Rim Climb (Starting at the Top of “Lazy Man’s and finishing by the stock tanks on Sand Flats road). I always walk the trails I race and memorize them (where I do EVERYTHING, where I brake, where I let off the brakes, where it get’s rocky, the lines I take, where I shift, where I sprint, etc.) and to help remember the track I make up names for each section (the fast section, the steep section, the wooded section, etc). At this race there was a rock garden which I called the “gnarly section” and on my hardtail with 1.5″ of fork travel up front and a 120 mm stem it was kind of gnarly.  However, by 1998 I had a 6″ travel full suspension bike, a 60 mm stem and my skills were much better than in 1994 (and way better than in 1989!).

On to the race! There I was, blasting through the “Gnarly Section” on my sweet Yeti/Lawwill Straight 6 with a big grin on my face. As I crossed the finish line after my first run it occurred to me, it isn’t gnarly anymore! At this race I always got a minimum of ten practice runs and the promoter gave us two race runs so by my race run in 1998 I had 50 practice runs and 10 race runs on that track! In that time I never crashed in that “gnarly section”. If you can make something 60 times out of 60 attempts, it must not be too gnarly! But, I was still calling it the gnarly section! What do you think I was thinking as I railed the corner before it and said to myself, “here comes the gnarly section”? If you are thinking I might of tensed up a bit and slowed down a hair you are right! Why? With my improved skill and way, way better bike it was easy know! So I renamed it, “that fun, rocky section”. On my next run, as I railed the corner before the “fun, rocky section” instead of tensing up and slowing down I relaxed and threw in a few pedals! Five seconds faster and I moved up from 5th to 3rd!

You can put this into practice and make skill improvements stick and increase your confidence in you and your bike! Think about it, on a scale of 1-10 my skill from 1989 to 1998 had gone from a 1 to 7 and my bike had gone from a negative 1 to an 8, yet I was still looking at the trail like I was on that negative 1 bike with a skill level of 1! Don’t to this! It is hard not to do this though, do you have a rock like the one in the short video below or a section of trail that you have never made before? Well, you probably have a name for it, something like, “that gnarly section” or “widow maker” or that “f’ing. f’ing rock that always screws me up”. Well, let say your skills improve (because you took a BetterRide camp!) and now you ride that rock or section of trail for the first time. You didn’t get lucky, you know exactly how you did it, “I looked at the rock, spotted my line, looked to victory, manualed and shifted my weight” (just like in the video below). Well, now is the time to update your reptilian brain and make sure it knows how much better you have become!

Walk up to the rock/section of trail that used to riddle you and say to yourself, “wow, for 3/5/10 years I couldn’t make it over this rock, now it is easy, simply look at the rock, spot my line, look to victory, manual and shift my weight and I’m over it.” Then ride it again to cement in that it is now easy for you. This is a crucial step to making improvements stick! Think about it, for nine years I looked at the trail with the eyes of a beginner yet I had gone from beginner to pro racer! Simply because I had not upgraded my self-image as a mountain biker (despite great upgrading my skills and my bike!) I was not allowing myself to have the confidence I should of had!

A word of caution, often men feel they have way more skill than they actually do (especially when they are between 10 and 35ish) which is why about 90% of emergency room visits for traumatic physical injuries are young males, so over confidence is bad! Make sure your skill has honestly increased and your weren’t just lucky!

 

 

Luck vs. skill, update self image, crucial skill (that you can can start working on now!)

mtb skills

Cornering Your Mountain Bike, Get Low, Not Forward!

There is a lot of misleading advice for cornering your mountain bike, often from top racers who aren’t actually doing what they say they are doing! Greg Minnaar and I got a kick out of Myles Rockwell’s announcing at the world championships a few years ago. Myles was talking about Greg’s “forward” riding style. Greg will tell you that he rides centered with all of his weight on the pedals (and this is a case of top racer actually doing what he says he is doing). He is “forward” of being “back on the bike”? Yes, but he is not “forward” of centered on his bike. (Myles is a great rider (world champion!) and super nice guy, no offense was meant by this post, this is an excellent example of top athletes not being the best at explaining things (because it is not their job!)).

Cornering Centered

Greg in 2010 at Fort William, centered, balanced , fast and consistent!

This is a case of perception being distorted by “society”. In this case the 1980′s and 1990′s mountain biking “society” that was used to riders riding with their weight back (that, long stems, and narrow bars are why if you watch a downhill race video from 1995 or prior you will see tons of pro racers who look wobbly and out of control) created the expectation of seeing a rider in that weight back position, so when Greg (and Neko Mullay, Aaron Gwin, Rat Boy, etc.) rides centered he looks forward to riders expecting to see 1993 body position. This is because the rider’s head and chest are forward and low, but, their hips have scooted back, keeping them centered over the pedals. An important part of body position is “hinging at the hips” with a flat back. When you hinge your chest drops and goes forward as your hips go back so you stay centered. This puts you in a balanced, neutral and athletic position so you can respond to anything the trail throws at you, quickly and powerfully! It also lowers your center of gravity! Watch video of the world cup and notice how low Aaron Gwin, Steve Smith and Neko Mullay are. Like a sports car getting low helps you stay centered (braking, cornering and acceleration forces have less effect on a lower rider and/or vehicle).

cornering centered

Here is Greg in that same centered position going straight. Notice his “hinged” hips and flat back!

Focus on getting low! A great way to practice this is to ride straight down a smooth road and focus on hinging at the hip with a flat back and dropping your chest until you are in a half push-up position. Next make sure you have heavy feet and light hands (check if you are in the right position by loosening your grip and  sliding your hands side to side on the grips, if your hands won’t move you are too far forward, if it feel like you are pulling up on the grips you are too far back). Once you are solid at doing this in a straight line focus on maintaining this low, centered (fore-aft) position while turning in both directions. Once you are consistent at this then try cornering on pavement with weight too far back, then too far forward, then centered again. You will feel that your bike feels lighter and takes less effort to change direction when you are centered. When are are consistent at all of the above, keep practicing until you can’t get it wrong! More on cornering!

Get low! Corner your mountain bike

Aaron Gwin, low, centered and looking way ahead!

 

Save Hundreds of Dollars a Year on MTB Parts and …

… Have Way More Fun! Are you MTB trail aware? (stop clipping pedals/derailleurs!) MTB parts are expensive! Have you ever clipped a pedal on a rock or root? Have you ever smashed your derailleur into something on trail? These are two common and expensive problems that I hear about a lot.

Clipping pedals is more common today than in the past because to make mountain bikes handle better designers try and keep the bottom bracket as low as possible. The goal is to lower your center of gravity (one reason Porsche 911s corner better than 4runners). This comes at a price though, the lower your BB the more likely you are to clip your pedals on rocks, roots and the “high side” of a bench cut trail. Rear derailleurs have always stuck out a little and they are behind you so they are tough to watch out for.  These design features can lead to broken MTB parts and ruined rides but both are easily avoided with practice. I call this skill being “trail aware”. The first step is realizing the trail at ground level is much different and usually much narrower than at handlebar level. Just because your 820mm SMAC Moto Bars made it through doesn’t mean your pedals will make it through! To avoid clipping your pedals you need to be aware of the rocks, roots and changing contour of the trail, WHILE looking ahead!  You do this by spotting the objects that you might clip a pedal on when they are 3-5 seconds away then using your peripheral vision to keep track of them. Often all it takes is a well-timed lean, wiggle or raising one pedal to avoid clipping an object. The nice thing about your peripheral vision is it has a faster reaction time than our “dead on vision” it simply gets the body to take action without thought (meaning that well-timed lean, wiggle or raising one pedal happens automatically). This is counter-intuitive as your brain is usually screaming “look out for that rock” causing you to stare at and then run into it! By doing the counter intuitive thing, looking past the obstacle you will automatically avoid hitting it.

MTB Parts

All kinds of pedal and derailleur grabbing obstacles to stare at on the typical mtb trail.

To take advantage of your peripheral vision you must be looking ahead and you must be aware of the height and width of your pedals. This is really interesting when you have more than one bike as pedal height and width can vary greatly from bike to bike! To become more aware of the height and width of your pedals practice riding through cones, soda cans or 12 pack containers spaced about a foot apart (while looking passed your objects). Just a few minutes of this each day for 3-5 days and you will have a much better idea of how high an object you can clear and how wide a path you need to squeeze the pedals through. This will also greatly decrease your fear of the unknown when riding as there is is less “unknown”!

Avoiding clipping your rear derailleur is a little tougher, as it is behind you and takes a different path down the trail than your front wheel. Like an 18 wheeler your rear wheel takes a path inside of your front wheel when turning or cornering (the tighter the turn the more inside your rear wheel tracks). Use the same soda cans or cones you used in the drill above and this time try to turn around a single can with your front wheel going outside (around the can) while your rear wheel goes inside (or behind) the can. Practice these both to the left and to the right and you will start to develop a “sense” of where your bike is in relation to objects on the trail. This really comes in handy on switchbacks where often there is a rock that you have to have the front wheel go around but the rear wheel must go inside the rock (because if your rear wheel doesn’t go inside the rock it will hit the rock and stall you out). Other times you will realize that you have choice but to hit the rock with your rear wheel but you know it is going to hit so you can time a weight shift so the rear wheel doesn’t hang up on the rock.

Remember, knowledge is worthless without action! If you read this and think, “cool, I’ll do that on my next ride”, you won’t. If you don’t practice this using the drills above you will revert to what you have always done (both the good things you always do and the bad things).