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MTB, What I Have Learned from Working with Greg Minnaar That Can Help You, Part 1

MTB, What I Have Learned from Working with Greg Minnaar That Can Help You

I have been fortunate to do a number of skills camps with three time World Champion Greg Minnaar over the last 12 years and I have learned a lot from him. You can benefit greatly by doing some of the things he does and by not doing some of the things he does.

What? Not do what Greg does. Isn’t he arguably the best rider in the World? Yes, and you are not the best rider in the world so what works for Greg might work for you because he has way more skill than you do! In the following example, do what Greg does!

Lesson 1: Body Position and Cornering

One thing I have always stressed in my camps is being in balance. Greg really doubled down on this point in my camps and this really showed in this camp! I was explaining to the students that if you normally ride clipped in it is a good idea to also practice with flat pedals. Flat pedals let you know when you aren’t being smooth and force you to bump jump and bunny hop correctly. (Greg agrees with this)

Then I said, “it is also good to be confident riding flat pedals for when it is muddy” and Greg, said emphatically, “NO, even if I am using flat pedals for a race, if it gets muddy I always switch to clips.”

He went on to explain that when riding flat pedals in the mud he has the urge to put his foot down and “whenever you put your foot down you are out of position”. In other words, you are not doing what Greg and I teach, being centered over the bottom bracket. See Greg in great form below.

Notice how his hips are above his bike. Bike leaned to the left, body not leaned near as much keeping his center of mass (think belly button) over his bb and weight on the tires! Look how far ahead he looking too, this is cornering done really well!

When putting your foot down, your weight goes from above your bike to “below” your bike, taking the weight off your tires, causing you to slide towards the unweighted side. See a rare photo of Greg in terrible form below.

MTB, What I learned from Greg Minnaar

I have never seen Greg this out of position, in addition to being leaned in with his foot out he is looking down too! Even the best aren’t perfect!

A great example of this is Danny Hart’s world championship winning run in 2011. Watch the video below even though Danny is riding flat pedals he is cornering like he is clipped in  (both feet on the pedals, dropping his outside foot (to put more weight on his tires) and keeping his center of mass over his bb). In one little corner, he takes his inside foot off and puts it down. Then his rear wheel slides out and he nearly throws away that amazing run!

Watch at 1:11 into this video as Danny almost throws away a World Championship by leaning into one corner!

Long story short, don’t put your foot down in corners! Learn to keep your center of mass (think bellybutton or crack of your butt) over your bb while riding to stay in balance!). Sure, when you make a mistake and are leaned in, but your foot down but, remember that you were out of position which caused your foot to go down.

Another great example of this is Aaron Gwin’s winning run at Mont Sainte Anne last year. He rides it like it is dry!

Yes, I know Sam Hill put his foot down a lot in the last EWS. You aren’t Sam Hill, he is an exception to the rule. Sam rolls the dice a lot while cornering. As a matter of fact, he did throw away a world championship in 2008 by leaning in and sliding out in the last corner (see video below at 2:39 into the video he leans in starts to slide out) he still just missed winning by .53 of a second!

Sam Hill crashing while way up at the World Championships in 2008

Watch Minnaar, Hart, and Gwin in the mud, they ride like it is dry! You should too if you want to stay upright! Stay in balance and above your bike!

I hope this has helped you understand this vital part of body position. Feel free to comment or ask any questions below.

If you know anyone who could benefit from this feel free to share it!

Tune in next week to find out a few things Greg does and did in the past that you shouldn’t do!

 

 

MTB Body Position

Mountain Bike Body Position, The Fundamental Movement Video Tutorial

Mountain Bike Body Position, The Fundamental Movement

Body position is your riding foundation, and it requires a fair amount of effort and a strong and stable “core” (your core is more than just abdominal muscles, it also includes your lower back muscles, oblique muscles, and hip flexors). Every physical part of riding starts from proper body position and it protects your body.

That brings us to the proper Hip Hinge, something I didn’t learn about until 1999 (5 years into my pro career and 10 years after purchasing my first mtb!). Whether standing and descending or sitting and climbing I have always had a habit of bending at the belly button and rounding my back. Probably the only time I didn’t round my back was when standing and climbing.

Bending at the belly button is a weak, not athletic position that causes us to ride poorly and leads to massive back pain. The Hinge is your power center, it helps you stay centered and neutral and it protects your back.

How to practice the hinge:

  • First practice off the bike, find your hip crease, push slightly back on the crease and lower your chest by hinging.
  • Shoulders back and down, belly button pulled toward your spine, back flat
  • Hold that position, feel it in your hamstrings (if you can’t hinge so your torso is parallel to the ground your hamstrings are really tight! Stretch and roll them out!), feel it in your lower back, it should feel comfortable but require effort.
  • Now, bend at your belly button and compare how that feels, probably weak and painful.
  • Notice that the further you hinge the further forward your chest and head go and the further back your hips go, this is crucial to staying centered! When you bend at the belly, not only does it strain your back and make you weak but it doesn’t automatically keep you centered either.
    mountain bike body position, video tutorial
  • Once you have practiced it and felt it off your bike, find a mellow hill, preferably off trail, on a paved section ideally (whenever you are on a trail you tend to lose focus on what you are practicing as you are now more concerned with staying on the trail!) and practice this both seated and climbing and standing and descending.
  • Focus on exaggerating all the pieces of this like I am in the video. Notice my elbows are even more forward than they need to be and my chest while climbing is much lower than it needs to be for the grade I’m climbing. Exaggeration is a great learning tool, you will usually end up halfway between your old way and the new way, so if you don’t exaggerate you will end halfway on the trail.
  • Once you feel like you have created a “circuit” for your body to follow, take this to a mellow trail and practice. Check out this post on how we learn physical skills: https://wp.me/p49ApH-19s
  • Then take it to increasingly steep hills and notice it gets harder to do as you start becoming more concerned about the trail than what you are practicing.
  • You will find that without a lot of deliberate practice the second you relax and stop thinking about this you will bend from the belly! It takes work.

Go work on this crucial body position piece and have fun.

Please feel free to post any questions are comments and share this with anyone you think could benefit from it.

 

Braking on your mountain bike

Braking on your Mountain Bike, Your Butt is Not Your Third Brake!

There is a lot of dangerous misinformation on the subject of braking on your mountain bike, I will clear some of it up for you. YOUR BUTT is Not Your Third Brake! We were horrified when one of our downhill camp students told us that in the high school league the coaches were teaching students to get their butt way back while braking and using the phrase, “your butt is your third brake”. After explaining to him why this was bad he said, “Wow, that is why my coach broke his corner bone! We were riding down a steep hill with a few ledges and he was braking over one of the ledges and got catapulted over the bars because he was yanked forward.”

As the sport of mountain biking has matured there have been huge changes in both equipment and the understanding of proper riding technique. When I started BetterRide in 1999 there were few people coaching technique and most advice was given by great racers who had created their own techniques. Often, these great racers were not the best bike handlers (simply really fit) and even if they were they weren’t great at explaining how and why a certain technique should be used.

So my task was to find out what worked, why it worked and how to get you to do that technique. Fortunately, I had been doing that for 10 years as a snowboard coach and since my passion for snowboarding had faded I put all of my coaching energy into mountain biking. I sought out the best motorcycle coaches (Danny Walker, Gary Semics and Keith Code) to learn from and have worked with and coached some of the best racers in the world (Greg Minnaar, Marla Streb, Ross Schnell, Lynda Wallenfels, Mitch Ropelato, Chris Van Dine, Cody Kelly, Erica Tingey, Kelli Emmett, Jackie Harmony, Sue Haywood, etc.) As you can imagine I learned a lot over those years and I have often had to rethink the skill I was teaching and rethink my methods for getting you to master that skill. Which is a polite way of saying that some of what I taught was wrong!

One of the skills I was teaching incorrectly was braking. I had a student wash out his front tire and crash doing a braking drill one day in 2004. Although he was doing the drill slightly wrong (he shifted his weight back before he braked, not as he braked) it made me question the idea of getting your butt way back while braking. It turns out that it didn’t jive with my in balance and in control philosophy (the student was obviously neither in control nor in balance when he crashed). I also noticed great racers like Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar were staying centered while braking. So in 2004 I threw out the little drawing that I had been using since 1999 to explain this (A rider with an arrow driving from his butt through his bottom bracket into the ground showing the “physics” of getting your weight back while braking). It was pretty handy and powerful in explaining the “physics” of why we get our weight back while braking! The problem was it doesn’t work that way in real life, on a trail with changing traction conditions, bumps, rocks and small ledges. You need to get low and stay centered while braking!

Forgetting about dangerous misinformation, it is plain instinctual to move away from danger, in this case moving your butt back as you brake. Unfortunately, as you probably know our instincts are terrible mountain bike skills teachers as they are thousands if not millions of years old! They became instincts to help us survive as bipeds in those times (before bikes, motorcycles, and cars). For more info on this read this article: Why Our Instincts Fail Us On Our Mountain Bikes! http://betterride.net/blog/2011/why-our-instinicts/

Braking on your mountain bike

Jon Widen staying centered while descending one of the steepest lines at Whistler!

The first reason we don’t scoot our butt back when braking is the same reason we don’t do it descending (which by the way, most braking is done descending!). It will put us in a non-neutral position and cause us to get out of balance, greatly increasing our chance of flipping over or just crashing. As explained and demonstrated in this video:

The second and third reasons we don’t want to use our butt as the third brake are it will minimize the power of the front brake and put us out of position to do whatever we are braking for (a corner, a rock garden, a loose section, etc.). Which leads us to this interesting braking and cornering question asked by one of our students:

“Just a quick follow-up question.  I have been having a problem getting out of position before cornering, primarily caused by hard braking (especially if there are rough terrain before the corner or if I come in too hot).  As I brake, my body gets behind the center and lower as well, and by the time I start entering the corner, I am out of the “attack” position.  My front wheel feels light, and it becomes difficult to get in the correct cornering body position.

If you have suggestions as to how to properly transition from braking into cornering (especially under hard braking), I would appreciate it.”

Interesting question, I have been working on the same issue, especially last year at Snowmass. The problem stems from getting back while we brake, getting low is good but we need to stay more centered so when we release the brakes and the bike accelerates we are centered and ready to attack the corner.  I was taught the old school, “get way back while you brake” which does help the rear brake a bit but actually hurts the effectiveness of the much more powerful front brake (why maximize 10-25% of your braking power while minimizing 75-90% of it?).  Getting back also puts me out of balance and makes it hard to corner correctly.  My entire focus at the last two races has been to stay centered as I brake, use A LOT of front brake and then let off and attack the corner. Believe me, the entrances to these corners are really rough and brake bumped, but you can still stay centered. When working with Greg Minnaar he really stresses this. It sounds scary but once you do it you realize two things: 1. you can brake in a much shorter distance with more control (more front wheel traction and less front wheel slide) 2. you are in a much better position to corner when you let off the brakes.  Also, remember to only brake to slow down in a straight line (before the corner). This is another reason to practice the braking drills from the camp you took. On a side note one of our fastest students, Cody Kelly told me that he is now wearing out two sets of front brake pads before one set of rear pads! That shows correct braking and is one of the reasons Cody is so fast (he won the Sea Otter Dual Slalom!).

Watch the World Cup downhill races on Redbull.com, you will not see Aaron Gwin, Greg Minnaar, Mitch Ropelato, Steve Peat or pretty much any of the racers getting back as they brake for a corner or challenging section of trail!

As always it comes down to doing the drills we taught you to master the skills, then practicing with purpose and a focus on quality!

A great braking and body position drill you can do to feel what is right and what is wrong with braking body position is the front brake drill. First a warning, if you are not confident descending and using your front brake do not do this (start with the braking drill in our mini-course)! If you are confident, find the steepest semi-loose dirt/hard packed sand hill you are comfortable going down and descend it the way you always have to make sure you are honestly comfortable. Once you have decided you are comfortable approach the hill slowly and gently, slowly apply just your front brake (letting off a bit and adding some rear brake if you get scared/feel out of control) and descend the hill low and centered (drop your seat, hinge at your hips to lower your chest and as your chest lowers your butt will scoot back a hair but you will be able to maintain a “half-push up bend” in your elbows). After descending it once front brake only do it a second time but this time focus on speeding up just a bit and slowing back down (again using just the front brake). Now you should have a great idea of what it feels like to be low, centered and neutral. Now do the descent a third time, this time slowly scoot your book back with the goal of getting your butt way back like a third brake. Well before you get your butt way back you will feel the front wheel start to slide as you start taking weight off it, this should be scary and to correct it move forward towards the centered position. You have now learned that by getting back you greatly compromise how much front brake power you can use, which is scary as on a steep hill your front brake is 90-100% of your braking power. Now, if you still are not convinced, try to do the same descent rear brake only! If it is as steep as the hills we use in our camps to demonstrate this you will not be able to descend in control using just the rear brake (no matter how far back your butt is).

 Focus on being centered, neutral and in balance when descending! Create a railed corner (or two)!