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MTB, The Pros Use It, Why Maybe You Shouldn’t

MTB, The Pros Use It, Why Maybe You Shouldn’t

Just because an mtb pro (or a bunch of pros) uses a piece of equipment doesn’t mean you should make the same choice. Why not? Well, there are several reasons and I will give you some excellent examples.

A student of mine emailed me accusing me of being crazy for riding plus-sized tires. His argument was that Jared Graves and Richie Rude (two World Champion Enduro racers) tried plus tires and didn’t like them. My first question to my student was, can you corner as well and as confidently as World Champion racers? To which he replied, “well, I’m much better after your camp and I have been doing the cornering drills but no, I’m not that good.” Well, plus tires give me the confidence to corner much faster and aggressively than narrower tires I told him. Wouldn’t you corner faster if you knew you had Way More Traction?

Jared Graves cornering like the champ he is!

So, reason one why not doing what a top mtb pro does is, you are not Jared Graves! Don’t you think Jared Graves can corner better than you and that he rides with more confidence than you? So, Jared doesn’t need the extra traction from the plus-sized tires but, you sure could benefit from that extra traction and confidence!

Reason two why not doing what a top mtb pro does is, change feels weird, maybe if Jared and Richie spent more time on plus they would like them! It took me seven days of riding to get used to 812mm wide bars! My friends were joking me and asking me how much I was going to cut them down. After three days they still felt weird to me and was thinking I would probably cut them down but was smart enough to give them a few more tries.

Reason three comes from working with Greg Minnaar (three-time world champion and three-time world cup overall champion). Who do you think knows more about bike handling and bike setup, me or Greg Minnaar? Well, let me tell you about three separate conversations with Greg.

The first happened in a camp I was teaching with Greg about two weeks after getting my 812mm wide bars (in 2011 I think). I was explaining to the students that the ideal bar width (for control and good body position) was between 32″ (812mm) and 29″ (740mm) depending on height and width of your shoulders. Greg just laughed and said, “no one needs bars over 30″ wide. Well, Greg’s signature bar from ENVE is 808mm wide and he runs them uncut. It took Greg a while to come around but now his bars are much wider than 30”!

Greg Minnaar

Greg Minnaar’s 808mm wide bars

A few years before that, when Greg moved to Santa Cruz bikes from Honda, I told Greg is large V10 was way too short for him. Greg just laughed and said, “who’s the world champion here?” Well, the next year Santa Cruz lengthed the reach measurements on the V10s by 20mm. A year or two later they came out with an XL designed for Greg and Steve Peat (both of whom are 6’3″) that had a 25mm longer reach than the large. Then, two years ago they made an XXL that was another 25mm longer in reach and Greg added a 10mm headset spacer to that! Greg loved the XXL and it seemed to bring new life into his career. Greg’s bike has grown by three sizes since he told me his large was fine for him and I said it was too short.

Then there was the time I told Greg that I really wanted a 29r downhill bike! Greg couldn’t stop laughing at that idea! Well, now Greg rides an XXL 29r V10.

Greg Minnaar’s XXL 29r v10

Reason three is, pros are afraid of change! Ever heard the saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Well, think about it, if you are a multi-time World Champion and you are used to your current bike, why change to something different? It wasn’t until Greg started getting beat by racers on longer bikes that he decided to experiment.

Reason four, often a top pro racer is paid to use certain equipment. Greg has won racers on bikes from Haro, Orange, Honda and Santa Cruz. He gets paid quite a bit of money to do that and he might be riding a prototype, not what you can buy.

Do your own research and TEST (for at least a week!) various changes in equipment to see what works best for you. Keep an eye on what the pros are doing as you can learn from that but, what the top pros are doing isn’t always the best thing for you to be doing!

I hope this has helped you. Any stories about a pro doing something weird/different that worked for you? That didn’t work for you? Let us know below.

Feel free to share this with anyone you know who could benefit from it.

Create your best ride yet,

Gene

MTB Foot Position, Video Tutorial

Mountain bike foot placement is a skill that will make you smoother and give you better balance. Check out my video below and then read my deeper break down of this important skill.

I can’t stress enough how important this is! Greg Minnaar and Aaron Gwin have their cleats mounted like mine (well, I copied them actually) for the optimum combination of power, balance, and smoothness on the bike. Please do the jumping drill and realize how bad it is to ride flat footed! Again, I like both pedal types for more on flat pedals vs. clips read this: https://wp.me/p49ApH-1ci

I took a balance class from Jim Klopman and Janet Miller (authors of a great book on balance, Balance is Power and owners of SlackBow, a balance training facility in Park City, UT) and I learned a lot (like my balance is decent but can get much. much better with practice, more on that in a future blog article) and a few things that I knew were reinforced. Both Jim and Janet really stressed that a big component of balance is being on the ball of your foot. I specifically asked if that was important on your bike’s pedals and they said something to the effect of, “if you want to be in balance it does!”

Famous motocross coach Gary Baily stresses being on the balls of your feet to be smooth on a dirt bike with 12″ of suspension travel! The jumping drill sums it up well. I have tested this on my bike many times and honestly, you lose ALL of your smoothness when you are standing on your arch. At places as rough as Bootleg Canyon or South Mountain, it makes riding downhill on rough trails nearly impossible.

Some riders tend to ride with their toes angled out a bit and others with their toes in. I think this is more about how your body is built and doesn’t affect performance.

When coasting you want the pedals relatively level and in the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock position. Often, on flat pedals, riders will drop the heel of their front foot a bit and raise the heel of their trailing foot creating a “cradle” to help keep their feet from sliding on the pedals. Of course, some good, 5.10 shoes and a good pair of flat pedals like the Canfield Brothers Crampons really help! Many, many great riders have told me that they drop their heels, other than dropping the heal on their front foot sometimes I rarely see them doing this, I think it feels that way to them (and we certainly don’t want our front heel up!)

Spend some time on mellow descents, or better yet, paved mellow descents focusing on keeping your weight on the balls of your feet! Your body, rims, and shocks will thank you!

Now, go out and practice! Let us know how this has affected your riding by posting below. Feel free to share this article with anyone you feel could benefit from it.

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide?

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide? As someone who preaches that a short stem and wide bars will give you much better handling on a mountain bike (both climbing and descending) I get asked that question a lot. The short answer is, of course your mountain bike handlebars can be too wide, but most likely your’s aren’t wide enough!

The reasons we have been preaching about wide bars since 1999 are that they simply give you more stability, more leverage to fight sudden jerks to the side and more leverage for cornering. A quick baseline to start from is to do a push up and experiment with hand width and find out where you feel most stable and powerful. From this starting point go out a bit wider and start working your way in. What we are looking for is for your forearms to slope outward slightly from your hands to your elbows when you have lowered your chest in a “half push-up” position (see photo below). At the widest your forearms should go straight up to your elbows when in this position.

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Correct Width

This width will give you the optimum amount of control. From this position you can absorb shock, keep the wheels on the ground over a small drop, resist twisting/jerking forces and power you way trough a corner by getting enough counter pressure leverage to give you the right lean angle.

Unfortunately as this trend has caught on I have seen a few riders who are too short (or narrow shouldered, short armed) for the widest bars made and they look like this photo below:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Wide!

I saw a lot of young riders at Whistler last summer with a setup that looked like that. Really hard to control the bike when you are stretched out like that! Those riders need to cut their bars down a bit!

Most riders, especially cross country/endurance oriented riders run bars on the narrow side (perhaps because of tradition?) and they look like this:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Narrow

This also severely hampers control (really twitchy with no leverage to fight sudden bar jerks, and no leverage for cornering pressure) and collapses the lungs a bit making it hard to breathe! It is more aerodynamic though, which unfortunately doesn’t help much at the speeds you travel at on your mountain bike and aerodynamics are not worth sacrificing control over.

The widest bars I have found are the SMAC innovations SW820 Moto Bars ( http://smacinnovations.com/bars.php , 820mm wide) and at 6’3″ I run these uncut on both my xc and dh bikes. BetterRide coach and one the best technical riders I know, Andy Winohradsky is 5’6″ and runs 30.5″ wide bars on both of his bikes. We put on camps all over the country and have not yet found a trail with trees too narrow for these bars. The tightest trees I have found are on the East Coast, in Texas and in the Mid West. In some of these places there were two to four spots an hour where I had to slow down and wiggle through some tight trees. Four, even six times an hour is no reason to compromise your handling though, I would rather you have the most control 99% of your ride and have to slow down a bit a few times an hour than be out of control for 99% of your ride and be able to go faster over about 20 feet every hour! If you honestly live in an area with more than six tree gaps less than 32″ wide in an hour ride, cut your bars!

There is not yet a scientifically proven perfect mountain bike handlebar width as there are so many variables; height, shoulder width, arm length, stem length, top tube length, reach measurement, etc. The easiest way to find out what is right for you is to start at the widest width available to you (or that you feel is appropriate, if you are 5’1″ no need to start at 820mm!) and ride at that width (on a trail without narrow tree gaps at first!) and then keep moving the grips in a bit until your arms look close the “correct” photo above and you feel like you have the most control (not necessarily what feels best as what often feels best is what you are used to which may not be correct).

 

Mountain Bike Cockpit For Riders With Back Issues and/or Tight Hips

Mountain Bike Cockpit For Riders With Back Issues and/or Tight Hips

Most mountain bikers are tenacious but riders who refuse to quit or even start riding with major back issues like fused vertebrates, degenerative disk disease, bulging disks, etc. really inspire me! I was fortunate enough to coach just such a rider this weekend, Skeeter is a 57 year old mountain biker who has been riding dirt bikes for years and has degenerative disk disease. His cockpit set up is really tall which will compromise the bikes handling a bit but it is way better than not riding or riding a bike set up for performance that makes your back hurt.  A 58 year old woman with four fused vertebrae that I coached in a camp with us in 2003  had her bike set up similarly and I explained she might have to walk a few steep climbs (because it is nearly impossible on a steep hill to keep your weight centered with your bars 3-4 inches higher than your saddle) but those climbs are only a small fraction of her riding miles. At least she is out riding! The fact that she was starting to ride at 58 blew me away, she never had a bike as a kid even!

Here is Skeeter’s cockpit setup for his back issues:

Skeeter's Mountain Bike Cockpit For His Bad Back

Skeeter’s Mountain Bike Cockpit For His Bad Back

 

This will compromise the bikes handling a bit (because it is nearly impossible when climbing a steep hill to keep your weight centered with your bars 3-4 inches higher than your saddle and your bars will be too high descending putting you in a tall and upright position) but it is way better than not riding or riding a bike set up for performance that makes your back hurt worse. See these articles on body position for more on that: http://betterride.net/blog/2011/mtb-skills-tip-w-pic-technical-climbing-wandy-winohradsky/ and http://betterride.net/blog/2010/mountain-bike-desending-body-position-101-video-demonstration/

Great to see riders of all shapes, sizes and with various performance reducing injuries/conditions still out riding and having fun on the trail!