Posts

Mountain Bike Descending Switchbacks Line Choice

Mountain Bike Descending Switchbacks Line Choice by BetterRide Certified Coach Andy Winohradsky

Hi everybody! Coach Andy, here. I’ve put a few riding-tip videos together, hope you like them…

This video deals with proper line choice while descending switchbacks. What you’ll see in the video is that it is very important to use the whole trail in order to put the bike in the correct spot (take the correct line) if you want to successfully descend tight switchbacks. This applies to all levels of riders. Very often I’ll see “good” riders run into problems on switchbacks simply because their initial line selection was off. Sometimes this is a result of being in a hurry: trying to go fast without being patient enough to slow down and do things right; sometimes riders get lazy (this often happens when fatigue sets in); but more often than not, most riders simply don’t understand the degree to which they need to get away from the main line, use the whole trail, and properly set up for an extremely sharp corner on a very steep (usually) section of trail.

Unfortunately, most riders are guilty of following the main line down the trail or the “people’s line” as I jokingly refer to it in camps. The main line is usually the path of least resistance, however, most of the time it is the path of least resistance ONLY for what is immediately in front of us on the trail. It isn’t formed by taking large chunks of trail, or what is further down the trail, into consideration. And, again unfortunately, this is how most riders see and ride the trail: looking for solutions for ten or twenty-foot sections of trail at a time instead of looking for solutions to sixty or even a hundred foot sections at a time. What’s important is the point where you want to end up on the trail and finding a solution to get there, hence, setting up with the proper line at the beginning of the switchback (in this case) in order to get to where you need to be at the end of the switchback. Also, proper line choice, as it is addressed in the video, obviously only works if it is possibly to get the bike to that particular part of the trail. If there is an obstacle in the way that is unridable then you have to look for a different solution/different line (usually deviating as little as possible from the optimum line). However, the way most trails are built and maintained these days (for better or worse), this line choice is almost always possible in switchbacks.

As I state in the video, proper line choice is just one part of descending switchbacks that has to be done correctly in order to have success out there on the trail. Switchbacks are tough and require a rider to do everything almost perfectly in order to get down them in one piece. We spend about an hour on this topic in our full instruction camps and cover body position, weight placement, vision, line choice, braking, etc… all the aspects of riding, how they relate to descending switchbacks, and how they need to be applied to ensure success on these difficult trail features. Obviously, we can’t give you that type/volume of information in a couple of minutes via the internet in a short video…

But, hope you do enjoy the video. Hope it helps you out… I’ll have plenty more so check back soon!

Skeeter and his cockpit set up for his bad back.

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!

xc-thumb

Mountain Bike Braking, it is Still Riding! How not to Die on Your MTB!

Wow, the dangerous concepts well meaning people and unqualified coaches share with other riders! Mountain bike braking happens while riding you bike! That means the same body position that puts you in control and in balance while riding should be used while braking too! We stress being in a balanced, centered and neutral position while descending and we need to maintain that while braking. As a matter of fact, because of braking forces (remember the brakes on our light weight bike, not our much heavier body) it is even more important to stay balanced, centered and neutral while braking.

Mountain Bike Braking

This poster is terrifying! Mountain Bike Braking and riding should not look like this!

Since applying our brakes slows the bike but not necessarily our body we have to stay centered to keep from being pitched forward! If we get our weight back or as some coaches say, “use your butt as the third brake” we end up in an off balance, non-neutral position setting us up for a host of bad things to happen to us. Think about why you brake while riding, usually one or a combination of three things; you are approaching a corner and need to slow down, you are approaching a more difficult section of trail (such as a steeper or rockier section) and want to slow down to feel more in control or you need to stop, sometimes in a hurry! Do you want to be in the position in the photo as you enter a corner or a tougher section of trail? Not if you want to live to ride again tomorrow! Remember the video tutorial/blog post on descending body position?  If not or for a refresher click this link:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT

Here is just the video but please go the blog post and read more about the why’s and how’s of doing this.

Well that getting “yanked down” effect from your straight arms will be multiplied by your weight wanting to keep going forward as your bike slows and you will get pitched over the bars, with authority! A high school mtb coach I know took the “butt is your third brake advice” and broke is collarbone as he was braking and his front wheel went down a 20 inch ledge on semi-steep descent. Had he stayed centered and neutral he would have been fine!

Almost as bad as flipping over is having your front wheel slide out! There is little to no weight on your front tire if your butt is back over the rear tire so it has little to no traction! Not only is there no weight on the front tire you are probably a little out of balance which could cause your front wheel to slide to one side and your chest to violently hit the ground on the other side. This why many people are afraid of their front brake, sliding front tires are scary!

Lastly, with all your weight over the rear tire you are minimizing the weight on the front tire, thereby reducing the effectiveness of your POWERFUL front brake! You plain can’t stop in as short a distance with your weight back as you can when you are centered.

How to stay centered and neutral while braking:

1. First master riding in the centered and neutral position (in the video tutorial linked above and taught much more deeply in our skills progressions).

2. Ride in the centered and neutral position and when braking stay there! Do this by fighting your body’s forward motion. Do this by “sinking into your bike” drop your rear end and chest to lower your centered of gravity, dropping your heels so you can push against the pedal spindles and using the “heel” of your hands to push against the bars to resist the forward motion of your body. Having a dropper post really helps you do this by getting that darn seat out of your way.

3. Review the braking part of our free mini-course and remember that your front brake is 70-100% of your stopping power. Use that front brake, become friends with it! Do the braking drill from the mini-course and learn how much pressure you can apply to each brake and learn to modulate those brakes.

4. Look at the “Bad Clinic” photo above and then watch World Cup Downhill racing on Redbull dot com and watch to see if you can find Aaron Gwin, Greg Minnaar or Steve Peat in that position before any steep rocky section or corner. You won’t find them in that position as you can’t even qualify much less win a World Cup if you are riding out of balance like that.

Mountain bike braking is all about staying balanced, centered and neutral. We do need to fight the forward motion of our body but we do that by resisting, not by getting our weight back! Go out and enjoy a more in balance and in control ride!

drops and jumps on your mountain bike

Hit Big Drops and Jumps on Your Mountain Bike!

Disclaimer, drops and jumps on your mountain bike can be dangerous, make sure you are wearing the appropriate safety gear and have the basic skills I mention below wired before practicing them. Always practice with a friend in case you do get hurt!

A common email and/or phone call we get starts off like this, “Hey guys, I’m a really skilled mountain biker, I don’t need your whole curriculum,  I just need to learn how to do bigger drops and hit jumps better.” So, since that is a common question I will give you a detailed answer so you can got out and hit those big drops and jump better!

Drops and jumps on your mountain bike are not really hard so I have to ask this question to those emailing us claiming to be experts who simply can’t do drops, “If you are a really skilled rider, why can’t you hit big drops and jump better?” I mean isn’t that what skilled riders do? Could it be that you are not as skilled as you think you are? Maybe your ego is getting in your way? I mean you basically said, “I can ride really easy trails well but I struggle with more difficult trails” but at the same time you called yourself a skilled rider! I’m confused! Seriously, not trying to be a jerk, just being realistic. Maybe you feel drops and jumps are separate skills from “riding skills” as most/all of the trails you ride don’t have jumps are bigger drops. You may be saying, “Gene how can I become good at drops and jumps if I never encounter them on trail?” The simple answer is to become a better rider (on the ground).

Drops and Jumps on Your Mountain Bike

Gene Hamilton hitting the 48 foot gap jump at Sol Vista, 2009 US Mountain Bike National Championships

So, how does a 47 year old rider like me (who doesn’t have near the “nerve” he used to have) hit 10-30 foot drops and 48 foot gap jumps? Through coaching and lots of deliberate practice I am very good at the basic skills of body position and vision, not near the most skilled rider in the world but good enough at the basics to hit this 48 foot gap when I was 43. Not saying that to impress you but to impress upon you the value of core skills as it doesn’t take “balls” to do a jump like this, it takes confidence in your core, basic skills. We teach how to do drops and jumps in our camps without doing them (we do do small drops). Which often leads to this question, “How can you teach me to jump with no with no jump?”. Which I fully understand it would seem at first thought that, “you need a jump to teach someone to jump. duh!” On further thought you might realize that that is like teaching someone Karate while they are fighting! Remember “wax on, wax off”?, you first need to not only understand the basic skills required to do a drop or jump but also be really good at doing them!

Drops and jumps are pretty easy actually, you just ride off them, in balance and in control. This is something any “skilled rider” can do! The 15-25 foot drop below is no harder than going off a curb correctly. It was a lot scarier as the penalty for failure is pretty massive but it really didn’t take much skill. Here is how to do a big drop like “Mushroom Rock”.

Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton Mushroom rock

Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton dropping Mushroom Rock

First learn to ride in control, in balance and in a neutral position why looking ahead 100% of the time (and get so good at it that you do this all the time, even on the steepest, scariest mountain bike trail, drills are the best way to do this). See this video tutorial on body position for help with being in balance, in control and in a neutral position: http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT  . This is something any “skilled rider” should already being doing but if you go to a place like Whistler you will realize that 75-95% of the riders are not doing this. Those riders are easy to spot as they just look a little off balance, they aren’t smooth, they are stiff, their head is moving a lot (the head of rider in balance and neutral almost never moves), herky-jerky is a great description of the majority of mountain bikers. If your view keeps changing, your head is moving or you are getting “eyeball jiggle” you are not in balance nor in control.

Once you can ride in balance and in control baby step your way up by using the drop techniques we teach (As a matter of fact they are barely techniques, we teach them on the first day of our skills progression and 8 to 78 year old students have an excellent grasp of them by the third day) on smaller drops (such as a curb) and working your way up to bigger drops. What are these techniques? Well, at speed, above 12-15 miles an hour you simply ride off the drop in balance (all your weight on your pedals). Going below 12 miles an hour you will have to do a little baby manual or coaster wheelie off the edge of the drop. I say little because you aren’t actually trying to lift the front wheel, your goal is to simply keep the front from dropping quickly. On drops with a flat landing your goal is too decrease the angle of incident that you hit the ground at (and land in a centered, neutral position looking ahead, ready for the next thing the trail throws at you). This means slightly front wheel first or both wheels landing at the same time is best.

Once you are consistently landing both wheels at the same time, in balance, in control and looking ahead off a curb find small drops with a steep downhill landing (you can often find these in the local elementary school playground or if you are fortunate enough to have a bike park near by at the bike park) so you get used to landing on a “transition” (which will ease you back to earth, much less jarring than a flat landing). A big focus should be looking past the landing! Must crashes on drops don’t actually happen on the drop, they happen after the drop! On a drop with a downhill landing your are going to being going much faster when you land than when you take off so knowing what the trail looks like after the drop and looking where you want to go after the drop (not at your landing) is very important. Also, as you work you way to bigger drops that will have a blind landing (where you can’t see the landing before you take off) make sure your thoroughly inspect the landing and make a plan of where you want to go after the landing before you do the drop!

What “technique/s” or skills am I using in the photo above? None, I am simply rode off the edge in control, in balance and in a neutral position. Then I stayed in control and in balance throughout.

Jumps are pretty similar, at least the jumps you will be learning on, steep “dirt jumps” are not the best place to learn. Find table top jumps (no gap to clear) without steep take offs to practice on. Once you have found a safe jump to practice on (safe is a tricky word as any jump can be dangerous, wear your helmet and safety gear) set your bike up for jumping by stiffing your suspension a bit and slowing the rebound (so it doesn’t “buck” you on the take off or landing). Then simply ride off that jump slowly in balance, in control and in a neutral position. Pretend there is a clear piece of plexiglass under you and you aren’t actually leaving the ground, just riding over an arc. Focus on how would stay centered and neutral as you ride over that arc and look past the landing (where you want to go) once you take off. Once you are comfortable slowly increase your speed until you are landing both wheels at the same time or slightly front wheel first on the “backside”.  That is really all there is to it but many people get hurt jumping as they aren’t doing those seemingly simple skills. Mountain bikers get hurt jumping when they ride off balance, ride off the back of their bike, try to do something as they leave the jump (like yank up on the bars or pedals), ride stiff and let their suspension buck them, aren’t looking where they should be and don’t “baby-step” their way up to bigger jumps.  There are advanced jumping skills that I didn’t mention because you need to master these basic skills first!

Hitting bigger drops and jumps on your mountain bike isn’t hard, you just need to have a few core skills wired. Once you are consistently riding in control, in balance, in a neutral position and looking ahead you are ready to practice small drops (start with a curb and baby step your way up to bigger drops as you feel comfortable). Jumping is a little more dangerous but if you find the right table top jump and start slow you figure it out.

Create a great ride,

Gene