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Mountain Biking Skills Tips Are Worthless – How to Make Them Work!

I often say, “knowledge is worthless without action” and after writing my post on instincts I realized a great way to explain it. This is the follow up article to my original article on instincts, if you haven’t already I recommend reading it first (http://betterride.net/?p=1837 ) .

There are a million riders out there eager to help their fellow riders, but few are qualified. I will use a couple of common tips that are good, correct tips as examples.

One tip you hear a lot is “look ahead”, which is correct and vital to riding well. While there is nothing wrong with this advice it does a rider little good. Knowing something and actually doing it are too different things entirely! So knowing to look ahead is unlikely to help as that knowledge is in your smart, thinking brain, while action comes from your “reptilian brain” which doesn’t think, but simply acts according to instinct. Have you ever driven home and not remembered any of the drive? That is because you are not using your thinking, conscious brain. You didn’t think, “put on my blinker, slow down, stop, look both ways and turn right on 18th street”, you just did it! Skills need to be the same way!

Fear (and I don’t mean terror, just not wanting to crash or slide out) causes your survival instincts to kick in. Did millions of years of being hunter and gatherers and then farmers teach the correct survival instincts for mountain biking? No, have you ever entered a turn, felt like you were going too fast and hit your breaks in the middle of a turn? Well your survival instinct just made things a lot worse, by breaking you decreased your traction, greatly shifted your weight and decreased your lean angle, all making the problem worse.

So, the only way to make “skills tips” work is to make them instinctual. To do this we need 3 things: First, an understanding of how the skill works (how can I look ahead but still make it through all of those rocks?) Once we understand how the skill works we need to trust the skill. Just believing what someone said isn’t enough, we need proof that it works (and proof that it works in all situations). Now that we understand and trust the skill we need the skill to become instinctual which is often tough, right now our instincts tell us to do the opposite (such as look down when we know we are supposed to look ahead). Test this, go ride a rocky trail and see how often you catch yourself looking less than 10 feet ahead. Depending on your speed you should be looking 20-80 feet ahead. To make a skill instinctual we must do drills! Not just random drills, drills that are designed to get you to do the skill correctly and produce a new instinct or “habit “.

A second great tip is to stay centered on your mountain bike with your weight on the pedals when descending. Makes sense, works great, but is very hard to do. From my instincts post: “Moving your rear end way back on a descent feels good, you are moving away from danger! Skiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers instinctively do this, yet it puts them in an out of balance, non-neutral (once shifted/leaned back we can only move or react in one direction, forward) out of control position. Despite all the logic that says we should be centered, without practicing staying centered and neutral we will naturally creep back on descents.” To stop this bad instinct of getting way back and start riding centered you must first understand why we should stay centered and how to do it (if you don’t know this please sign up for our free mini-course which explains this in detail with videos). Once you understand why and how to do it you must remove fear from the equation so you can practice perfectly. This can be done just riding down a paved hill and focusing on weight on the pedals. Once you are used to having you weight on the pedals and it feels comfortable and normal on a paved road start practicing it on mellow trails and work you way up to the toughest trails you can find (and you will realize that the steeper and tougher the trail the more you instinctively want to move back). Of course there is way more to descending body position than just where your weight is, but this is a huge head start!

If you have ever watched the best athletes in the world practice, this is what they do. Day after day, even when they have mastered a skill they continue to do drills because if they stop the old instincts will take over. All top athletes spend more time doing drills than actually playing/doing their sport. I don’t expect you to do that, but what percentage of your riding time do you spend doing structured drills designed to help you master a specific skill?

The entire BetterRide skills progression is based on explaining a skill, demonstrating the skill and then having you master the skill with carefully designed drills. This is the only way to learn to actually do something correctly.  Ask any top ski racer, tennis player, football player, martial artist, boxer, wrestler, MMA fighter or basketball player and they will tell you the same. Michael Jordan needed more drills than all his high school peers as he was a lousy basketball player his freshman and sophomore years. Jerry Rice set and holds nearly all receiving records in the NFL, yet he was not close to being the fastest receiver in the sport. Jerry Rice’s training and practice is legendary, he would practice running patterns by himself after practice ended. He was determined to make all the movements, skills and patterns instinctual.

Is More Power Making You Mountain Bike Slower?!

One of the Huge, Little Things When Mountain Bike Riding!

While riding some steep technical climbs today I realized an interesting skill that I use quite often on my mountain bike yet have trouble with on my dirt bike (which has a lot of power!).  Although I am a professional mountain bike racer I am an intermediate (at best) motorcycle rider but both sports require a lot of skill when climbing steep and loose trails.

More power! Isn’t that what us men are always searching for?! The more power I have the faster I climb (and sprint!), right? Well, not so fast power boy. Often power can be our biggest weakness. Sometimes we power through sections on power alone, so we make the section but we weren’t particularly efficient and we got lucky, we could not consistently rely on power alone to make that section. Other times power is what slows us down or stops us. Loose and/or technical sections (especially climbs and switchbacks) require precision. The precision I am talking about isn’t line choice precision (which at .5-2 miles an hour is much more important than it is when going faster but not the topic of this post) but what in motorcycling is called throttle control, for mountain biking we will call it power control.

I was climbing a tight, steep, loose and way off camber switchback today. At about the 3/4 point around I almost came to a complete stop on nearly the top of the “berm” (banked part of the turn). Years ago I would of just put all of my power into at this point and would of had a 50/50 chance of making it. I might have flew through, might have spun the rear tire and stalled or slid out. Today, I realized I was slightly off balance (a little leaned down the hill) and because of the off camber and loose conditions I could not power through. So I stalled, shifted my weight up the hill a bit and then eased on the pedal pressure and crawled through the switchback, but I made it! This was situation where patience and a couple of key core skills (trackstanding, body position, switchback line choice and vision) really paid off.

This switchback was approximately number 10 of at least thirty switchbacks in about 25 straight minutes of granny gear climbing. It really got me thinking about power control (and how bad I am at it on my motorcycle!) and I started really paying attention to this seemingly little detail for the rest of the climb. I was blown away but how much modulation I used in my power out put for the rest of the climb! One of the big goals of climbing that we teach is to apply constant, steady power to the rear tire (not sudden surges that can break the tire free) but I never realized that on some climbs (like this one) it isn’t steady. It is carefully modulated power, accelerating or increasing power as much as I could with breaking loose, slowing or backing off the power when necessary then increasing power again.

This precision of power output  is easy to explain but it takes years of deliberate practice (not just random riding but really focusing on the skill) to master. It is mastered when you can subconsciously adjust you power output so that you can make all but the trickiest steep climbs and switchbacks. Which like so many skills means you will never master it! One day you clean all the switchbacks the next ride you miss one or two.

The fact that you can constantly improve with deliberate practice and drills but never completely master (where no matter how challenging the trail you never make a mistake) mountain biking is what keeps me riding! The challenge is always there no matter how good you get!

So go out and practice your power output and if you don’t have the core skills wired (remember, we do a lot of things wrong because they are intuitive, humans intuitively move away from danger, which on mountain bikes, skis and snowboards means we instinctively move or lean back away from the downhill. While instinctive it puts us in an out of balance, non-neutral, out of control position in all of those sports*) make the best invest you will eve make in your riding and lean the core skills (and dills to master those core skills) in one of our three day skills progression camps.

*Please checkout this article on intuition and instinct. http://betterride.net/blog/2011/why-our-instinicts/

Five BetterRiders Selected for U.S. Team for MTB Worlds!

Congratulations to the following BetterRide athletes who have made the US Team for the World MTB Championships!

In the pro downhill Jackie Harmony (who is BetterRide athlete and coach!) earned her automatic nomination by virtue of being ranked 11th in the UCI rankings! Mitch Ropelato was chosen for the team for his high placings at many of the World Cup races in his first year as a pro!

Jackie Harmony in second place with fellow US Team Memeber Jill Kitner in first and BetterRider Julie Olsen in 3rd. 2011 Tiple Dip

In the Jr. Cat 1 Downhill Trevor Trinkino was the fastest among a qualified pool of athletes at Colorado Crankworx to earn his automatic nomination. Christian Wright was selected to the team for his overall performances so fa this season.

In 4 cross, Lear Miller was selected as one of three men to represent the US.

Making the US Team is quite an honor, congratulations! Create a great World Championship and we will be cheering for you! For the whole story click on this link: http://www.usacycling.org/news/user/story.php?id=6910

Jen Hanks, BetterRide MTB Student of the Month

BetterRider of the Month! A new feature I am adding to introduce you to some our students that I am inspired by!

The July 2011 BetterRider of the Month is Jen Hanks. Jen took a camp from us last October in Fruita and her life has changed a lot in the last 9 months.  A few months after the camp Jen faced a huge challenge and overcame it in stride. Her courage, passion and dedication to the sport inspire me. She keeps smiling, riding and making her life better! Here is her story, I hope she inspires you as much as she inspires me.

Jen showing great body position, May 5, 2011

Jen Hanks bio:

I grew up in the Midwest and started mountain biking while attending the University of Iowa. Mountain biking originally served as a substitute to my childhood sport of Hunters/Jumpers (Equestrian). In 1999, I moved to Salt Lake City for graduate school and the beautiful Wasatch mountains. Upon completing my Masters in Occupational Therapy, I upgraded to pro in 2006. Originally my focus was on cross-country distance races, however after having the opportunity to compete in the TransAlp Challenge stage race in 2007, my passion changed to ultra-endurance events.

 

Some cycling highlights include:

2007 XC Utah State Champion Pro

7th Co-ed duo (with my husband) 2007 TransAlp Challenge

3rd overall solo women: 2009 Breck Epic

2nd overall OpenWomen: 2010 Lumberjack 100

 

In January 2011, I found a small lump in my breast. I thought I was too young, too healthy, and too fit to have breast cancer, however my pathology report revealed Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Since my diagnosis I have undergone multiple surgeries to remove the cancer from my breast as well as chemotherapy. At this point, I have no evidence of disease!

July 19, 2011: 4.5 weeks after her last chemotherapy treatment.

I am very proud of my cycling achievements, my career, and most recently my blog about my story as an athlete with cancer. (www.athletefightscancer.blogspot.com). I hope that I can educate women to do self-breast exams to aide in early detection and inspire women to stay fit and healthy during treatment. I also hope to show that a return to high-level athletic performance is possible after breast cancer treatment. Look for my return in 2012!

I (Gene) will be checking her blog for updates and look forward to hearing of her continued successes both on and off the bike!