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Andy Cornering

Mountain Bike Better By Riding and Racing More? Advice from an Olympic Champion!

Can you Mountain bike better by riding and/or racing more? I sure thought so and it worked for a few years! I realize you might not have any competitive ambitions but bet you want to ride at your best. Wouldn’t you like to confidently ride the toughest trails in your area? In Whistler and Moab? This article is for all riders who would like to mountain bike better! Some Advice from an Olympic champion with way less riding and racing time than the competitors she beat!

Mountain Bike Better With Skills!

Mountain Bike Better With Skills!

When I first started mountain bike racing in 1993 I wanted to race every weekend as that is what everyone said would make me faster and better. It kind of worked, I turned pro two years later and I had gotten much faster. Then, the strangest thing happened, I felt like over my first three years in the pro class I barely improved, I hit a plateau despite riding and racing as much as I could. I realized one of the biggest things holding me back was cornering, no one entered corners faster than me but many racers exited a lot faster. So I asked more experienced, faster pro racers how to corner faster and they said things like, “let off the brakes you wuss!” which really didn’t help. There had to be an actual technique (like in ski racing and snowboard racing) but no one could teach me and after 10 years of riding at that point I had not managed to just stumble upon the technique. So in my first five years of riding my “skills” seemed to grow by leaps and bounds then just stopped growing in the next five years. This was frustrating!

I which I read this article, “The Secret of Mikaela Shiffrin’s Success: Always Practice, Never Compete” when I started riding:  http://www.slate.com/blogs/five_ring_circus/2014/02/21/mikaela_shiffrin_sochi_the_secret_to_the_18_year_old_s_success_was_to_practice.html So Mikaela’s advice is to practice more, not ride more!

Turns out, riding everyday does make you “better” at first then you quickly reach a plateau as you reach the limit of the habits you have developed. As stated in the books Outliers, The Talent Code, Talent is Over Rated and Mastery just doing something over and over again doesn’t make us better. What you need is deliberate practice! Deliberate practice is the opposite of going out and riding out in the wilderness, it is short, focused practice sections with a focus, making mistakes, figuring out why/what mistake you made, correcting it, practice with purpose. This is done in all sports by being coached in the proper, often non-intuitive skills and then doing drills to master those skills! So if  you want to ride at your best follow Mikaela advice, invest in solid coaching and practice your way to success. Then you will be able to confidently ride the toughest trails in your area, in Whistler and Moab!

Sure, Mikaela’s competitors probably had a lot more fun (and possibly more frustration) over the last few years but who is having more fun now?! Practice can be fun and confidently riding trails that once scared you is really fun!

Mountain bike myths

BetterRide Coach Chip assisting students in a cornering drill designed to ingrain the right habits.

Don’t make the mistake I made and ingrain bad habits when you could be creating new, correct, in balance and in control techniques! Start practicing more and riding trail just a little less and your quality of ride will greatly improve!

 

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

 

mountain bike student cornering

Stop Setting Mountain Biking Goals, Do This Instead!

It’s the time of year where you have probably set mountain biking goals and are working towards them, this will help you exceed those goals. Wow, as a coach I never thought I would tell you to stop setting goals! Turns out if you want to improve your mountain biking there may be a better way than goal setting. Whether you want finally clean that root filled climb, ride with more confidence or win a big race this article will help you lay the ground work to do just that.

I recently read an article that talked about not setting goals but creating and doing processes that allow you to grow in the direction you want to. Years ago in the book Body Mind Mastery Dan Millman taught me something similar, to set my goals, write them down and focus on being the best I can be everyday. Focusing on being the best you can be helps keep you in the moment (instead of focusing on the goal which could be months or even years away) and if you honestly do this you are likely to exceed your goals. Also, by being the best you can be each day you will enjoy each day more, not feeling like you are sacrificing today for tomorrow. This really helps if your goals change because your life changes or you get injured. As your goal changes or can’t be met do to injury you won’t be thinking, “Darn! I wasted all that time” because you will have enjoyed every moment. This is similar to the processes idea but you still set a goal.

Here is a quick personal example of focusing on a goal, in 1999 (before reading Body Mind Mastery) my goal was to win the UCI World Masters Championship (WMC for short) and that was my complete focus for a year, from the fall of 1998 to the competition on September 4, 1999. By total focus I mean I quit my dream job coaching the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Snowboard Team, moved to Boulder, Colorado (so I could train more on bike in the winter), lived off my saving and eventually my credit card (hard to work all day and train hard enough to win a World Championship), went to bed early every night so I could recover from my training (so I had no social life) and every time time I did intervals I thought, “this sucks, I hate intervals, but I have to do these if I want to win the WMC!”. Lucky for me, I managed to earn a bronze medal and honestly, it was the best day of my life until that point! However, I woke the next day and realized I was approximately $8,800 in debt to my credit card, I had no job, no apartment and no girlfriend to return to and was in Quebec with two smelly friends in my VW van with a nasty exhaust leak that none of us were confident would get us home! Victory is rather fleeting!

mountain biking goals

Gene in Third Place at the 1999 UCI World Masters Championships

In 2001 I decided to try and win the WMC again, but this time I had read Body Mind Mastery and after setting the goal I set the goal aside and worked on being the best I could everyday. If it was interval day I did the best intervals I could, not to win the world masters but to simply enjoy pushing my body as hard as I could. I led a balanced life, I had a great job, sweet girlfriend and cool house to return to after the race. My qualifying run went great, 2nd place and I didn’t push it at all, I could easily drop 8-10 seconds off my time on race day! I charge out of the gate in my race run and my chain some how comes out of my chain guide  in the first turn! Nooo! I hop off my bike, throw the chain on over the chain guide (as it won’t go back in) but it pops off 30-40 feet later. I angrily pump my way to the finish and hang my head in despair. Probably the worst day of my life. However, the next day it was easy to smile as I was in the best shape of my life, was riding better than ever and had a great life to return to back in Colorado. My life was still pretty darn good! Can you imagine if my chain had come off in 1999? That would of crushed me, all that work and sacrifice for nothing!

Long story short, setting your goals and then focusing on simply being the best you can be everyday is a great way to reach or exceed your goals. However, the article that talked about not setting goals but creating and doing processes that allow to grow in the direction you want to is quite similar to Dan Millman’s idea except they eliminate the goal all together (which I am still not sold on). I am sold on the idea of creating processes, which is what I do every year, I have physical processes (bike training programs, workout routines, yoga, foam rolling and stretching) mental processes (imagery, questioning self-talk and mental toughness exercises)  and mountain bike skills processes (drills to keep my skills at their best and on trail application and feedback from our coaches) that I do to reach my goals. You can find the article here:  http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230333#   I feel it is a great read. Please let me know what you think about it.

Create your best year yet,

Gene

Long time student and now coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

Why Do You Treat Your Mountain Bike Better Than You Treat Yourself?

Why do you treat your mountain bike, car and house better than you treat yourself? To mountain bike at your best don’t you need to have your body functioning perfectly?  I had the pleasure of training and working with our newest BetterRide certified coach Brian Buell this weekend and he made a comment that really resonated with me! We were explaining to our students the importance of taking care of our bodies as mountain biking alone is terrible for us physically (muscles imbalances, tight IT bands, over use injuries, twisting of our legs and core as 99% of us favor a forward foot, etc. (see article, “Is Mountain Biking Wrecking Your Health?”  http://wp.me/p49ApH-J9 ) when Brian mentioned something his massage therapist or Chiropractor had asked him. His body worker asked, “How much time do you spend working on your mountain bike, cleaning it, making sure it shifts right, the brakes are working properly, the tires have the right pressure, the suspension is working correctly, etc.?” To which Brian replied, “at least two to three hours a week.” Then he said, “Wow, you love your bike more than yourself. I mean, you certainly spend much more time fine tuning your bike than you do your body!

Long time student and now coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

Long time student and now BetterRide certified coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

So why do you spend more time making sure your bike works properly than making sure your body works properly? My guess, if you are like I was, is that is feels decedent to “treat yourself” to a deep tissue massage, physical therapy or chiropractor visit.  Society seems to think that a new car every four to five years, a bigger house, marble counter tops, 70″ TV’s and $10,000 bicycles are fine things to spend our money and time on but if we spend money and time on improving ourselves we are being wasteful or extravagant. Not sure why this is but you might want to reevaluate your thinking if you feel that way. Your body is the most important bike “component” so make sure it is functioning at it’s best! Make taking care of yourself a priority!

This goes for how you fuel your body too! It saddens me to think people spend extra for high octane fuel for their automobiles but eat pesticide laden non-organic apples, heavily processed foods and junk that your body can not even convert to fuel. If you aren’t eating a healthy diet start fueling yourself with high octane “whole foods” and treat your body like the fine tuned machine it can and should be.