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In our mountain bike skills camps we explain that we didn’t invent the skills that we teach we learned the techniques from the best (and then broke them down into easy to put together pieces that we can explain demonstrate and then get the student to do). We often suggest watching downhill race videos for great examples of the proper techniques that we coach (for all riders: recreational, cross country, endurance, free-ride, all-mountain, single speed and downhill).
Well Mid-West BetterRide coach Chris Cornelison found this great video. It shows Nathan Rennie doing two things that we coach rides to do. Both can be seen in the footage stating at :53 in. 1. Notice how no matter how crazy the trail Nathan is always looking ahead, he never even glances down at the trail. 2. Notice how quiet is chest and head are! He could put a glass of water on his head and not spill it!
Of course mastering these skills isn’t easy, you must first understand how to look ahead and how to stay smooth and in balance and then practice them using drills (just throwing yourself down a gnarly trail will just teach you how to tense up and ride defensively) which is why we are here!
The idea for this article came from “Slow Practice Will Get You There Faster”, a great book on learning sport by Ernest Dras. In my blog article, “The Best MTB Skills Advice I Have Ever Given. (How we actually “break” bad habits and create perfect ones)” I explained a bit about the Myelin Sheath and how we improve through through slow, deliberate practice. Now I will explain how to practice slowly and deliberately and see huge returns with the least amount of practice.
The first step is know the goal of the skill you are practicing (what is my desired outcome), how to do the skill perfectly (you may not be able to it it perfectly but you understand each individual piece of the skill and how it should be done), how it should feel and what it should look like. Without this knowledge base you are not practicing, you are simply riding and most likely ingraining bad habits.
In this example I will use cornering which is probably the most complex and most misunderstood skill in mountain biking (and road biking for that matter). The goal of cornering is exit speed, as the faster you can exit any given corner the more efficient you will be. The foundation for cornering is perfect body position and vision, once you have these mastered it takes counter pressure (my phrase for counter steering) to get the bike to lean, weight placement to stay in balance, hip articulation for power and control, proper arm position and weight placement. We spend over two hours on cornering in a parking lot doing drills before applying it to the trails in our camps (and expect the riders to do drills the rest of their life to master and maintain mastery of cornering).
I see so many riders and racers who have studied enough video to have a decent idea of cornering technique and now they are just trying to go faster with a vague understanding of proper technique. These riders always plateau before reaching their true peak. They plateau because they don’t know, understand and more importantly can not do the “details” correctly, doing something 80% perfect sounds impressive but it means you are doing it 20% wrong! A better understanding of the skill and some good, slow practice would make these riders much better!
Once you have a deep understanding of the skill slow practice will help you fine tune the skill. By doing the skill extremely slowly you will be aware of every small change in pressure, vision, balance, control, etc. You will find “dead spots” (where something is missing, such your weight suddenly shifting), you will understand how a little more counter pressure effects not only the lean angle of your bike but how it effects your balance, your hips, your outside arm, your traction and your trajectory.
In this video I am practicing slowly and have my “awareness” turned up and can feel what every little movement does. I am experimenting a bit, pushing a little harder with my inside hand and feeling what that does to the pressure on my feet, to the position of my hips, to the bite of my tires and sharpness of my turn. As I push forward with my inside hand I become aware that I am pushing my body backward, behind the pedals and it is unweighting my front end causing my front tire to push.
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