Mountain Bike Crash

Mountain Bikers are Athletes, Act Like One!

Many “casual” mountain bikers and even some racers don’t feel like they are athletes. Well, I have news for you, mountain biking is an athletic sport, so mountain bikers are athletes and you should act like one. Acting like an athlete will make you safer, give you more control and allow to ride faster and more efficiently!

I get some form of this question once or twice a year from a student, “How do you prevent your quads from getting tired and burning on long descents while standing the whole time?” This always makes me smile, just because of how one of my coaches replied once when asked this question by a student.

He bluntly replied, “mountain biking is a sport, you need to be in shape an athlete to do it”. While he is right he could of been a bit kinder in his reply.

As I stress in my camps, mountain biking alone is terrible for you (physically), you need to add sound strength and mobility training to your riding. Yes, mountain biking is wonderful for your heart, lungs and some muscles in your legs but it causes imbalances (by working a muscle but not the opposite muscle). Your quads get really strong but your hamstrings don’t get much of a workout which puts uneven tension on your knees, which can lead to knee problems and an extremely tight IT band, causing major problems. Most riders favor a “forward foot” when standing and costing, working your trailing leg and forward leg much differently leading to hip and back problems, etc.

Mountain Bikers are Athletes, Act Like One!

Mountain bikers’ IT Bands are notoriously tight!


Many riders think riding is enough and lifting weights will add weight and/or feel they don’t have time for it. Mountain biking is very physical and demands a stable core, coordination, strong legs and reasonably strong upper body , unfortunately cycling does little by itself to strengthen our bodies and keep our bodies functioning well so we must add strength training to perform at our best and stay safe (muscles protect us in crashes).

Yesterday I did ten 7-9 minute downhill runs then one 3,500 vertical foot 20 minute descent, all standing and yes, I was tired and a little sore but I feel great today. It was first my first lift served downhill day of the year and I expected to get worn out quickly and not be able to do top to bottom runs (how I felt last year) but working out this year saved the day!

Sarah Kaufman on her way to 2nd place!

Maintaining good body position requires a strong and mobile body! Sarah Kaufman in great position!

My back had been giving me trouble the last few years and I quit working out, at first I felt OK on the bike despite not working out, probably the lingering effect of working out for years. A few months after I stopped working out I noticed I couldn’t do a five minute descent without my quads cramping up a bit and I couldn’t make some climbs I used to make.

This winter I finally found some exercises that got my back feeling much better (more on them in a future blog) and I started working out again. At first I didn’t notice much (probably because you don’t gain strength quickly) but in the last few weeks I have been stoked to be able to hang with friends who last year would simply ride away from me!

Downhill riding at Deer Valley yesterday was the best I have felt on a downhill bike in years, despite being the first day this season actually riding downhill trails! I’m over the moon excited right now because I feel like I’m forty again!

Enough about me, how does this help you?! I HIGHLY recommend you find a qualified strength and mobility coach and start working out! No, you won’t bulk up but you will become stronger, more confident, faster, more efficient and much safer on your bike!

* Stronger/faster: James Wilson explained this to me years ago. He said something to the effect of, “… you are  right, by riding hard, pushing big gears up hills and doing intervals you will make your “engine” much more efficient. You will take you 1/8 horse power engine and get it running at 90-95% efficiency. However, if you workout and turn that engine into a 1/4 horsepower engine you can run at 50% efficiency and go faster with less perceived effort.” That really drove home the power of working out! Over the long term (that was 11 years ago) this advice has proven to be so true as I had one of my best seasons as a pro downhill racer when I was 40 years old!

* Safer: Many crashes happen when the rider is worn out. Why, being tired leads to bad habits, like sitting down while descending and sloppy control as your arm strength and coordination fades. Also, muscle makes great padding! A strong, limber rider is much less likely to get injured in a crash as a frail, weak rider.

* More Efficient: A good strength training program works movement patterns, not just muscles! A few years ago I worked out really hard in the gym and was surprised to have a personal best time on a climb the next day. I thought I would be worn out but instead climbed stronger than ever. When I asked James about this, he said that I had strengthened not only my muscles but my bodies ability to “fire” that movement pattern so, Of Course I climbed faster.  This phenomenon has happened many times since and it still blows me away.

What to work on:

Mobility/Stable Core: Years ago when I was a snowboard coach I was introduced to the idea of “effective strength”. There is a big difference between the strength one can produce pushing weight and the strength one can produce doing something that requires strength, mobility, balance and coordination. To ride our best we need “effective strength”! An example of this is doing squats instead of using the leg press machine or “leg sled” at the gym. With a squat you are not only working your quads, you are working the every muscle needed to produce that motion, including stabilization muscles and your core. When using the leg press machine you are bracing yourself against a solid platform and pushing away mainly working your quads (not your hips, gluteus maximus, core and stabilization muscles). When riding a bike we don’t have that solid platform to brace against and have to create that platform with our core and stabilization muscles. We Create that platform by creating a stable core.

Strength: All body strength and movement strength. We want to strengthen the movements we use when pedaling, absorbing shock and controlling our bike. This requires a well thought out, mtb specific workout program and the help of a personal trainer to make sure you are executing the program correctly.

You don’t have to bulk up, a good strength training program will pay HUGE dividends on the trails and allow you to effective use the skills I teach. So first, learn to ride a bike in control and in balance then invest in your body so you use the skills longer and more consistently.



A Quick Mountain Bike Tip to Improve Technical Climbing

A Quick Mountain Bike Tip to Improve Technical Climbing  article by Gene Hamilton

Climbing is an often over looked skill in mountain biking, we often assume more power will do the job, which is not always true.   This article is about picking a line that works! For physical climbing skills Andy Winohradsky wrote a great article on climbing skill here:

One instinct, especially when not looking far enough ahead is to avoid obstacles. This often leads to “micro-managing the trail” and taking twisty paths that are much longer and often harder to ride than going over the obstacle.  When turning, your rear wheel tracks inside of your front wheel so you can hang the rear wheel or derailleur up on a rock, you can lose traction as you try to cut across the fall line and then turn back up it, your pedal clips a rock as you apply power or your line itself has less traction causing you to stall. In the photo below it is actually easier, faster and more efficient to go straight up the rock (in this case the rock acts as a paved ramp, great traction!) than weave around it in the lose sand.


Ride over the rock, it is easier.


Have you ever made it part way through a rock garden by avoiding obstacle one and two and then get trapped behind obstacle three, or stall while trying to wiggle between obstacle two and three? This often happens because we are not looking far enough ahead and will instinctively avoid obstacles if there is a clear path to the right and/or left of the obstacle. Unfortunately this sets us up for failure, often if we tackle the first obstacle the rest of the rock garden will be easy! Check out my amazing drawing skills in this Paint document I created!


Mountain Bike Rock Garden


I see this all the time on Rustlers Loop in Fruita. Instead of going up the “gut” of a rock move riders avoid the rock (avoiding the rock  is faster and easier for 7-10 feet) then they have to wheelie while turning over a bigger edge of the same rock (something that is nearly impossible to do). Going straight up the rock (which often looks tricky or rough) is faster and easier in the long run run. Both examples above require simple, core skills, nothing “special”, an effortless wheelie, correct weight placement and good vision skills.

Lastly, weaving takes our momentum across the fall line (the fall line is the path a ball would roll) instead of up it. Once our momentum is going sideways it is often really hard to getting it going straight up again, you can lose your balance, spin out or simply stall as you try to head up the hill again.

When climbing technical sections the fastest and easiest path is often the straightest! Avoid the temptation to weave as it usually ends poorly. Focus on the line with the fewest direction changes and the best traction.

Note: I use the word “often” in this how to mtb article because there are way too many variables in mountain biking to say, “always do …”, in this case, sometimes a weaving path is better, it all depends on the trail.

Mountain Bikes = Passion, Adventure and Challenge!

Here’s to the passionate ones! Those of you like Jackie and Dante Harmony who gladly live out of a van and occasional hotel room for half the year so you can challenge yourself and chase your dreams of World Cup glory. Whether you are a surfer chasing good swells around the world, a snowboarder living on ramen noodles and caffeine as you chase your dream of making the US Team, a climber living down by the river in your Subaru wagon so you can wake up and scale a tougher wall or a parent (also a lawyer/ and volunteer soccer coach) who still sleeps in a tent on non-soccer weekends so you can ride one more day in Moab you are a friend of mine.


Challenge, like crossing a raging creek in January!

As I agonize over which house to buy in Tempe (the really cool little zen like house that is going to stretch my budget or the nice but boring house that is a great deal) I have to laugh at all the energy, time and stress I am spending worrying about something that really doesn’t matter! My house doesn’t bring me joy nor does it define me, it is simply a place to rest, recover, store my stuff (that is a whole ‘nother rant) and prepare for my next adventure in. I grew up in a 1,200 square foot house with only 1.5 baths! While four people using the same shower every morning was a struggle we managed to get by just fine. Of the thousands of great memories I have from growing up none of them were limited by that house and none could have been enhanced if we had grown up in a 7,000 square foot custom home (although skateboarding through a 7,000 sqf home at 12 would have been fun!).


A whole crew of dirt bags riding the best trail in Moab

Life is so much better with passion and challenge than simply trying to get by. We (mountain bikers) are fortunate to have found something that we love so much that we will give up the “necessities” that so many people can’t do without to chase our passion. Next to spending quality time with my family and loved ones the happiest, most rewarding and most fun times of my life have been spent out there, often on the edge, not in front of a TV set.

A big thank you to all the dirt bag* mountain bikers, skiers, snowboarders, surfers, river rats, skaters and climbers that I have met along the way! It is easy to get caught up in our culture of more, bigger, better, NOW when it is constantly in your face. Thankfully, when my priorities get a little askew, it seems like there is always a soul brother or sister there to remind me that life isn’t about “things”. For those I have met along the way thanks for living the dream and helping me keep perspective.

In short, go for a ride, or hike, or climb, get out and enjoy yourself. Spend less time worrying and more time living!

*”Dirt Bag” is an affectionate term used by my friends

What a weekend for BetterRide MTB Students!

What a rewarding weekend! While I was busy coaching a downhill camp (with a healthy mix of pro racers, Cat 1 racers and advanced beginners) I received three emails from stoked students conquering their on trail nemesis’s and BetterRide athletes made to xc race podiums!

Sarah Kaufman on her way to 2nd place!

Congratulations to these BetterRiders on sweeping the pro women’s podium! In 3rd Erica Knight Tingey, in 2nd Sarah Kaufmann, on top of the box Lynda Wallenfels! Interesting that they finished in the order that they have taken skills camps with me! Could be a fluke but seems to show what many books on learning are pointing out, more deliberate practice equals better skill. Check out this article on the race: Desert Rampage, St. George, UT,

Also on the podium was Darren Casden Taking 3rd Place at the Black Mountain Winter Series Final and taking home 1st place overall in the series.

One of the great emails from a student:


Wanted to thank you for all of you time an patience this last week in Phoenix, I do appreciate all of your effort. I really did not expect to be e-mailing you so soon about some of the skills that I apparently acquired in Phoenix, but I am. Had a chance to go out on a ride yesterday, not with the intent of testing the skills but to enjoy a ride. I quickly found myself reflecting back on the weekend and began working on looking ahead. I quickly realized that much of the trail that I was riding, very narrow single track and notorious for loosing momentum when you get off of trail was much smoother that I have ever remembered, occasionally when my eyes drifted back to where I was at and now where I was going I would like old, get off track. Within a very short period after starting my ride it was obvious that focusing on looking ahead and using the vision techniques you taught us to do the up close steering was working. In addition to looking ahead, there are a couple of difficult and loose uphill switchbacks that often cause me to dab. Remembering back on the Sunday drills, I focused on not getting impatient and watching my body position and balance and again, probably one of the smoothest runs on the switchbacks I have ever had. I also had the opportunity to work on the various wheelies and bump jumps and like the other techniques felt that they were enhancing my riding. I plan on going back out again today to work on more of the same.

Stay safe, and keep riding….


That was from his first ride after the camp! He hadn’t even start to do the drills (that will commit these skills to his subconscious) yet. Wait to all the skills he learned in his camp are ingrained through drills and they just “happen” without thought to them!