Setting the handlebars and controls up correctly on your MTB is a crucial part of being able to ride it properly when riding conditions become technically difficult. Unfortunately, though these are fairly simple adjustments to make, there are very few riders out there that understand how to do this, and why it is extremely necessary (bike shop employees and even professional “bike fitters” included! – most of the time you’ll get the same exact fit on a ROAD bike as you will on an MTB even though the applications, body position, type of terrain, suspension, etc, are night and day different!). Below, I’ll explain how to set up your handlebars and controls correctly and why it matters.
Another tremendously misunderstood and grossly overlooked essential skill to riding correctly – especially when the conditions get nasty – is also initiated at the handlebars: braking! We’ll get into that and how proper brake lever position is essential.
If our goal is to be able to control our bicycle in challenging terrain, then the goal of out bike set-up is to maintain proper body position – as much as possible – in said terrain. The proper position of your upper body – in the powerful, athletic, neutral, and balanced riding position – is half-way through a push-up. This allows for range of motion in all directions, and adequate application of power by engaging the larger muscle systems of the upper body such as you shoulders and back, chest, etc. Our handlebars need to be at a width that allows us to maintain that position. Too wide: no good! And – much more common – too narrow: even worse!! (Exaggerated example: try doing push-ups and pull-ups with your hands nearly touching vs. hands just over shoulder width apart … )
Every top rider that I can think of, where technical control is mandatory to the success of their riding, sets their bars and handlebar controls up nearly identical to the above. If your bike is not currently set up similar to the above, and if your goal is to have control of your bicycle in difficult terrain, do what ever it takes to make it happen.
Great advice on climbing from BetterRide Head Coach Andy Winohradsky!
In the following, I will address proper body position and its importance while ascending steep and technical climbs and also debunk a couple of infamous myths regarding climbing on your MTB.
While we can get away with sloppy technique on relatively easy climbs and still make it to the top, when things get steep and loose (when traction is at a minimum) and obstacles such as water bars, erosion ruts, baby-head sized rocks, and who-knows-what-else, begin to appear on the trail (these things almost always appear more often when the trail gets steep because trail damage from the elements – especially water, and, therefore water control measures – become more prevalent on steep terrain), our technique needs to be nearly perfect to top the climbs. Simply pedaling harder – as we all know – won’t get it done!
Remember: the hips are the center of mass of the human body. Even slight movements, or shifts, of the hips make a huge difference in our ability to ride the bike (contributing massively to weight placement, balance, power delivery). I am almost constantly making weight shifts – moving my hips fore and aft – on the saddle when ascending. A gentle climb with a small grade? I move forward only slightly – maybe a quarter of an inch. Medium grade? Medium movement – perhaps an inch … Steep as heck? All the way forward – as far as possible.
Its safe to say that climbing steep and technical terrain such as the stuff in the photo, requires far more dynamic technique and movement then climbing paved climbs with perfect traction (that’s not to say that one is more difficult – or painful – than the other!). Therefore, a lot of that old advice that may work on the road or an extremely smooth trail, isn’t applicable to riding a MTB in the nasty stuff. Apples and oranges …
It feels so good to be able to help even more riders achieve their riding goals and enjoy their riding more. Thanks to the hard working crew of BetterRide coaches like Head Coach Andy Winohradsky and certified coaches Chip MacClaren and Joe Dondero we are stoking out more riders than ever!
Here is a recent email from a a student:
I too just returned from Moab. Nothing like being the only human in Bartlett wash on a bluebird day…like a roller coaster where you make up the track as you go along. I went there after the Fruita clinic taught by Andy and Chip. By far the very best sport’s teaching/coaching I have ever received. As an student of Suzuki, your beginner mind advice was well taken. I spent two days practicing my new skills at the intrepid trail loop up on Deadhorse point ( a place that rivals the Monarch Crest for eye popping views). At 57 I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep doing this, but these new skills have added at least a couple more years to the ride. Andy is a great teacher, your system is awesome… I hope you have all the success you deserve with this endeavor. Thank you for sharing the knowledge.
I could spend all day on an easy trail and have more fun than riding several trails…riding is no longer a measure of how fast I can get from point A to B. I’m gonna keep practicing what I learned and am looking forward to attending the second camp! Thanks again for all you and your staff do!
Thank you Steve, Stan, Andy, Joe, Chip and all the students and coaches who help me help others everyday!
Great email and story of success from student Rich Schmit!
I’ve been wanting to pass on a personal success story. Before your mountain bike camp in Indiana with Coach Andy W. I participated in my first mountain bike race in Copper Harbor, MI. I placed 6th in my age group (over 6 min. behind 3rd place) on a very technical course. Considering the field, I was happy with the results. My goal after the BetterRide camp was to be in the top 3 in the same race with a similar field. With my new found skills I placed 1st this time with 2nd place over 7 min. behind.
BTW, a while back you suggested some reading material. I chose Body, Mind Mastery by Dan Millman.
Not only do I feel it helped my mountain bike skills with things like, how tension is counter productive and how the “opponent is not the enemy, but instead the teacher” it also helped me in my own personal life. Good recommendation!
Keep up the good job, Rich S
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.
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!
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.