Choose to Be Unreasonably Happy When You Ride
As I mentioned in my last post, I love what 30 years of practice and modern mountain bikes allow me to do!
So what exactly do modern bikes allow us to do? Well, one of my readers summed it up well,
Enjoyed your musing on old vs. new mountain bikes. I’m 47 and my first bike was a 1991 Bridgestone MB-Zip which I raced in the 90’s NORBA Expert Class.
I tend to not be overly nostalgic about those old bikes, particularly about the reliability, maintenance, and number of crashes. My steel Bridgestone frame literally snapped in half and had me walking 4 miles out of the woods. Hubs would freeze, spokes would break, and headsets would get gritty. You literally were replacing parts constantly and working on your bike several times per week. These days I ride my mountain bike for months, with nothing more than cleaning, lubing, and pressure adjustments. And I beat the BAG out of it, repeatedly smashing down trails at ludicrous speeds that would definitely break any of my 90’s bikes.
I guess my point is this: I enjoy riding my mountain bike, not working on it. And that is what the modern trail bikes allow!
Jude nailed that! I was on a group ride in Moab last summer and we were laughing at how light our packs were! We used to carry two tubes, derailers, spare spokes, duct tape, a real chain tool, etc. Yes, modern bikes don’t break near as much!
Modern mountain bike geometry is so much safer too! The long, low and slack geometry I have been preaching about since 1999 is finally available for mtbs designed for all purposes. There are now cross country race bikes with slack head angles, making descending much more fun and less scary while having no affect on most climbs (especially when combined with steep seat tube angles).
In the 90’s we would say it isn’t a great ride if you aren’t bleeding. We crashed a lot. Endos were super common, even among pros! Why? Because bikes were short, with long stems (110mm to 150mm were standard equipment) and steep head angles (70.5 degrees was slack in the 90’s, some bikes were as steep as steep 72 degrees) all of which set you up to endo almost any time your bike came to sudden and unexpected stop. (because the short reach measurement had us standing straight up, the long stem put our weight over the front axle and straightened out our arms while that steep head angle put the front wheel under us instead out in front of us)
Now it is easy to find longer bikes with 67 degree or slacker head angles that not only allow you to descend with more confidence and control but climb fine too! On a bike with a longer reach measurement with a short stem and wider bars we can stay centered and hinged in a lower, more stable and more dymanimic position. This allows us to be able to soak up compressions and drops better and not get yanked forward.
How does a bike with a 64-67 degree head angle and 35 to 50mm stem climb so well? Because riders have gotten smarter about body position (they have learned to slide forward on the saddle and hinge forward at the hips which puts the weight of their chest further forward), gotten smarter about saddle placement (slamming the saddle forward on it’s rails) and many bike companies are starting to produce bikes with much steeper seat tube angles (centering our weight over the BB instead of over the rear axle). More detail on these climbing tips: http://betterride.net/blog/2017/mountain-bike-climbing-video-tips-back-pain-saver-and-power-producer/
We also didn’t have dropper posts in the 1990’s so we either stopped and lowered our seats for the descents, used a Hite-rite which allowed 60mm or 75mm of drop using a coil spring and a quick release or we simply put our butts on the rear tire with the seat smashing into our chest on descents (the position I call the flying catapult). Again, endos were common place!
Mountain bike tires have come a long way too! With thin sidewalls and tubes we had to run 40-50 psi in our skinny 2.1 by 26 inch tires so we wouldn’t flat. This gives the rider no traction and a very harsh ride. Just for fun put 45 pounds of pressure in your tires and go ride a rocky trail! It will rattle your fillings out. 2.5 by 27.5 or 29 inch tubeless tires run with 13-22 psi really smooth things out and give us more traction!
In short, newer bikes with long reach measurements (390mm+, XSmall, 415mm+, Small, 440mm+, Med, 465+, L, 490mm+,XL) steeper seat tube angles (75.5-77), slacker head tube angles (64-67), wider, larger diameter tires (2.4 to 3.0) with low tire pressure (sub 20 psi) and dropper posts have made mountain biking so much safer, more fun and more dependable. If your old bike (more than five years old) is getting a bit worn or you are sick of going over the bars look in to a more modern bike, they won’t turn you into a better rider but they will stack the odds more in your favor!
They aren’t cheap but there are some amazing lower cost options out there. My favorite bike of all time was my Kona Process 153, I had the aluminum model with least expensive build they offered, around $2,600 I seem to recall (review here) https://freehubmag.com/articles/kona-process-153
Check out this super fun sounding 120mm travel trail bike from Norco, starting at $1,649.00! 66 degree head angle and 76 degree seat tube angle with an XL with a 500mm reach measurement on a 120mm travel bike, finally! Love seeing bikes like this! https://www.vitalmtb.com/product/guide/Bikes,3/Norco/Fluid-FS-1-29,24434#product-reviews/3465
Those are just a few of many great, modern bikes, do your research there are so many bikes coming out with this confidence inducing geometery in all categories (xc, trail, all-mountain, enduro and what ever categories the industry has created!).
Most of all, ride your bike and have fun! If you enjoyed this article feel free to share with your riding buddies or anyone you feel might enjoy it.
Challenging Mountain Bike Trails Should be Ridden with Skills, Not Balls
Sorry for the use of the term “Balls” but this a common comment on some of my riding videos and I wanted to address this comment (that is often thought or said as a compliment). I will replace “balls” with “nerve” as to not offend those offended by that use of the word.
Does it take nerve to do anything you are 100% confident that you can do easily? Does it take nerve to walk down a crowded sidewalk in the city you live in? For me, things I have great confidence in do not take nerve.
How do you gain confidence without taking risks? Work on your skills in a safe environment. Once you feel you are consistently riding in balance and in control slowly, using baby steps start tackling tougher or slightly more exposed sections of trail.
Things I lack confidence in doing which have consequences that might involve a trip to the emergency room(or worse), would take a lot of nerve and at 52 I choose not to do them. This video demonstrates both of my points. You will see me ride one exposed section of trail with confidence then see me stop right after a little white sign because I am not 100% confident on the next short section of trail.
While I must be on my A-game to ride this section of trail I know I possess the skills to ride this trail. Well, most of it, notice where I stop, the section I stop at I have ridden once but I was following a friend and he made it look easy so I took his line. Having ridden this section of the Portal Trail once before, I know I have the skill to ride it. I am, however not 100% confident I could do it 10 out of 10 times. Therefore, I chose to walk this section because I lack the nerve to do it.
Then there is Darkfest and Redbull Rampage, those events take great skill and a great deal of nerve!
Nothing good comes from riding over your head, if you make it, you feel lucky (not that your skill has increased). If you don’t make it, that can really set you back, physically and mentally. No amount of peer pressure is going to get me to ride something that is dangerous and I am not confident doing.
The Portal Trail is a great example. On that ride I was riding with a rider is both more skilled than me and quite a bit younger than me (and I was hoping to follow him!) but he was tired and not feeling it that day and let me go by. When I stopped and looked back he was walking sections I have seen him ride cleanly. Smart man, as Dave Weins once said in an interview, “sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.”
Have you ever been told you are really smart? Told/know that you have a high IQ? Are you really analytical?
Then you probably suffer from the same mountain biking skill error I have been fighting all my life, trying to think your way through physical skills!
This was written for a student who frustrated me because he reminded me so much of myself! They say people are mirrors of you and when something bugs you about someone it is a reflection of something about yourself. It definitely was in this case and I desperately wanted to help him overcome is reliance on his analytical, thinking brain. That part of your brain is great for solving math and engineering problems but terrible at athletic skills. It’s actually not so much that it is terrible at athletic skills it is that it has nothing to do with athletic skills.
Have you ever noticed that knowing a skill doesn’t seem to make you able to do that skill? That’s because you need to train your “procedural memory” not simply understand the skill. If understanding the skill was enough to get you to do a skill there would be no coaches, simply read a book and aha, you’re a great skier, snowboarder, surfer, mountain biker, etc.
I’ve had the same problem as this student all my life. I have to completely understand a skill before I will commit to it! Ever hear the phrase “dumb jock”? Well, most jocks aren’t dumb but often the best athletes don’t sound too bright when they are asked about their performance.
This has nothing to do with what we think as intelligence, the reason they don’t sound bright is the questions they are asked can’t really be answered. “What were you thinking as you took off for the double backflip?” Well, she wasn’t thinking, she was doing. Her conscious, thinking brain was shut off. So she has to make stuff up when asked that question.
You’ve experienced this, it’s called the zone. Where everything just seems to happen perfectly as when it needs to be done. It is a blissful state and one of the main reasons you enjoy mountain biking enough to read this article but, you wish you could hit that state more often.
Another hard question is, “how did you do that?” Often, top athletes have trouble with this question because they don’t know exactly what they are doing and have trouble putting it into words. This is because skills are stored in our procedural memory, where a circuit is designed for each skill. That circuit is called the cortex-basal ganglia-thalamus-cortex loop.
The book Choke goes into great detail about this. I noticed this the first time I worked with Greg Minnaar. I was explaining a skill and Greg kept saying, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s exactly what I do! You could tell he was astounded that I could break it down and put it into words. Greg executes most skills so well he has long forgotten or maybe never knew the mechanics of the skill.
You know what, Greg is very bright too! His good fortune is though he is bright in the IQ sense he also bright in the body sense (using his basal ganglia). He knows when to use his IQ (managing his career, businesses, and investments) and when to turn off that thinking brain and use his basal ganglia (all physical activities).
I’ve been a geek trying to be cool all my life. It all started one day when I was seven and came home really upset that I didn’t make the baseball team. My sweet mom trying to protect me said, “honey, your just not a natural athlete but, you are so much smarter than those boys, your IQ is blah, blah, blah ..”. Not exactly what this seven-year-old boy wanted to hear.
Looking back though there was a lot of truth in that statement. School was easy for me, I didn’t even buy textbooks my senior year of college, I just went to class and paid attention and got mostly A grades. Sports, they were a struggle though. I never passed the presidential fitness test (was often the slowest in the 50-yard dash) and in college, I learned that I had asthma.
So when it came to the two sports I actually did okay in, snowboarding and mountain biking, I knew I couldn’t out power the competition so I tried to outsmart them! Sometimes it worked a bit with strategy and “smarter” training programs but where it didn’t work was in the skills department. I tried to think my way through the skills.
Are you proud of your knowledge of skills? But, deep down you know that you aren’t always or perhaps are rarely doing what you know? That was me.
In 2007 I took a great motorcycle camp (American Supercamps) with the hope of learning more about bike handling. I was the only one who asked questions, out of 16-20 riders. When I asked questions all the other students just looked at me with that STFU look. They completely trusted the coach and just did what he said (lucky guys!). I had to know “why” before I would buy in, which, looking back was my problem all through my athletic career (or lack thereof!).
The athletes that just do what the coach says are the lucky ones, their mind doesn’t get in the way! Now, knowing why a skill works does help most of us buy in and I have spent the last 28 years helping students understand that why. However, my best students, aren’t focused on why it works. Once they felt a skill work that was all they needed, they practiced it until they couldn’t get it wrong.
There is hope for the rest of us though. We simply need to find ways to either shut off the over analyzing part of our brain or distract it.
I first experienced this in 1992 when my snowboard coach would yell multiplication problems at me when I was training. He said when I was solving problems I rode my best. Unfortunately, I didn’t truly understand it then, as a matter of fact, I was confused. How could being distracted be good?
That was before I knew about procedural memory. Once we have trained our procedural memory with structured practice (something I had plenty of as a snowboarder) when we shut off or distract our analytical brain our procedural memory takes over and we rip!
So far, the best way I have found to distract my analytical brain is to use music. I ride best with music at low volume (I have to be able to hear my tires, chain slap, and wind all of which give us cues to what is happening). My favorite riding song is the Gin and Juice cover by The Gourds.
I also practice meditation which also helps by focusing my analytical mind on my breathing, letting my body “just do”.
Your assignment is to drill, drill, drill the proper skills in (riding trail is not skills training as you quickly lose focus and return to any dominant habits you have (which are often, old ingrained bad habits)) in a controlled environment like an empty parking lot. On the trail work on shutting off or distracting your analytical mind and letting the drilled in skills take over.
Experiment, try singing, listening to music at a low volume, do multiplication problems, learn to meditate, anything you can do to let your procedural memory take over.
Do have a favorite way to shut off that overactive mind? Let us know below.
If you know anyone who could benefit from this article feel free to share it.
Shut that brain off and create your best ride yet!
dumb motorcycle camp guys asked zero questions
used to think I needed to know every little detail of how and why a skill worked to commit to it.
I have work with GM, very bright guy, was amazed I can but what he does into words so smarter than me because he knows when to use analytical brain and when to use body brain
For this article we have two brains, our “smart, thinking brain that solves math problems” and our “body brain” called procedural memory (book Choke?) when to use each… smart when stopped and figuring out a line, body while riding
Answers: meditation, music, distract the overthinking brain, math problems racing slalom examples to prove my point but condoning these uses Doc Ellis , Wille Warren , Sutton, ross rab, Jimi Scott
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