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mtb camps

Inspiring Mountain Biking Students from 20 Years of Coaching, Part 1

Inspiring Mountain Biking Students from 20 Years of Coaching, Part 1

As you can imagine in my 20 years of coaching mountain bike skills I have had a lot of interesting and inspiring people take my camps. Some of these people have gone on to become famous racers, some legends in the industry (more about them in Part 2) but many of the most interesting stories come from my passionate students who simply love riding bikes.

They say that with age comes wisdom and I have definitely learned a lot from some of my oldest students. While most people aged 50 plus are retiring from sports or watching their performance in their sport/s of choice decline many of my “older students” have inspired me to keep learning, improving and getting better for the rest of my life!

My first older student was a 55-year-old grandmother who had learned to ride a bike that year! She never had a bike until she was 55, impossible for me to even imagine how scary and intimidating it must have been for her. Did I mention she had four fused vertebrae?! She said her friends thought she was crazy and that they just sat home and watched TV most of the time. I remember telling her that her friends were the crazy ones, she was smart enough to continue learning, growing and exploring. I will never forget the smile on her face when she did her first wheelie! (unfortunately, I did forget her name, it was 19 years ago!)

Two other “older students” I coached were Nancy Harris (aka Den Mom) and her husband Roger Gutierrez. Nancy and her husband Roger took my first ever Bootleg Canyon Downhill Camp (with Luna Chick Marla Streb as my guest coach) in 2005. Nancy had grown up riding motorcycles and now both of them were into downhill mountain bike racing. While her heart was willing Nancy’s knees were failing her, years of dirt bike riding had left her knees not functioning too well.

Nancy almost hidden (third from left) and Roger (in clear jacket, black hat in back row) and the 2005 Bootleg Crew

Nancy taught me to be tough! Seeing her grimace in pain but keep riding hard made a big impression on me. If she could ride in that pain I could push her bike (and my bike) up the trail to the top during that camp as her knees were really hurting in the cold (yes, it snowed in Las Vegas that weekend!). She has gone on to have both knees replaced, did her painful rehab and his still riding and racing downhill 14 years later! Roger is still riding and racing too, what an amazing couple!

mtb camps

Nancy Harris slaying corners a couple of years ago!

I once coached a 67-year-old student in Fruita who rode up and over this rock on Prime Cut in Fruita (a student is riding down in this photo):

He did it with ease (using the manual and weight shift from this article: http://betterride.net/blog/2018/mtb-manual-over-obstacles-w-overlocked-move-video-tutorial/ ). That isn’t the coolest part though. I was coaching in Fruita three years later and this elderly gentleman walked up to me and he said, “Gene, I don’t know if you remember me but I took a camp from you three years ago and you said that I was the oldest rider you ever saw go up the rock on Prime Cut”. I excitedly replied, “yeah, I remember you, you were 67!” He then, very nonchalantly said, “I just wanted to tell you, I did it again yesterday, thanks for your coaching.” He went up that rock at 70! Wow!

My oldest student so far has been Fred Schmid who was 78 when he took a camp from me in Dallas, Texas eight years ago. Now that alone is impressive, mountain biking at 78! But wait, there’s more, he did the Leadville 100 when he was 80 and finished in under 12 hours earning him the coveted Leadville 100 belt buckle! Fred started mountain biking in his 70’s after being a rancher in Waco, Texas. Last I heard from him he was doing the Telluride 100 at 83 years of age! If that doesn’t inspire you nothing will!

Mountain bike racer Fred

My meme is incorrect this was photo was from 2014 when Fred was actually 81 at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race! Apparently, he had a stomach bug and couldn’t eat enough during the race and was mad that he didn’t finish in under 12 hours to earn is second belt buckle!

I’m sure I have left a few older riders that I have coached but don’t think you didn’t inspire me too! Here’s to all the older riders out there inspiring the youngun’s that they don’t have to grow old! Thanks for the inspiration!

Mountain Biking 10 Ways To Calm Your Fear and Ride at Your Best

Mountain Biking 10 Ways To Calm Your Fear and Ride at Your Best

1.  Create a pre-ride routine to get you in the right mental space to ride your best! Nothing kills confidence liked a busy, cluttered mind. Don’t just a hop than bike after a stressful day, start with a routine that gets you focused on riding your best.  Learn to create your pre-ride routine here: https://wp.me/p49ApH-1g9

2. Go at your own pace and take “baby steps” when progressing. Taking a big leap over your comfort zone is not a good way to improve. This is a case of fear being a good thing! A big leap over your comfort zone likely means you don’t possess the skills to do it (or at least don’t believe you have those skills)!

Have you ever been goaded into doing something that you felt was way above your skill level? Even if you make it you often don’t feel like you have gotten better, you feel like you got lucky. Feeling, “Holy cow, I nearly died, that was sketchy!” does not improve your confidence! If you don’t make it,  the crash will often set you back, decreasing your confidence and raising your level of fear. So be gentle with yourself and progress at a pace that is comfortable for you.

3. Focus on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. This sounds simple but pays off big. Our brains don’t understand “not” and “don’t” very well. If you are focusing on not falling your brain has to focus on the concept of falling and then quickly try to refocus on “not” doing what you are thinking about. It is much easier to focus on “getting to that tree” or “ride this section smooth and light” than telling yourself “don’t fall”.

4. Live to ride another day! If you are more focused on “not falling” than you are on getting to where you are going, get off your bike and walk that section. Who knows you might go right through it the next time when you are more warmed up and/or focused.

After/while walking that section figure out what about that section is scaring you then “baby step” your way up to doing it.

Example: If a four-foot drop on an exposed trail is scaring you find a one foot drop with no exposure, get really good a hitting that, work your way up to a four-foot drop with no exposure, then ride an exposed trail with a one foot drop working all the way to a four-foot drop on an exposed trail. This builds on a series of successes, increasing your confidence!

5. Breathe, relax, breathe and smile it is just a bike ride. Breathing and smiling releases tension which improves our balance, coordination and confidence. I mean deep, belly breathes from your diaphragm which is very calming. Smiling releases endorphins which relax you. The simple act of lifting the corners of your mouth, even if it is a grimace it will release those endorphins and relax you!

I read that Navy Seals use “box breathing” for this, breathe in for a four count, hold for a four count, breathe out for a four count, hold for a four count and repeat.

6. As you improve make sure you update your self-concept to match. Remember that the past doesn’t equal the future. You may have wrecked or not made a section last week/month but if your skills have improved since then the section may be easier for you now.

Let’s say there is tough rock section that has troubled you for years, you have never made it (and probably think something like, “darn, here comes that rock that always messes me up” as you approach it. Then you learn the correct combination of skills to get over that rock and wham, you do it! This is when you need to stop, get off your bike, look at that rock and update your self-image. “Wow, that rock used to mess me up every ride, now it is easy, I simply look to victory, manual, shift my weight and off I go! That rock is so easy now, watch, I’ll do it again.” Then do it again and really cement the idea that that rock is now easy and you have the skill to do it consistently.

How to mtb, weight shift

7. Wear knee pads and elbow pads when practicing a tough section are learning a new skill. I have found that having padding on really increases your confidence when learning or trying to push your limits. As a matter of fact, I never ride without knee pads anymore, knees are too valuable and too easily damaged!

I don’t wear them because I expect to fall (I don’t expect to fall), I wear them so I can focus on what I want to do!

8. Write your fears down and then read them out loud! This often debunks your fear/s. Is your fear realistic? Often fear is not based in reality and when we realize this the fear goes away.

I was taking a meditation for sport class and the instructor had us do this exercise, some of the fears were hysterical. One of the students said he was afraid of upsetting his wife if he didn’t do well. Instructor, So your wife really cares how well you do in your bike race. Student, well, actually, while she wants to me to do well she really doesn’t care what place I get.

9. Learn from your mistakes. If you mess up or wreck do your best to figure out why it happened and correct that mistake or improve your technique so it will not happen again. Then update your self-image!

10. Power pose! You might want to add this powerful technique to your pre-ride routine! https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en

Confidence is everything! Not overconfidence which can be dangerous, simply being confident in the skills you possess as a mountain biker will enable you to ride at your best!

Remember to have fun, after all, that is what mountain biking is all about.

I hope this has helped you. What are your mountain biking fears? Let me know in the comments.

Feel free to share this article with anyone you feel might enjoy it.

Modern Mountain Bikes

Modern Mountain Bikes are Amazing! Let The Good Times Roll!

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,

“Hi Gene!

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”

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 Bikes

Scott Ransom, Modern Mountain Bike Geometry , 170mm of travel and it weighs less than 30 pounds! Very capable bike.

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

Me, Mike and my trusty Kona Process 153 on Top The World in Whistler, 2015.

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

Challenging Mountain Bike Trails Should be Ridden with Skills, Not Balls MTB Video

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.”