Solutions and Momentum Paths – Good Line Choice in Mountain Biking

There are three cool videos below that relate to good line choices in mountain biking.

But, first, a little something on the subject:

Reading the trail or track properly is arguably the most important aspect of riding a mountain bike fast and/or safely. This blog post focuses more on the Going Fast aspect of riding and racing and will appeal more to the higher level riders (where every little bit counts), but the newbies are still encouraged to follow along.

There’s a saying in racing, “The top riders are looking at a totally different track than everybody else.” Of course, it’s the same track, the best riders are just seeing it differently than the others. The best riders are seeing solutions while most riders are trying to avoid obstacles. . . again, same track. The best riders are seeing smooth and fast momentum paths and are then trying to find ways to maintain those momentum paths on the trail or track’s surface, while most riders are simply trying to ride the lines on the trail, and usually the main line (the People’s Line, as I like to jokingly call it) as fast as possible.

Unfortunately, the main lines on a trail are formed by the majority of riders. And, the majority of riders are doing what I call micro-managing the trail: simply dealing with what is directly in front of them . . . then what’s directly in front of them after that . . . then what’s directly in front of them after that . . . with no regard for where they need to be further down the trail. Therefore, the main lines are formed by and become an act of avoiding obstacles. Putting out fires. Damage control. When trail gets a bit gnarly, and gnarly obstacles appear, most riders are just in survival mode and trying to miss the big stuff.

Sound familiar?

Not a good way to ride the bike.

What we want to do is “macro-manage” the trail; treat our next line of sight as one piece of trail, set-up properly for obstacles, corners, etc. See our end-points and work off of smooth momentum paths that allow us to carry speed and reach the end of our line of sight in the least amount of time possible. See our solutions or blueprints, and then come back and work out the details and solutions through, around, or over obstacles in regards to where we need to end up. Often, this means doing the work early in order to get the payback further down the trail . . . but, you’ll never know where and when to do the work unless you’re able to look down the trail in the first place. (Of course, this does involve having a handle on other riding techniques which we cover thoroughly in camps.)

But, how do we do this? How do we know what to look for? How do we look ahead and find these momentum paths and solutions and and all the other crap I was talking about and still deal with all the danger that is right in front of our front tire and trying to kill us?

Well, that’s the type of thing that we cover extensively in camps and coaching sessions. We go waaaay deep down that Rabbit Hole. We look at how to properly read the trail in every situation that we encounter no matter what area of riding we may be focusing on. There is a segment in my coaching where we spend a couple hours focusing exclusively on the techniques of reading the trail or track.

Very, very few riders do this correctly.

Again, for beginners, you have to read the trail properly if you want to ride safely and feel comfort and control on a mountain bike. More advanced riders: you have to read the trail properly if you want to ride Actually-Fast (That means actually fast – not just faster than your slower friends).

Every Actually-Good rider knows that trail-vision is huge. There’s no way I’m going to attempt to cover the vision aspect of mountain bike riding via internet. Sign-up for a camp or coaching session and we’ll put in some quality time and I guarantee you’ll be blown away at the difference between doing this OK and doing it correctly.

In the meantime, check out the videos below of top riders doing it right.

 Video 1: The first rider (Ted Morton, the rider the camera is following) in this video takes a bunch of interesting and fast lines. He’s clearly seeing way down the trail and locating his end points, knowing where he needs to end up, and doing the work early in order to get there in the least amount of time possible. He also uses roots, rocks, etc. to bump-jump many many features, set-up for further down the trail, and to get backsides and good pumps off of all kinds of stuff.

Video 2: Skip to about 3:45 of this vid and watch these top riders rip this corner in the Aspen round of the EWS (Enduro World Series, the best professional enduro racers in the world). Everyone goes to the outside; some do it better than others, some set it up a little better, etc. . .but the last guy, in the last clip, Sam Hill – the winner of the race – goes to the inside of the corner. Notice his inside line that no one else took. No doubt, Hill was thinking in terms momentum paths and time and not blindly following the main line. The main line – the outside line that everyone but Hill took – did have a little banking to hold the riders in the turn. At one point, it probably was a smoother arc through the corner than the tight inside line. However, as the day wore on and more and more riders used the outside, the line got pushed out at the apex and “hooked.” Really, at this point of the race, the outside line is actually a sharper turn than going inside – riders are actually going back left and then turning right! Hill notices this and adapts, taking the sketchy, loose, inside line that is now actually better than the now blown-out main line. Hill is known for finding these sneaky lines that no one else sees. He’s definitely one of the best at reading a track. He’s also a two time Downhill World Champion (three time?) and now one of the top dudes in enduro racing.

Video 3: People are talking about this Downhill race run as possibly the best of all time (I’m still going with Danny Hart’s 2011 World Champs run, but whatever . . . C’mon! It’s World Champs! The huge whip at the end?!? C’mon!!!). Anyway . . . Because of the rain, the track is about twenty seconds slower than it was when dry in qualifying. In Gwinn’s race run, right off the bat the announcers are talking about his inside line choices and that he’s taking the “shortest way down the track.” Clearly, he’s adapting and thinking in terms of momentum paths and time – not simply trying to go as fast as possible down the main line. The track is obviously slower than it was when it was dry, so the line choices should change, right? It can definitely be argued that Gwinn won this race in the mental department by thinking outside the box, adapting . . . and reading the track better than the other riders.

 

 

How to Lead a Mountain Bike Ride

How hard can it be to lead a mountain bike ride? All you have to do is make sure no one gets lost, no one gets hurt, and everybody has fun, right?

Unfortunately, people get lost, get hurt, and have terrible experiences on rides all the time. These mishaps are almost always preventable. There is a good argument stating that everyone should be responsible for themselves; however, if you’re the person in charge of the ride, the least you should probably do for your trusting riding buddies is put a little time and thought into what the ride will entail and make sure that the newbies survive and have a good time.

Some of these tips will seem obvious, some won’t. If you’re fairly new to riding, and haven’t lead many rides, then some of the following will be big eye openers. But, even if you’ve been riding for a while and have lead plenty of rides, there will be a few things below that you’re probably not considering.

401 thirteenIt doesn’t get a whole lot better than this!

 

Before we even get to the trail:

1) Screen the Back of the Pack

This is a pretty obvious one, but people end up on rides that they probably shouldn’t be on all the time. Often it’s a well-meaning friend who would like another riding buddy and simply wants spread the joy of MTB. Maybe the rider is enough of a newbie to not understand what they are getting themselves into. Maybe you’ve even been one of those unfortunate souls?

Let’s face it, having a person terrified, extremely humbled, overwhelmingly exhausted, etc., while doing something that is very new to them — and especially if said activity potentially carries a big penalty for mistakes — is a much better way to get that person to never ride a bike again rather than “hardening them the F up.”

Want to get someone stoked on riding? Get them on a ride that matches their ability and enthusiasm and allows them to have a blast, build some confidence, and have fun. Help them feel like a champ, not a chump.

If someone is going to be in way over their head on the ride and with the group, some gentle dissuasion is probably in everyone’s best interest. They’ll probably thank you down the road.

Getting "out there" is fun. But getting hurt, lost, caught off guard by the weather . . . can make things very not-fun really quick.Getting “out there” is fun. But getting hurt, lost, caught off guard by the weather . . . can make things very not-fun really quick. Be prepared, be smart, don’t die!

 

2) Screen the Front of the Pack

This one’s not as obvious, but is responsible for wrecking the day way more than it should. Example: your buddy is a beast of a rider, racer, all around super-fit animal, type-A personality. And although he’s a good guy, he’s been known to have a lack of patience and some questionable social skills. He decides that he’d like to jump in on a ride with you and a few buddies that are new to riding “just to get a little work out in.”  Is this dude going to be a gigantic jerk when things move very slowly compared to what he is used to? Obviously, the group is going to be quite slow and unfit relative to him, but they will probably also be unfamiliar with their bikes, equipment, riding clothing, maybe even transporting their bikes to and from the trail. Is he going to be in a huff all day with a bad attitude, killing the good vibes of the ride?

This happens all the time. Bad group dynamics 101. Perhaps politely explaining that this ride probably isn’t going to be a good fit for him is the best bet in this situation . . . and, for the more advanced riders reading this: don’t be That Guy!!

Once you’re actually at the trail:

3) Check Clothing

Does the group have decent rain jackets, hat, gloves, etc. in case the weather turns bad. Do they have adequate packs to carry the stuff, shed layers, etc. If not, are you carrying extra for the group?

Now, do you need to bring an extra ice axe and survival gear on a short ride if it’s 80 degrees and sunny with zero chance of changing weather? Probably not. But, a decent rain jacket is probably minimum in conditions any less than perfect.

As long as everything goes fine with the weather, extra clothing shouldn’t be needed. But, what if someone does get hurt, it takes hours to get off the trail, and it gets dark and cold?  What if you do get lost? And, rest assured, if you spend any amount of time riding MTB, especially in mountainous areas, you can count on getting rained on and waiting out storms. So, be prepared!

4) Check Equipment/Gear

Spare tubes? Multi-tools? One spare tube between a group of five is a recipe for long walk for somebody. You can almost always count on having to tune or tweak a bike here and there, so at least one set of adequate trail tools is a must. Tire pressure? A few folks will almost always be way out of the ballpark with tire pressure, especially in a group of newbies; so, a foot pump and gauge to use before you even leave the parking lot are a good idea. With rare exception, hand pumps take forever to actually inflate a tire; and why waste a CO2 if you don’t have to?

Do they have adequate bikes? (This is a good info to obtain, pre-ride, before you’re at the trail). You don’t need the most expensive, high-tech scoot in the local shop to get into MTB. But some specific types of bikes simply won’t cut it for other types of riding. If your chubby buddy wants to ride a fifteen year old, forty-five pound downhill bike on Saturday’s 40 mile death march because he’s decided now is the time to get in shape. Well . . . bad idea. Let’s get him to borrow a more adequate bike, rent, or find some other solution (and maybe a ride of that nature isn’t the best idea for an out of shape guy to get back into riding?). I don’t want to pedal a downhill bike 40 feet, much less 40 miles.

Take breaks and check on the crew; making sure everyone has enough food, water, energy, gumption . . . all very important factors in keeping the group safe and having fun.

Take breaks and check on the crew; making sure everyone has enough food, water, energy, gumption . . . all very important factors in keeping the group safe and having fun.

5) First Aid Kit

Hopefully you won’t need it. But, things happen. It should probably be your responsibility to carry the first aid kit. You can get however crazy you want with it, but you should at least have the basics for the type of injuries that most often occur on MTB rides when someone hits the deck. Also, if you do anything outdoors, a bit of knowledge of first aid is kind of a no-brainer. So if you don’t have any of the knowledge part, get some!

6) Directions and Maps

When it comes to shorter rides, especially when you’re never very far from civilization, you can use your phone to snap a picture of the trail map on the kiosk at the trailhead. This will usually work. Until your phone battery dies. Or, your phone gets soaked and it dies. Or, you break it. Also, counting on having cell service is never a good idea.

If you’re getting out there a bit, a good quality map, designed to hold up in tough conditions is a good idea. Most bike shops and/or outdoorsy stores will sell these. If you’re getting at all remote, be overly prepared. Have a real map . . . or two.

Why two maps? Because maybe your group will have to get separated for whatever reason. This is where clear directions, communication, and plans become very important. Do whatever you need to do, but make sure everyone knows where to meet up again. Make sure the plan is clear and at least one member of each party can trace the route and find the location(s) on the map.

This is actually a very crucial point when it comes to safety. Everybody assumes that everybody else knows where they are going when the group separates, and too often, they don’t. Take the time to BE SURE that both parties knows where they are and where they’re going. There are countless instances where things have gone seriously wrong in the outdoors, and simply taking the time to do this could have prevented bad things from happening.

7) Orientate Your Group

I always like to point out to the group where we’re at and where we’re going to be on the ride; point out ridge lines and valleys, “we’re going along that ridge, dropping down the other side and we’re going to come out way over there.” Have them set eyes on the features of the land and where they will be. Show them where the drainages are.

I don’t have the greatest sense of direction, myself. But if I’m consistently conscious about the features of the land, the direction that I’m riding, etc., then I’m fine. If you’re in any area where visibility is tough, a compass and knowing how to use it probably isn’t a bad idea.

Also, alert the group of particularly tough sections of trail, either climbs or descents, and maybe even slow or stop the group before these features so that no one gets a painful surprise.

8) The “Waiting Rule”

If your intention is to keep the group together, have an understanding within the group about how you’re going to wait at trail intersections. You could simply wait for the whole group; the first person waits until the last person gets there before anyone proceeds. The other one is the “ladder” technique. Each rider waits at the intersection until the following rider shows up before proceeding. MAKE SURE that everybody is clear on this, abides by this rule, and makes verbal communication before continuing down the trail. “I thought they saw me turn” is not OK!

9) “How’s everyone feeling?” Keep tabs on everyone’s energy levels, morale, etc. Be careful and aware of people trying to be a little tougher than they really are. When people are fatigued, that is when they are most likely to make mistakes and get hurt.

Before you leave the parking lot you should check that everyone has some trail food on the ride (you should carry extra). And for those that are hungover, skipped breakfast, etc., try to get them to eat and drink something. Most normal people are always a bit dehydrated. This isn’t a good way to start a ride.

Often on rides that are loops, there will be “points of no return.” In other words, once you pass this point, you have to do the full loop to get back to the start. There will also usually be “bail-out points” or trails that will offer short cuts back to the start.

Know where these points are, and be aware of the energy and moral of the riders in the group. But, be VERY careful in deciding whether it’s a good idea for the group to separate to allow some riders to opt out early. Often, just taking it real easy with lots of breaks is a better option then separating the group. Use the guidelines above and good ol’ common sense.

10) Post Ride Recovery Refreshments

At minimum, have a cooler full of ice-cold bevies waiting in the parking lot upon return. Better yet: have a local post-ride sushi, Mexican, or burger joint and beer-fest planned for the post ride recall (BS session). Make the plan and location known to the group before and during the ride. This feast will serve as the proverbial carrot helping everyone to push through those last few miles. Make sure this joint is accommodating to the volume and energy of endorphrin-buzzed mountain bikers swapping (perhaps slightly embellished) tales of gnarly descents, puke-educing climbs, close calls, and the inevitable proud comparisons of scabs and bruises.

11) Have Fun!