MTB Coaches–Good vs Bad?

Rant Time!!!!

This has been killing me lately, so why not whine about it publicly and get to off my chest? Haha…

There are ton of mountain bike coaches and coaching organizations out there these days. Everybody and their brother (and sister) seem to be a “certified level blah, blah, blah MTB coach”. As a person who has made his full time living for the past almost ten years as a MTB coach, you can only imagine the opinions that I have on this…

Let me first say that I do believe that its admirable when someone desires to teach a great activity such as mountain biking to others. So more power to anyone who wishes to do this. The bummer is that many of these people who make up this current crop of coaches–and probably more at fault, the organizations who “certify” these coaches–are fully guilty of perpetuating many of the poor, and even dangerous, techniques that have been circulating MTB forever. I’m not seeing the evolution in technique that we should be seeing in the current state of coaching.

We have, and continue to see, the influence of downhill MTB, BMX, and motocross in bike design (my coaching is heavily influenced by these three sports, which, when it comes to skilled riding and training for skilled riding, are light-years ahead of MTB), but where’s the progression in how to ride the bike?

Likewise, I don’t see the consideration of the way the bike is actually designed to work. In fact, many of the techniques that are taught be these organizations–yes, you’ve heard of them; think, self proclaimed, “International Global Standard” of coaching–actually fight the way the bike is designed to work. I definitely don’t see a proper understanding of kinesiology and biology of the of body being brought into MTB coaching by any coaching organization or curriculum (outside of DirtSmart, where this plays a HUGE role in everything I do).

Why? Because most people who coach don’t understand these crucial elements in human movement as they relate to riding the bicycle, and, thus, their necessity in riding the bike correctly. They don’t understand bike design. They’ve never ridden motocross or BMX…or downhill (most) at high levels. They haven’t spent a life that has revolved around going fast on two wheels at the highest levels. They don’t make a living doing this. Its a hobby for them.

Definitely tooting my own horn here, but…

… Racing professionally; consistently racing and riding with some of the best racers and riders on the planet; school; where I’ve chosen to live (and moving around and traveling my entire adult life); toil in virtually every nook and cranny of the bike industry; sacrificing…well, pretty much anything material… It’s all come from, and been filtered through, riding bikes and obtaining knowledge and experience to enable me to ride bikes better and faster.

I do have a PHD in riding stinkin’ mountain bikes… Yeah, I said it!

And, much of that education does come from outside of mountain biking. Hate to say it, but much of inside of mountain biking–where most coaching is drawing from–is stagnant and dogmatic, yet persists as the status quo way to ride the bike.

You gotta know the difference…

Now, I will say, that many of the techniques taught by many coaching organizations will often work for a beginner rider in very easy trail settings (which probably is the bread and butter client/situation for most of these coaches). But, if these are the techniques that the student relies on when the trail gets a little more difficult, the student will be in danger because they simply won’t work well…and that could mean getting hurt.  And, that’s just talking safety; take it further, and there’s no way a rider will get very fast or be very proficient on the bike if their “go-tos” are what what many of these organizations teach as proper technique.

Bad technique is being taught left and right in MTB: “You can’t brake in corners!..”; “Push down on your fork for rebound to help wheelie…”; “Use your front foot as a bracing foot…”; “Weight the handlebars…” (I heard this one today from a guy who is an awesome personal trainer…but, suddenly he’s a bike coach? Huh?)…I could go on forever with this…  Stuff like this is being taught by pretty much every organization out there and will get you killed if you use it when the trail is actually a bit tough.

*** Do I never use the above techniques and many that I could name as dangerous and improper? No. I will use them on occasion, and again, they will work fine in certain settings. However, they are not building blocks to the higher levels of riding (This is a very big part of everything I coach: it all comes from a simple foundation, and you build off of that–even up to the highest levels) and won’t work when things start to get even a bit tough on the trail. It is up to the coach to know and communicate this. Again, many coaches simply don’t have the experience to do this.

Also, I’ll take any coach who actually believes in these techniques as tried and true out to a semi-difficult trail and say, “OK, take this corner without braking.” They won’t and can’t do it. They’ll make the corner (probably), but they will be doing something all together different than what they coach. I’m not saying that they are doing anything malicious or purposefully lying to their students. They are simply ignorant of how things actually work on the bike. And this is natural and fine. I’m positive that I am still ignorant of many things in riding; I must be, because I continue to improve and evolve my coaching and curriculum (and, even though I’m all old and washed up, and maybe not getting faster in terms of raw speed, I do continue to improve in my personal riding with control, efficiency, etc.).

So, am I saying that these people shouldn’t be MTB coaches? Ummmm…No.

They should be able to do whatever they want to do. What I am saying is that the student–the consumer–needs to be aware of what they are getting as a product. Who will be you’re coach? Not the organization, but the individual. What are the coach’s credentials, experience, reviews? Can they ride (Yes, I do believe it is very important that a coach is a very capable rider)?  Have they raced (if you desire to race, probably pretty important your coach has been there), and at what level? Mountain biking is an athetic endeavor. What do they know about the body and how it works in an athletic sense? How do they know this? What do they know about bike set-up and bike design? Training? … Again, I could go on for days…

Chances are, with very rare exception, you won’t be able to find any of this information on particular individual coaches outside of a cute and cleaver little paragraph/bio next a headshot on a website.

And, remember, just because someone was a pro racer, doesn’t mean that they can coach their way out of a wet paper bag. How are they as a coach?

I guess this is why my camps do cost $500 for two days.  And, yes, you can go down to the clinic that your local shop is putting on, and the local pro is going to coach it!..For only $50!!! So, why would you spend the money on that pricey DirtSmart camp?

Well, you can also go down to your local Walmart and get a mountain bike for $200, so why would you spend thousands of dollars at one of those pricey bike shops?

And I’m not saying that all coaches out there, besides me, are “Walmart Coaches”. I’m just saying know what you’re getting into, and–like anything else–you’re going to have to pay a bit for the best product.

Honestly, if you are a straight-up beginner and don’t really intend to even be a “mountain biker”, you probably don’t need high level coaching. But as soon as you intend on riding and progressing–even a little–you’re going to want the best coaching you can get, not only to get more proficient, but to not hurt yourself. And if you want to get fast, to be the best rider that you can be? Like pretty much any other tool that will really see some use, “Buy cheap; buy twice…”

The end…

I love coaching all levels of riders. I get just as much satisfaction and believe that I am equally as successful whether I’m coaching beginners or World Cup downhill racers. My students, of all levels, will attest to this. However, I highly doubt that my World Cup downhill racers would have gotten much out of the example of the the “$50 local shop clinic” that I gave above, and I’m quite sure (positive) that my beginner students would have had a much tougher time progressing as riders with “cheap” instruction.


OK, I feel better now…





Mountain Bike Skills–Slow Speed Balance

It’s All About the Balance

Some cool stuff going on, right here…

Maga (in the video below) is a previous student who was the classic example of an animal on the road bike and smooth XC stuff, but, fairly new to mountain bikes, she was very timid anytime the trail got even the least bit technical. One of her biggest problems was that she didn’t have the ability to ride the bike slowly and retain balance, even on smooth flat surfaces (this is common to most riders). Anytime things got a little dicey and technical, she instantly put a foot down.

Here she is practicing one of the drills we do in camps (on her town bike on her lunch break–love it!).

This is one of many drills that I show riders to help improve balance on the bike. But it’s also a great drill to help a rider get an awareness of where the rear wheel is at in regards to the trail’s surface. For beginners, understanding where the rear will track, exactly when it will contact an obstacle, etc., becomes very important when the terrain gets tough. For advanced riders, knowing exactly when they may need to lift the rear wheel; where it’s at when manipulating it from side to side; when, and at point, it will leave the ground; become critical–one of the the best ways to land under control is to leave the ground under control, and if you’re not sure how your rear wheel will be affected when it leaves the ground, sooner or later bad things are gonna happen…


Wanna Get Good? Learn to Go Slow

Being able to ride slowly, with confidence, and under control, is one of the most important mountain bike skills. Especially for advanced riders in gnarly terrain: Look at the photo below.

Caveman Drop-in

In order to ride this drop, it is crucial that the rider enter it very under control, very slowly, and that means–literally– the speed of a controlled track stand (literally a controlled stop, with both feet on the pedals).

If you can’t do this in the parking lot, you won’t be able to do it on the side of a cliff.

Sorry, Ain’t No Switchback Magic

The same can be said for switchbacks. I get emails at least once a week where dudes state (it’s always dudes) that they are “very good riders” so they don’t need a full camp, but they just want to skip to “swichbacks and riding steep stuff…maybe some jumping…you know, just the advanced stuff…”

Sorry, Bud. The reason you’re having problems with the “advanced stuff” is cause you don’t have the basics down very well at all. Almost without fail, these riders aren’t even aware of what the mandatory basics even are…

I use a ton of drills and exercises in the camps to show riders how to work on, and improve, their balance on the bike. These aren’t only for beginner riders. Think of where high level training is these days: it’s all about proper movements, core stability, BALANCE, etc… The same muscle movements, position, weight placement, etc., that a beginner needs just to feel comfortable in order to ride slowly without having to put a foot down are the same movements (if not the foundation and base) the high level riders need to to use in the nasty stuff. It’s all about the human body working optimally on a bicycle… And, I don’t care how “good” you are; there is always room for improvement.

Sign up for a DirtSmart MTB Skills camp. Stay outta the hospital! Get fast!

5 Tips for Tough Steep Climbs

Often, while mountain biking, we can usually get away with sloppy technique on relatively easy climbs and still make it to the top. However, 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 naturally appear more often when the trail gets steep—dirt doesn’t like to stick to steep inclines, so it erodes, exposing the obstacles), our technique needs to be nearly perfect to top the climbs. Simply pedaling harder – as we all know – won’t get it done!  Also, proper technique will save you huge amounts of energy even on climbs that you may currently may top, but currently waste a bunch of energy in the process because of improper technique.

Tip #1: Scoot forward on the saddle.

Take a look at the photo. Notice how far forward the rider has scooted on his saddle.


A very important reason to move this far forward is to put more weight on the front of the bike. Accidental wheelies and cases of the “swervies” (when your front wheel begins to wonder uncontrollably all over the trail, making it impossible to hold your line) occur because there is too much weight on the rear of the bike (not enough on the front). Shifting your weight forward will help to prevent this from happening.

Also, when the trail’s surface is varied, rough, and loose—as it often is on steep climbs—staying “centered” on the bike, with your weight on the bottom bracket, is essential. This allows the bike to pivot around the bottom bracket so that both wheels will roll up and over obstacles. Most riders end up with their weight too far back on the bike while climbing, placing all their weight on the rear wheel. In this case, all of the rider’s weight is forcing the rear wheel into obstacles and the rear wheel will stall when it comes in contact with the obstacle. Scooting forward will help alleviate this by distributing the rider’s weight more forward on the bike, thus, allowing the rear wheel to elevate and roll over the obstacle.

Even slight movements, or shifts, of the hips on the saddle make a huge difference in our ability to climb steeps (contributing massively to weight placement, balance, power delivery). A gentle climb with a small grade? 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.

Tip #2: Chest Down.

Another massively overlooked part of proper body position on steep climbs is the position of your upper body. Get that chest down!!!

Take a look at the video. This is an extremely steep climb that few rider’s make.

At the steepest points, the rider’s chest is literally only a few inches off of the stem of the bike, and, when the front wheel climbs up obstacles elevating the front of the bike even more – the chest will sometimes literally touch the stem. When this happens, the rider should come out of the saddle slightly—or more accurately, keep the weight on the BB, the core will stay stable and balanced traveling in a smooth momentum path up the trail, and the bike will pivot around the BB, pitching backwards and dropping the seat from under the rider’s rear.

Lowering the chest – drastically, in the case of a climb this steep – allows the rider to keep the upper body balanced on top of the lower body (and the BB of the bike).

By lowering her chest, this rider is effectively getting her weight much more over the bottom bracket are of the bike which is crucial for control on steep climbs.By lowering her chest, this rider is effectively getting her weight much more over the bottom bracket area of the bike, which is crucial for control on steep climbs.


In fact, in theory, you should be able to “flutter” your fingers on the grips when you’re in balance on the climb. This ensures that your weight is balanced on your lower body and not leaning or hanging on your hands. (I also like to say that you should be balanced in a position so that if the bike where to disappear, you would land on your feet)

This video below shows how not to do it: The rider stays seated, and when the bike pitches backward on the steep section of trail, the rider’s weight ends up too far back on the bike. The chest is high and the front wheel becomes too light, wandering all over the trail. Also, because all of the rider’s weight is on the rear wheel, the bike will not be able to pivot around the bottom bracket and allow the rear wheel to elevate up and over the ledges.

Tip # 3: Slow your pedal cadence.

You’ll need to slow your pedal cadence in order to accelerate the bike. If you’re already pedaling a super high cadence (which is fine for the road or smooth trail, but won’t work on nasty climbs on dirt where the trail’s surface is loose and inconsistent) you simply can’t increase your cadence any faster, and, thus, you can’t accelerate. Acceleration on steep climbs is essential for many reasons. First, simply to gain more momentum. Briefly increasing your momentum will help you blast up rock lodges, roots, etc. Pretty simple… But, acceleration is also an essential element for the following tips.

Tip # 4: Learn proper wheelie technique.

Most riders simply yank up on the bars when they are attempting to wheelie over obstacles on a climb. This improper technique is bad for a number of reasons. One, the rider’s core will have to be lowered and then quickly raised in order to help the arms snatch the front of the bike into the air. Then the core will drop back down. This will inevitably throw the rider’s balance off. You may get lucky with this technique a time or two, but when the core is not a stable and balanced platform, no movements will be very effective. This is basic to human movement. Two, with this common, yet improper wheelie method of yanking on the bars, the front wheel goes straight up into the air and then right back down, yet the bike doesn’t really travel forward or beyond the obstacle.

When this wheelie is done correctly—by accelerating the bike forward by pedaling (think blipping the throttle to wheelie on a motorcycle)—the rider can maintain a balanced and stable core and now the core can travel up the climb in a smooth momentum path. This is essential to maintaining balance and stability of the body. Also, by initiating the wheelie with acceleration, the bike will travel forward as the wheel elevates and effectively move the front of the bike beyond the obstacle.

Tip # 5: Unweight the rear wheel (the simple method)

Many riders sweat the idea of getting the front wheel up and over obstacles on steep climbs. However, the front end of the bike is usually naturally light on steeps and will often easily roll over an obstacle with very little effort (proper wheelie technique). It’s often getting the rear wheel over the obstacle that gives riders the biggest headaches.

There is all kinds of advice on how to lift the rear wheel on climbs. The thing is, you usually don’t have to lift the rear wheel at all. Simply unweighting it will get it up and over all but the nastiest obstacles on climbs. And how do you unweight the rear wheel? Once the front wheel has cleared the obstacle, simply get your butt off the seat and get your chest low before the back tire makes contact with the obstacle.

*** Many riders complain that they lose traction and “spin out” as they pedal over the obstacle after unweighting the rear wheel (as described in the technique above). Yep. This will happen if you apply power where this is no traction (such as roots, rocks, loose gravel, etc.). Again, the trick is to accelerate below the obstacle, and this will allow a very brief pause in power deliver as the wheel elevates over the obstacle. This does take a little energy, but there really is no choice but to work a little in these situations.

IMG_3282 (1) IMG_3283 (2) IMG_3286 (2)

Because of the steep terrain and tight switchback, this rider has very little momentum to help her over the root exiting the switchback. After properly getting the front wheel over–and beyond–the root with a proper pedal wheelie, she then simply raises off of her saddle, unweighting the rear wheel of the bike and redistributing her weight more toward the front of the bike allowing the rear wheel to roll op and over the root.


This will effectively shift the rider’s weight from the rear wheel (when the front wheel is properly lightened and has cleared the obstacle) to the front wheel and the bottom bracket of the bike. Getting the chest back down will center the rider’s weight over the bottom bracket and plant the front of the bike on the ground for steering and control. At this point the rider can become seated again, albeit on the front of the seat if the climb is still quite steep—with the chest down— and good climbing position is re-established.

Thanks for checking out the 5 Tips… Check back soon…