Virus Update: Is it OK to ride your Mountain Bike?

Should YOU still ride your MTB during this Virus Crisis?

It’s Springtime. The weather is beautiful. You’ve been itching to ride all winter long and now’s the time!!!…. Except that we have this damn Coronavirus mess going on!

Also, we’ve all been hearing all kinds of advice, warnings, threats, dismissals, about the dangers and responsibilities that we’ll assume if we do get out there and ride. So, what should we do? Ride? Don’t ride? Ride and don’t tell anyone about it?

As a person who makes their living in the outdoors, on a bike, former licensed EMT, First Responder, dabbled in the healthcare system… here’s where I’m at on this.

And keep in mind, I’m in no way telling you what to do. Everyone needs to make their own decisions. I think the best thing we all can do is do what we really feel is right the right thing to do. Sure, there are some disagreements on this topic. And that’s fine, even productive — if people can have a good conversation about it. Also, let’s face it, no matter what is advised, stated, threatened, quasi-enforced, some people are still going to ride their bikes. So, hopefully, the following can shed a little light on whether it’s cool to get out on the bike or not and what may be some metrics for a good decision.

Is the Doctor In?

(First, let’s assume that we’re all practicing ‘social distancing’, washing our filthy hands, common sense, etc.)

Maybe this should go without saying, but a huge factor in this decision should probably be the state of the healthcare system in your area. Clearly, if you’re in one of the virus “Hot Spots” where ALL healthcare staff, facilities, equipment, is already extremely stressed and/or overwhelmed, it’s not very responsible to go out on your bike, topple over, break your wrist, and what would normally be a couple more-annoying-than-anything-else next few hours getting patched up at the local urgent care could now very well could become a serious and potentially dangerous situation. You’ll be sucking valuable time and energy from already super stressed healthcare workers. You’re guaranteed that everyone you interact with will be sporting a mask, gloves, etc., all valuable and scarce resources that they just had to use on your sorry ass. You’re subjecting yourself to getting sick. Not cool.

But what if you live in an area that isn’t yet super hard hit by The Virus? Is it then OK for you to get out there and pin it? Well, again, if you screw up and need medical care, the healthcare staff that attends to you WILL be donning said safety equipment and using it up on you. Maybe it’s not in super short supply in your area right now, but will it be in two weeks? Two months?

Most MTB crashes that actually do require medical care are relatively not too bad: Stitches. A half-cast. A few pairs of plastic gloves and a couple face masks down the tubes. But if this happens in Virus-times? You’ll feel like a jerk and you should! What are you gonna tell your friends? (Answer: nothing! You don’t have to; you’re self quarantine-lock-downing! Hide that cast under your pj’s in your work from home conference call).

Seriously, though, what if your crash is a bit worse? At the risk of tarnishing my rep as a professional MTB coach, I’d be lying if I said that I don’t have a few (more than a few) pieces of metal holding the ol’ body together. That level of getting patched up doesn’t happen on the same day. Now how many resources are you eating up? And if this ‘routine surgery’ gets pushed out a little further…. and then a little further… Well, two-three-four weeks from now how stressed will the healthcare system be in your area? If it’s bad (which, who knows?), now you’re going to feel like a MEGA jerk (which you should) and now there’s way higher chance that you’re going bring a case of the ‘Rona home to the kiddies.

So… What? No Riding?

Ok, I’m still riding a bit. Not as much as I’d like to and definitely not as hard as I want to, but I’m still getting on the bike. I also know that, currently, the medical facilities that I would need – barring a very, very unlikely catastrophic injury – resulting from a MTB crash (ER, urgent care facility) are not overwhelmed and/or super stressed in my area. How do I know this? I have multiple friends that work in the healthcare industry said facilities and I’m getting updates on a regular basis.

Let’s take this riding thing a bit further: I am riding, but I’m not pushing it. I’m staying well within my limits. Normally my preferred flavor of getting after it is very DH and Enduro oriented. The gnarlier the trails the better. Though I’d like to think I pretty much know what I’m doing, I do like to get out of my comfort zone and push it a bit. And, if you’re going to ride hard, right at or sometimes a bit over your limits, you need to understand that no matter your skill level, you’re gonna hit the deck every now and again. This is a risk I would normally accept. But not now, Virus-times.

Current riding agenda: chilling and staying well within my limits; longer, technically easier XC rides; more cruising the bike paths around town; working on skill stuff that poses very little level of risk (my parking lot show-off skills are getting dialed!).

Fast people: IMHO, now’s not the time to be ripping shuttle laps with your buddies at the local super sketchy pirate DH trails. Now is not the time to send that big hucker gap that’s been on your mind all winter. But mellow stuff? Takin’ ‘er easy? I’m gonna say probably OK. (As long as your local healthcare system isn’t stressed)

Beginners, novice, intermediate riders: unfortunately, now may not be the best time to learn mountain biking unless in a super safe and controlled setting (i.e.: with a professional riding coach. Wink, wink). Now is not the time to be guessing out there on the trails. The trial and error technique is not wise in the Time of the Virus. If you’re the type of rider that seems to fall down every ride, every other ride… maybe stay off the bike for a bit until this Virus-Crisis blows over. Very often beginner, novice, intermediate riders end up crashing and don’t know why it happened. Now is not the time to go replicate it in order to try and figure it out. Worse, often riders will have success on a trail feature and have no idea why they made it and didn’t die. This gives them a false sense of confidence and there’s a very good chance this roll-of-the dice technique will catch up sooner than later. Now’s not a good time for that.

So – for most riders — I do feel that it’s OK to get out on the bike if you’re willing to adjust your riding style and goals and big-time error on the side of caution (and, as long as the healthcare system in your area isn’t stressed/overwhelmed).

All of his really comes down to making good decisions out there and good decisions are based on knowledge. How do you get that riding-knowledge? How do you raise that riding IQ? How do you know what the What’s and the Why’s are to base your decisions on? DirtSmart MTB Skills Camps of course!!!

OK, yes, I am currently suspending all group camps. I will be adjusting the schedule according to all new information concerning The Virus, recommended travel, etc. You can definitely feel free to contact me for any info concerning this.

I am currently still doing private coaching sessions in the Denver area. Now may be a great time for this depending on your circumstances. Hit me up!

Also, I have a ton of skills videos and articles in the works that I will soon start posting at including a bunch of stuff that you can do on your bike at home, at the neighborhood park, etc., that are extremely low risk and WILL help your riding tremendously. You can actually learn a ton and really develop your skills in your own driveway and/or neighborhood. Just like any sport, good technique in MTB is a result of knowledge, intentional practice, and repetition. As I always tell my students in camps, “If your neighbors don’t think you’re weird, you’re not trying hard enough!” (However, this may not even apply in the Time of The Virus; I think we all may be getting a bit weird at this point. So who are your neighbors to judge!)


**** Again, this is where I currently stand on this topic. This can and probably will change as new information concerning the situation is made available. I do understand that people will disagree with me on both sides of my opinion. I definitely welcome all comments and discourse as long as it’s courteous and adult-like.

Pro MTB Riders Doing it Right: Video

Some great riding in this video. Take a look and let’s focus on three things this rider is doing very well. (and check out the breakdowns and explanations in the text below):

1) The riders head is very calm (The “imaginary Glass of Water” technique)

2) Great line choices (lots after the 1:10 mark)

3) Jumping prowess (beautiful!)

Break downs and explanations:


1) The “Imaginary Glass of Water”

If riders are doing everything correctly on the bike there should be very, very little movement in the head. It should be as if there’s a glass of water on top of the head and not only doesn’t it spill but shouldn’t even slosh around (with very rare exception, of course).

Our head/brain is the control center of our body. Our brain works with the vestibular system in our middle ear and our eyes/vision to provide balance. None of that works well when your melon is bouncing and jarred all over the place. This is Human Movement 101. We get way into it in the camps and coaching sessions. Balance; vision as it relates to balance (vision is a huge component of balance); vision as it relates to trail vision and decision making…..none of this will work well if your head isn’t calm and controlled and moving in a smooth momentum path down the trail.

Of course this “calm glass of water” is also a function of everything else that is going on with your riding technique and the rest of your body: are you using your legs correctly? Your feet? Is your core a stable and balanced platform so that you can be effective and precise with your movements? Are your arms being used correctly or are you using too much upper body in trying to control the bike? There is a ton that goes into this.

If the Glass of Water is calm, that’s a very good sign that the rider is doing everything else pretty well.

2) Line choice

In the video there are many places where the rider is taking lines that are alternate to the main line (lots of good stuff after about 1:10). The main line is formed by the majority of riders and the majority of riders will “micro manage” the trail; we want to “MACRO manage” the trail. The good lines provide smoother momentum paths than the main line and set the rider up better for features down the trail. The good lines are also usually more efficient, meaning less wasted energy.

There is a lot of strategy to proper line choice. Everyone knows that you need to “look ahead” but there’s way more to it than just that.

I like to say riding fast is like “death by paper cuts.” You’ll almost never get huge chunks of time out of your close competition. But you can get a wheel length here, a bike length there, another wheel, another bike, and that add’s up pretty quickly. If you look at downhill race times, the difference in results is often decided by split seconds. On enduro stages (longer than DH race runs) it may be a few seconds. A smart racer who is reading the trail properly will almost always put this type of time into a equally fit and skilled competitor who is simply riding the main line as fast as possible. Add in the saved energy because of the added efficiency of smart line choices and now the competition starts pretty getting ugly.

3) Jumping!!!

There are a ton of places where this rider is lifting, unweighting, jumping the bike. Again, this is all about smooth momentum paths (and generating more momentum: catching backsides of landings, etc), avoiding obstacles, setting up for better lines. Being able to jump well will be a huge asset to your descending. Not being able to jump well and trying to do it anyway will probably result in getting yourself hurt and not really going very fast while doing it.

Almost everyone wants to learn how to jump better. But jumping is at the top of the pyramid, and we have to build the foundation of the pyramid before we can get to the top. Most riders have very little understanding of body position (yes, the “attack position” is a thing but there’s way more to it than just crouching on the bike with your elbows up), weight placement (position is nothing without proper weight placement and when and why), vision (you’re going to hit the deck hard if you start sending stuff without reading the trail properly — and very few riders read the trail properly), and there’s much, much more….this list goes on and on. Yet, riders still want to skip to the jumping part. Jumping well and safely is really about having all the fundamentals super dialed in and automatic.

Proper jumping takes time. But you’ll never get there if you don’t understand the rest of the pyramid first.

All of the above skills can be broken down to there simplest movements.

Why you need MTB Coaching

To paraphrase a good buddy of mine who is a life long rider, shop owner, serious racer, and DirtSmart student: If you don’t think you need MTB coaching … and you’re reading this, YOU NEED MTB coaching!

Check it out:

There are two reasons riders seek MTB skills coaching or instruction (and we’re talking skills oriented coaching in this article: dealing with technically difficult terrain on a mountain bike, not fitness training): 1) to get faster. 2) to be safer. We’re going to look at the ‘faster’ part, first, and then address the ’safer’ in a bit.

When trying to get faster, many beginners, intermediates, and novice riders will seek out MTB coaching all day long. They have realized — quite possibly the hard way — that there are way better ways of doing what they’re trying to do on the bike, they just don’t know what they are yet. You know who else will seek out coaching? Professional riders. That’s right! The group of riders that is already The Best will consistently look to reputable professional coaches to get better. Strange huh? (not really). What group of riders are we missing here? The “expert” level rider, the “good” rider.

The “expert” level rider, the “good” rider, is consistently the one who refuses to look at MTB coaching as a means to get faster, even though they’ll spend a small fortune on every gimmick that blips through the MTB retail market. (And, yes, some of these will help bit. I’ll never say that good equipment is a waste of money. But you have to know how to use it!).

Guess who also spends the most time in the ER room? The “expert” level rider. This rider is usually a pretty good athlete and gets to the “good” level on athleticism and fitness, then plateaus. The bad habits and sub-par technique catch up. They’re “good”, but they’re not getting any better. However, continue to try to go faster (with crappy technique and bad habits) and then they get hurt a lot. You know the rider. I have list a mile long in my head. Many are good friends of mine!

Another big problem is, that when it comes to other riders seeking coaching, these “good” riders will tell the other to “just rider more and you’ll figure it out.”

Think about this: In mountain biking (or any sport), who works the hardest? Who practices the most, trains the most, spends the most time on nutrition, has their nose in the latest technologies, methods, etc… is the most current and has the most depth of knowledge when it comes to excelling? Answer: it’s the top participants of the sport. The Best. The cream of the crop. If the top professionals in the world are students of the game, have put way more time into their riding than you ever can or will, and still work with riding coaches, strength and conditioning specialists, nutritionist — even though they’re already the best in world — how are you going to “just ride more and figure it out”? If working with riding coaches helps these riders IMPROVE, how could coaching not help you? How could it not benefit your spouse, kid, friend…

Gonna figure it out on your own? Cool. How much time do you have? Mountain biking is difficult and dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. 10 years of trial and error? 20? Or you can spend a few bucks on good coaching.

If you’re spending money, time, and energy trying to get faster, why not spend a small amount of that on actually acquiring some skills? What’s going to make you faster? Actually knowing how to ride or a new wheel set? (And, coaching is way cheaper than a wheel set… I’ll admit, new wheel sets are nice, though.)

How about safer?

I consistently get students that aren’t really interested in going faster. They come to me because they simply don’t want to get hurt anymore!

Unfortunately, this often happens post-big-crash. Riders get injured and realize that they need to start doing things correctly. They love riding, but they can’t keep doing it if they keep getting hurt.

Better late then never.

Put it this way: if you know what you should be doing out there on the trail, you can make good decisions. If you don’t know what you’re doing — you’re guessing and hoping — you’re going to get into trouble. Plain and simple.

If you know how to read the trail correctly, find the correct line, understand body position, weight placement, understand braking technique (more to it than most riders think), have good cornering technique, do manual wheelies properly (manipulating the front wheel—often at speed. Most riders riders are way off with this and yank with their arms. BAD!) and therefore can move forward with jumping, drop offs, bunny hops, etc., and take care of yourself even at the higher levels and more difficult terrain… you stand a way better chance of not getting hurt.

If you know where you stand in the above progression; know how, why, what you can do to improve… you can up your skill level and stand a way better chance of not getting hurt.

If you know what is correct, but you realize you skill level isn’t quite adequate for the trail feature… you can make a good decision and back down instead of letting ignorance get you in trouble.

So often riders end up hitting the deck and have no idea what went wrong and/or don’t know how to properly fix it. Or — almost as bad — they have success, but have no idea why. Then they continue to just roll the dice — because whatever they did before, worked!… until it doesn’t… whatever it was.

“Well, I’ll just take it easy.” Sure you will. Until you suddenly find yourself in a situation where reacting with correct technique will save your ass and reacting incorrectly will put you to sleep in the dirt for a little while.

I get Thank You emails all the time from previous students stating that if it weren’t for the techniques that they learned from my coaching, if they hadn’t reacted correctly in a certain situation — which they never would have before the coaching — they almost certainly would have gotten injured. You’re welcome.

Look, I get it: there are all kinds of cool things to spend money on, but MTB coaching is cheap compared to really getting hurt. Not just the insurance deductible, but the rattled confidence; the fear of getting back on the bike again; the thoughts of maybe not doing this sport that gives you so much; from now on, loved ones will worry about you every time you go out…

What this is really about is elevating your riding I.Q. And, as they say, if you’re gonna be dumb, you better be tough!

Are there exceptions to all of this?

Of course. If you’ve already been a pro level downhill or enduro rider, and now you just chill and always ride well below your limits, you’re not concerned with getting any faster… you probably don’t need MTB coaching at this point in your riding (although, I bet you’ll admit you wish good coaching was around when you were on your way up. You would’ve been faster and wouldn’t have gotten hurt as much).

Any other exceptions? Not really. If you’re trying to get better, if you’re trying to be safer, you WILL benefit from good MTB coaching.

Get some good coaching. Know exactly who your coach will be (don’t just sign up with an ‘coaching organization’ and hope you get a good one) and what their credentials are. Research them. If you can’t find anything… good chance they’re not the best choice. Thanks for reading!

Mountain Bike Skills: Early Apex in Messy Corners

Hey Everybody! I know I won’t win any design awards for this “video,” but it’s still very useful information. Check it out! Bad line choice combined with too much speed and momentum get a lot of riders in trouble when the trail is loose and rough. Sound familiar? Here’s a simple technique that will help you find the good line in tough corners and switchbacks. And, on net, be faster (and safer) than riding like a knucklehead. CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO

Mountain bike climbing position. Video


This video deals with the adjustments in body position and weight placement that a rider will need to make on those really steep, loose, nasty sections of climbs. (Also, check out a couple more articles that relate to those nasty climbs and proper body position on the bike.)


Climbing on easy trail is easy. When the  going gets tough — steep, loose, rocky, rooty — is when we have to make the proper–and often counterintuitive– adjustments to our riding position if we want to taste success at the top.

Of course success may mean simply making to the top while still on the bike. But, and especially for more advanced riders, success means that if things are done correctly–maybe even slightly better than in the past–the rider will save percentages of energy on every climb and still get to the top slightly faster than they have previously.

Of course, this all adds up as the rider progresses through a ride or race.

As always, a couple minutes of video can not replace real MTB coaching. Sign-up for camp and get the real thing!


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: Thanks to Nate Hills and his Follow Cam Friday for this one. 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 (we cover this technique in camps) many obstacles, set-up for further down the trail, and to get backsides and good pumps off of all kinds of stuff.

Video 2: This video comes from Vital MTB, great site. 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 in this corner. No one else took the inside line. No doubt, Hill was thinking in terms momentum paths and time and not simply following the main line as fast as possible. 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 – earlier in the weekend –  it probably was a smoother arc through the corner than the tight inside line, and probably faster. However, as the race 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: Another video from Vital MTB. 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.

Again, this blog post probably appealed to the more advanced riders. But these same concepts apply at the beginner levels of riding. Too often micro-managing the trail gets beginners into big trouble and gets them hurt. For beginners, properly reading the trail is much more about controlling momentum and safety, as well as building good habits in order to improve. I keep camps small so I can cater sessions to each riders needs and ability levels. Sign-up for a camp!!!



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!

Cornering on a Mountain Bike?

Cornering on a mounatin bike.

“Jump for show; corner for dough”

Being able to turn your bike well is a huge asset to your riding. If speed, flow, and riding to the best of your ability is a concern, then cornering well is a must. And if you’re new to riding – a beginner, novice, intermediate – control and safety in the turns is something that, if you’re not already concerned with . . . you will be soon.

Am I going to break down all of cornering here, in the span of a few hundred words? No, of course, not! Not possible. But I will touch on some nuances of cornering and hopefully shed some light on many things that are overlooked when it comes to doing it right;. And, of course – no matter what level of rider you are – cornering well is about the human body working optimally in an athletic sense in harmony with the design of the bicycle.


Take a look at these photos:
Heather Park City

Richie Rude Leaned

AndyW_2016_7646 copy


Steph Corner

One is of 2-time, back to back current Enduro World Series Champ, Richie Rude. The others? Students of mine and myself. Point is, good cornering technique works at all levels.

One bummer that I see in MTB coaching is that cornering technique is always exclusively about what happens in the corner (I haven’t seen any exceptions) . Bummer, because the most important part of cornering is what happens before the corner. If you don’t read the trail correctly you’re already dead in the water. If you don’t set up properly in terms of body position, line choice, momentum management, proper braking – all happening before the corner – it’s already game over.

Lean the bike, not the body

Notice the lean angle of the bike in the photos. Notice how the core of the body is still very upright and controlled. This provides a balanced and stable platform to ensure effective movements of the rider’s limbs and, thus, effective adjustments, corrections, and manipulations of the bike. Also, the bike will turn when you lean it over. We want to let that happen; let the bike do the work! This means the rider can remain very much on top of the bike so that the weight and force of the rider pushes through the bike and stays much more perpendicular into the trail’s surface than if the rider leans the body at the same angle as the bike (as most riders do for various reasons). When we lean the body with the bike in a flat corner, the lower that angle gets, the more the forces of the rider are horizontal to the trail’s surface. This will eventually force the bike to slide out. We’ve all probably been there!

Again, none of the good stuff above is possible if you screw it up before the corner.

If you’ve been riding for a bit, you’re probably aware of the “attack position”, or the body position a rider should obtain while descending in tough terrain. This is the position the rider will need to be in approaching a corner (if the corner is at all fast or difficult). Assuming one understands the how’s and why’s of this position (which most riders don’t) and can obtain it while coasting down the trail or in the parking lot, then the question is how do we maintain that position as the bike decelerates hard under braking? Or, maybe, gets loose and slides around when it loses traction because of braking forces and rough, loose terrain; bounces violently through braking bumps, root sections, and rock drops; all while trying to slow down for the turn?

Many riders believe that leaning back under braking is the solution to the above dilemmas, but leaning back is one of the worse things you can do – for many reasons. When we lean back the bike will not pivot around the bottom bracket and float over the terrain (too much weight on the rear wheel). We also lose range of motion in our limbs when we lean back. That’s bad. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg; there are many other things that go wrong when we lean back

What should happen with the pedals?

In the corner: Weight that outside pedal? No, not really. It’s actually about keeping the weight on the bottom bracket and centered on the bike as much as possible. I want riders to focus on moving the inside leg out of the way to get lean angle on the bike – not weighting the outside pedal. This difference of focus provides an emphasis on being centered on the bike and riding the bike through the bottom bracket. This is extremely important for control. This emphasis doesn’t happen when a rider focuses on weighting the outside pedal. Focusing on weighting the outside pedal can also create a lot of bad habits. We go over these in the camps.

While my pedals will often go to 12 and 6 in relation to the bike, sometimes they are still level in relation to the ground and to my “line of force.” That means sometimes they’re 12 and 6 sometimes 10 and 4 . . . or anywhere in-between. Again, I want students to focus on keeping their weight centered on the bike, through the bottom bracket, and their pedals end up wherever they end up as a result of how much lean angle the bike gets.

Drop the outside pedal, though, right? Well, sometimes. It depends on the trail’s surface. In a berm, bank, or rut – in theory – the bike is still perpendicular to the trail’s surface, thus, bike lean angle away from the body isn’t really necessary. In this case, we often can keep our feet level and lean the body with the bike.

Why not keep the pedals level, even in flat corners? This is fine for beginner riders (who usually aren’t carrying enough speed to need much lean angle in corners), corners where you’re not really going fast enough to need much lean angle, or corners where the trail’s surface prioritizes accommodation of bumps, and, thus, the pivoting of the bike around the bottom bracket and fore and aft control of the rider’s mass. (Rock or root sections in the corner are examples of the latter where this would be necessary. The bike will actually have to be adjusted/manipulated to go relatively straight over these sections, meaning it will have to stand up and be much more perpendicular to the ground and pedals will have to level out as it travels over this section of the corner. Having the core of the body balanced and stable in order to make these adjustments mid-corner – often in the same corner: lean bike and turn; stand bike up to go straight; then, lean back down to finish turn – is another reason why maintaining proper body position approaching, as well as through the corner, is crucial.)

However, we simple can’t lean the bike over very far before it will hit our inside leg. So we have to move the leg – and rotate our pedals – out of the way. See above.

Weight back? Weight Forward? Weight centered!

Weight the bars in the corner so that the front wheel will get traction? Nope. I don’t care how many 23 year old – and often super fast – pros tell you to do this (It’s kind of a cool thing to say you ride the bike very aggressively over the front of the bike like a motocross rider. One big difference: a motocross bike has a motor so it will accelerate back under the rider. It often has to be ridden over the front end to accommodate that acceleration. MTB’s don’t have motors. Therefore, with very rare exception, they don’t accelerate back under the rider.) With very rare exception this is terrible technique and a terrible habit to get into. Also, there’s a huge difference in pushing down with the arms on the front of the bike, perhaps steering to get traction . . . and weighting the front of the bike. This has to do with how your body works in an athletic sense and is crucial to all areas of riding, I prove why in my camps (Go to 2:32 of this video). If I do end up weighting the front of the bike it’s almost always a result of overcompensating because my weight was initially too far back, the front wheel was in danger of drifting and now I’m doing damage control. Not fast, definitely sketchy!

Elbows? Hips? Braking? (hint: yes on the braking)

Keeping that outside elbow up is mega-important for so many reasons it isn’t even funny.

Lead with the hips? It doesn’t really work that way.

You will have to brake in many corners but it has to be done properly. Doing it wrong will put you on the ground in a quickness. Most riders brake incorrectly the majority of the time, and if they do this in a corner, they will almost definitely end up hitting the deck. This is why people – even most MTB coaches and coaching organizations – state to never brake in the corners: because they don’t really understand the dynamics of proper braking even in straight line (you actually can go faster by braking properly in the corners than if you don’t brake; “gotta go slow to go fast” works at times, but I’ll take Go Fast to Go Fast every time! Hint: braking isn’t always about deceleration.)

Obviously, there is a ton going on with properly cornering on a mountain bike. We address it thoroughly in the camps, spending a couple hours exclusively on cornering and touching on different examples through the duration of the camp. We relate descending body position and weight placement in a straight line to how this will directly affect our approach to cornering technique. Proper vision techniques are huge in cornering correctly.

The list goes on and on.

If you’re still reading this, you’re interested. If you’re already fast, then you know that every little thing counts, and from reading this, you’ve probably deduced that there is still a lot you can learn. If you’re beginner, intermediate, novice, I promise, I can help you turn better, help keep that front end from washing out, and not only help keep you off the ground, but get you around the trail with more control, safety, efficiency, and – yes – speed!

Brake Control and Wheelies

Brake Control and Wheelies

Here’s the latest Technique of the Week video: “Brake Control and Wheelies”

However, before the techniques in the featured video will make much sense, the rider must first understand basic wheelie techniques. DirtSmart videos featuring those techniques can be found here: Pedal Wheelie Technique; and, here: Manual (or Coaster Wheelie) Technique.

Normal disclaimer: great as the internet and video-coaching can be, taking a camp or private coaching will always be the best way to improve your riding; there is no substitute for real-time coaching and the real-time interaction between coach and student.

Thanks for checking out the video. Check back soon, I’ll have plenty more! Always feel free to contact me for and questions or information concerning MTB camps or coaching.

VIDEO: Technique of the Week — Get Low


Technique of the Week — Get Low


How low should we be on the bike when we get to nasty sections on the trail? How much bend should we have in our knees? Well, essentially, as low as we can get and that’ll give us about 90 degree bend in those knees.

There is still a bunch of bad advice circulating out in MTB-land that states that riders should have a slight bend in their knees when they are on the “attack” position. Not so . . .

In the video, we’ll see WHY it’s so important to get low and we’ll learn about all kinds of problems we’ll encounter if we remain tall on the bike with straight, or slightly bent knees. Also, check out this other video and watch some of the top riders in the world getting low whenever they’re in the nasty stuff.

Thanks for watching. Check back for more!

Technique of the Week: Fenders

I guess this could be more of a “Tip of the Week” instead of Technique. But, still good stuff.

For some reason, I’ve never run fenders on my bikes. . . until now!

They looked a little goofy; I didn’t think I really needed one; and, honestly, I really didn’t think that that little piece of plastic was going to help much in keeping gunk outta my grill.

Way back in the day — just like everybody else, at that time — I did occasionally hack a Gatorade bottle in half and zip-tie it to the downtube at muddy downhill races. But, as far as the recent incarnations of fenders — those small, plastic little suckers; almost imperceptible on the bike; adhered to the fork brace/arch —  I’ve never messed around with them until recently.

It took about 50 feet into the trail, on a pretty wet day, and I was blown away at how well that little fender actually works.

The usual face splattering, muddy glasses, and the palatable taste of gritty dirt was pretty much nonexistent on that ride.

And, I’m sold on fenders!

It’s probably pretty easy to understand why a rider would go with a fender — especially if it works well — when it’s wet. But, I’ve also been loving the fender in dry conditions.

There have been countless times that I’ve had to pull to the side of the trail in order to dig a small rock or other type of trail debris out of my eyeball, even in the dry. Rocks coming off the front tire can have some pretty incredible velocity (the good ones will easily chip the paint of a frame). I’ve had plenty of rocks come off the front tire, rattle around in between my glasses and face for a bit, until finally finding a home in my eye. It sucks when that happens.

I’ve also — again, on quite a few occasions — had a rock come off the tire and hit me hard enough in a tooth that I had to give the ol’ tougue-swipe to make sure the tooth was still there.

Teeth aren’t cheap. Fenders are (only a few bucks).

And, to a small degree, the fender will protect your frame a bit.

Cheap, easy to put on the bike, and a remedy to the above annoyances. Pretty sure I’ll be rocking a fender from here on out on all of my bikes.

Definitely give a fender a try if you’ll be riding in conditions that will be even a little bit wet. And, I highly suggest leaving it on in the dry if the trail conditions are at all loose, providing sections the risk of catching flying debris of for the front tire.



Technique of the Week: Brake Levers and Braking Technique

Welcome to this week’s Technique of the Week. This week we’re going to talk about brake lever set-up and a little about braking technique.

I always want to pick a topic that will be relevant to riders of all levels, and his one hits that mark. The first bit should a no brainer for most advanced riders; but; don’t worry, it’ll get pretty interesting as we move through the content.

First, we’ll cover getting one finger out there on the brake lever instead of two or more, why this is important, and a few ways we can go about getting this set-up to happen and still manage all the controls on our bars. This is a big deal for many beginner riders. I very often see riders braking with two or more fingers per lever and/or trying to ride technical sections without first “covering” the brakes, neither of which we want to do.


Next: the angle of our brake levers. Again, I see many riders, even quite advanced riders, with their levers way to low. We’ll talk about where they should be and why.

And, finally, we’ll talk about lever throw, and, particularly the throw of the front brake lever and how playing around with this may help more advanced riders find a little extra speed and stay out of trouble.

A Little Braking Break Down

Braking isn’t just about slowing the bike down and stoping it. But — especially at the upper levels of riding — braking is very much about speed control and/or momentum management. Often, we don’t need to slow down, we just need to not go any faster. Often, we should be accelerating, but not as fast as we would be if we were entirely off of the brakes.

Think about that for second.

There is a also a massive difference in braking technique between slowing the bike down — actual deceleration — and speed control.

These are nuances that very few riders understand. This is a huge reason why even many pro downhillers still believe — incorrectly — that you shouldn’t brake in corners or through rough sections (and why many coaches and coaching programs still coach this). This is also why when I bring up the subject of braking in camps, many riders, in a joking self deprecating fashion, proclaim “oh, I’m real good at braking!” or “I know all about that part!”  When, in actuality, they’re way off.

These misunderstandings also contribute to the myth that being completely off of the brakes or super hard on both brakes, and never in the middle, is proper technique. Actually, it’s terrible technique. [think about it: in any type of motorsport racing, is the vehicle driven at complete full throttle or completely hard on the brakes? No. finesse in both throttle control and braking are essential and all of the best drivers/riders have this finesse. So, why would you ride your MTB completely full throttle (completely off of the brakes, gravity being the throttle), or completely hard on the brakes, but never in between?]

Do we have the time and space to cover all of braking technique in the blog post? No. That’s the stuff we do in camps. But, getting brake set-up dialed in is the first step to this and that’s what we’re going to dive into. . . . and, some technique, of course.

Give it the Finger

First — and this will be fairly obvious to the advanced riders (hang in there; we’ll get to the good stuff in a bit) — we need to set the brake levers up so that we operate them with one finger, not two . . . definitely not three or four.

I’m pretty blown away at the amount of riders that still use more than one finger on a brake lever. Often, bike shops and professional bike fitters are the culprits of bad lever position and this seems to promote bad technique. Traditionally, when a bike is built up, the brake perch will be next to the grip and touching it, with no space between grip and the brake perch. Often, we will need to move the brake perch in-board a bit, creating some space between the grip and the lever in order for our finger to touch the lever in the correct spot. What is the correct spot? Way out on the end, tucked right into that little bend.

This often means that we will need to swap the order of brakes and shifters and and adjust the reach of the lever. (all decent brake levers will allow for reach adjustment (or how far away from the grip the lever resides). This also can sometimes mean that we will have to ditch the integrated brake/shifter/dropper-seatpost configuration that some component companies offer. I still run all of my components on their own exclusive clamps because the integrated options never seems to allow me to get my controls right where I like them to be.

The pointer finger is the braking-finger of choice for most riders. However, the middle finger will also work especially if the rider has small hands. But, either way, we need one of our first two fingers on the brake lever and the other on the grip.

And, this is how you should be riding the bike whenever things get rowdy. This is called “covering” the brakes (Look at any photo of top enduro or DH riders—one finger on each brake lever). You need to have a finger out there operating the brakes while also having a powerful grip on the bars with the other fingers and thumb.

This is very important because we’re simply not going to be able to move our braking finger back and forth between the brake lever and the grip and effectively brake. Also, our first two fingers offer powerful gripping strength. Our ring and pinky? Weak. So, covering the brakes in technical terrain is essential while having the other of the first two fingers on the bars for gripping strength

[Contrary to popular belief, we will not always be able to keep a loose and relaxed grip on the handlebars. This is is one of those myths of riding, and, unfortunately, is often coached by professional MTB coaches. While it is true that we don’t want to constantly have a death grip on the bars, there will be plenty of times that we will need to be gripping the bars with as much power as possible.]


One finger on the lever. Proper contact point. Good stuff. Notice how the lever has been scooted in-board a bit.


Not Good stuff. See how the finger is contacting the lever in the middle and not out at the end? Notice how the brake perch is right up against the grip. And, this often leads to this:


. . . two finger braking . . . Bad stuff

The Angle

Now that we’ve got only one finger out on that lever, we’re going to talk about the angle of the lever. Most riders have those levers way too low. Again, this is often the fault of shops and bike-fitters; the lever angle is usually set in regards to the rider being in a seated position and with the bike on level ground (the traditional way to set up road bikes — which is where most pro bike-fitters are still coming from).

Quite obviously, the brakes will be used the most, and be most important, when to bike is pitched forward while we’re descending (not when the bike is level). Also, the rider should be low on the bike while descending; and, although the rider shouldn’t be leaning back, he will be back relative to where he would be if he were seated if he’s in good descending position. This means, that in order to keep a straight wrist for power and control, with the elbows and upper body in proper proximity to the bars, the levers will have to be angled quite a bit higher than most rider have their levers set.

If the levers are too low, and we’re in the proper position on the bike while descending, we’ll have to start bending our wrists to reach the brake levers. This is not a strong and powerful position of the wrists (Imagine trying to do a bench press with bent wrists).

In other words, if you intend to ride trails with steep descents, your levers should be set a little too high for when the bike is on level ground, enabling them to be set-up correctly when the bike is pitched forward and you really need them most.

Lever Throw

Andy finally, let’s talk about lever throw, or how far the lever has to move before the brakes actually engage. And, this one is gong to come down to the rider’s personal preference, something for the more advanced riders to maybe play around with. I’ve been messing with this a bit myself lately and haven’t come up with any solid conclusions as far as what’s absolutely right or wrong, but I do see how this could work out well and help alleviate some bad braking habits.

In the past, I’ve always run my brakes with exactly the same throw, front and rear. And, I always wanted both brakes to engage right when my fingers were bent at ninety degrees. However, I do recall numerous top-level riders, back in the day, who did run their levers with a ton of throw, particularly the front brake, so that the lever was basically at the bar when the brake engaged. I never really heard a decent explanation why this was done. The explanations that I got didn’t make much sense. But, those dudes were all really fast, so things couldn’t have been too bad.

As I learned more about properly braking a two wheeled vehicle (And, keep in mind, this happened years after what could be considered a fairly respectable stint as a mid-pack professional downhiller with very occasional flashes of brilliance. So, I must’ve been doing an OK job of braking previously), I realized that the front brake is waaaaay over used at the high levels of riding.

The front brake is essential to deceleration. But, very often, deceleration isn’t the goal with braking; as stated earlier, often speed control and/or momentum management is the goal which requires much different braking technique than deceleration.

Unfortunately, too many riders grab front brake when they don’t need it, and, thus, shouldn’t be using it. The front brake is a very powerful tool and a huge asset to your riding. But, like any powerful tool, use it incorrectly and you’re going to hurt yourself.

And, this could definitely attribute to why lots of lever thrown for the front brake may be a good thing: we simply don’t want to use it unless we really need it, and that extra bit of pull could be just enough to take away that initial bite of front brake when you don’t need it.

There’s no way I’d ever attempt to give a full break down of braking technique via internet. But, in terms of this post: the front brake is going to offer the arbitrary 70 – 90% of stopping power to a vehicle on level ground. Let’s go with that. The harder you brake the more traction is needed to deal with those forces of deceleration. If your deceleration forces over come the traction, you skid. An unwanted skid can mean loss of control, particularly when it comes to the front wheel.

When we’re in situations where traction is very minimal—rough, loose, steep, stuff; hard cornering—it’s essentially too late to decelerate the bike. So, stay off the front brake. Because of it’s power, weight transfer while decelerating, etc. (more than we can get into here), and very minimal traction, it’ll almost definitely break traction of the front wheel and skid and that can very easily mean loss of control in the above situations. But, you can almost always control speed by dragging the rear brake. Really, in these situations dragging the rear brake is all you have. And, If the rear wheel does break traction and skid a bit—which it will, at times—it’s not the end of the world. We’ve all had that happen.

In the above situations, it’s very important for the front wheel to maintain direction. That may mean continuing an arc through a corner, or maintaining a straight line over the uneven, off camber surfaces of a rock garden.

You can’t take away traction from the front wheel — in the above situations — by braking or you’re going to give up the ability to maintain direction: brake here, and you’ll either skid or have to take a different path that requires less traction. There’s simply not enough traction to go around. . . This is where taking the edge off of that initial bite of front brake — with more lever throw — may help you out if you have the habit of grabbing front brake when you shouldn’t.

Take the Edge Off your Panic-Brake

The front brake will drastically slow the bike down. The rear really won’t slow it down that much at all (it’ll simply skid the rear wheel if you do try to decelerate hard, which is usually controllable). If you have the habit of grabbing front brake when it’s not necessary, you’re also slowing down when you don’t need to. Tap both brakes before the jump and then case the heck out of it? (We’ve all been there, right?) I almost guarantee if you just tapped a little rear brake—no front—you would have greased it.

As stated above, often we don’t need to slow down, we just need to not go any faster, and doing this correctly translates into faster times.

It’s also much easier for the rider to get thrown forward and out of position if they panic and grab both brakes because of bad braking habits (because, obviously, this will engage the front, thus, decelerating the bike, usually much more than the rider would like), rather than keep their cool, dragging some rear, maintaining good position, visually focus on solutions, and riding it out.

So, again, here’s where having a lot of lever throw on the front brake can be a good thing. You simply have to pull that lever a bit farther to engage it. It may help you to not over use it by grabbing too much front brake if you do happen to panic-brake.

I’m not so sure that running a lot of thrown on the front brake lever is such a good idea on public trails with other trails users, where you may need to suddenly and unexpectedly stop. Let’s just say that I discourage that. But if you’re on downhill trails, bike only, directional, etc., where you can safely work on finding and keeping speed; especially if you have the habit of grabbing front brake when you don’t actually need it, running more throw in that lever may be something to play around with.


Not much throw


Lots more throw

VIDEO: Technique of the Week: the “Rachet Pedal”

Very few riders — beginner or advanced — use the ratchet pedal as much as they should.

Many beginner and novice riders have issues with pedal strikes — on rocks, logs, etc — while trying to pedal in technical terrain, especially on climbs. As we all know, it’s essential to keep forward momentum on tough steep climbs, but how do you keep pedaling without smacking your pedals on trail obstacles? Answer: the Ratchet Pedal.

This technique is also great for advanced riders, and, again, is seldom used enough. Most advanced riders will naturally already use ratchet pedals when necessary while climbing, but very seldom do I see it used enough while descending in tough, steep terrain, when it is impossible to get in full pedal strokes.

Check out the video. Work on this technique with each foot forward, both standing and seated.


The “Glass of Water” MTB Technique

Check out this video featuring many of today’s top professional Enduro and Downhill racers (and, yes, the following will apply to beginner, intermediate, etc., mtb riders):

Click on HERE for Video

Notice this: when things are going correctly, all of these riders have virtually no movement in their heads. Of course, they are moving down the track, but the momentum path of the head is smooth; there are no abrupt or jarring motions. Even when the bike is bouncing, pivoting, and sliding wildly, the head is moving through space in a calm and predictable manner, a smooth momentum path.

Enter the Glass o’ H20

In my MTB camps, I have students imagine that they have a glass of water duct taped to the top of their helmets. If they are doing things correctly while descending, this glass of water should not spill, it shouldn’t slosh around, the surface of the h20 should be calm and smooth. (Of course we don’t take this exactly literally. But after watching the video, you probably get the point.) 

Keeping the head — or control center of the body — calm is essential to descending on a mountain bike well in tough terrain. This is true to all speed oriented sports (and, with very rare exception, all athletics); watch motocross and supercross racers in the rough stuff; watch downhill and mogul skiers…check out some slow motion footage of a cheetah chasing a gazelle through the Serengeti on National Geographic (Gazelle? Antelope? Whatever…the fast, scared thing with the horns).

In all of the above examples, the top athletes — and big cats — will have That Calm Glass of Water. There are many reasons why this is essential .

Really, the calm glass of water is a result of doing all the other things properly — or extremely close to properly — while descending on the bike: particularly, body position and especially weight placement/distribution.

Here’s Where Things Get Good!

I have never met a rider who has a complete understanding of descending position, or the “attack position,” on the bike (and almost no one understands what I like to call weight placement and/or line of force, two very essential elements of MTB technique when it comes to riding well). This includes world cup downhillers and pro enduro racers. Often, top riders are doing many things correctly or very close (you don’t ride that well without doing most things very well). But, because they are unaware of what these things actually are, it is very easy for riders — even at these levels — to develop bad habits, to train ineffectively, to communicate improper techniques to others, as well as not being able to replicate what they were doing properly, when they were on there game, once they inevitably fall of that game a bit. (Often, that’s when they come to me!)

In other words, they would stand a way better chance of staying fast and going faster if they knew what they really needed to work on. Following this logic, even in the areas where they are pretty good, even these top riders could certainly improve.

For less experienced riders, knowing what’s up with riding means being able to ride more difficult trails, keeping up with your buddies, developing control and confidence, being more efficient.  These equate to being safer and faster, things we all want and need!

The Nuts and Bolts

The body is a kinetic chain. This couldn’t be more true when it comes to keeping the head balanced and stable while riding the bike (the Imaginary Glass of Water). If one area is off, that will permeate and reflect poorly in other areas. Often, this isn’t apparent in areas that are adjacent to one one another or local to where the problem becomes noticeable.

Example: I’ve worked with numerous riders that have complained of riding “tight” or “stiff.” The typical rider who is aware of this issue is usually fairly experienced. They know this is a problem not only because they are a student of the game, but because they’ve ridden way better in the past. When they were riding better, they were smooth and flowing instead instead of bouncing around (and spilling that glass of water!) and holding on for dear life .

This issue of being too stiff or rigid usually becomes noticeable in the head. The rider is bounced and jarred off balance and off line on the trail. Vision is difficult in the rough sections because of the jarring of the head (I call this “eye-ball jiggle” where it seems as if your eye-balls are going to jiggle out of your skull because of the successive and harsh impacts). Balance is way off because of the jarring of the vestibular system in the inner ear and lack of properly functioning vision resulting in the inability to define space (which essential for balance). The rider is pretty much out of control, simply trying not to crash, and doing damage-control rather than being proactive and looking to gain time on the trail or track. And, because the rider is fighting all of this, they become fatigued very quickly.

You do see the above mistakes in the video, especially on harsher than expected landings off of big drops (“head-slaps”) and when the rider gets the weight too far forward under braking, particularly in choppy braking bumps. Even though these are the top riders in the world, they still make mistakes.

When a rider develops this problem of unwanted head-jarring, they often simply try to keep their head still; they try to stay loose in their arms and upper body in order to absorb shock. Very often, they think they simply need to get into the gym and get stronger (This is soooooo common. And while strength can definitely be an asset, it alone will never remedy this particular problem caused by bad technique).

Enter the Feet

This problem almost always originates in the feet. Keeping the weight on the feet and keeping the line of force going through the bottom bracket (largely a function of weight placement and distribution) are huge in keeping the head still and that glass of water calm.

Example: Something as simple as dropping the rear heel more will initially place the weight of the rider slightly rearward and rotate the cranks slightly backwards. Initially, this isn’t good, however, as the bike impacts rocks and obstacles on the trail, it will essentially slow down because of these impacts. At this point, the rider’s line of force can no longer be vertical but it must now be angled downward from rear to front and through the bottom bracket of the bike (an imaginary line from the rider’s center of mass through the BB) in order to compensate for the forces of deceleration and keep the weight supported by the legs (the strongest muscle groups, and the natural suspension of the body — optimal Human Movement 101). Subsequently, now the body is able to absorb the impacts with the legs and retain an athletic position in order to provide for the most effective control of the bike.

The properly angled line of force (through the bb) will enable the bike to pivot and move around the bottom bracket and “float” through the rough sections – the way the bike is designed to work (it won’t pivot and float optimally over obstacles if the rider’s weight, or line of force, is either in front or behind the bb).

The above also results in keeping the rider’s weight off of the arms* and allows the arms to remain loose and supply while the core remains a stable and balanced platform.

All this because we dropped the rear heel a bit…

And bingo! This will aid tremendously in keep the head calm and stable. Drop the heel and it controls the head… Kinetic Chain.

There are, of course, other factors that will contribute to this — either positively or negatively — but the above is a nice big chunk of what really matters.

Symptoms to Cures

When a rider’s head is bouncing all over the place, I almost always immediately look to the rider’s rear heel and the angle of the cranks. The cranks will always want be to perpendicular to the riders line of force, and therefore, will be angled slightly rearward** when things are going good in the rough stuff . If the front foot is lower than the back foot and/or the rear heal is up, higher than the toe; that tells me that the rider’s weight is almost certainly in front of the bottom bracket, on the handlebars, arms, and front wheel. Now, the rider will be stiff and rigid in the arms, the bike won’t pivot and float optimally over obstacles further impeding it’s progress and robbing momentum… and that’s when that glass of water on the head goes bye-bye!

[In regards to the angle of the cranks: In the context of this article, the bike will be impacting obstacles and often the rider will be on the brakes, so deceleration forces of the bike need to be accounted for — the rear heel should be down, cranks should rotate slightly backwards, and the angle of the line of force should change from vertical to down from rear to front. If the bike is NOT DECELERATING AT A DIFFERENT RATE THAN THE RIDER — for instance on smooth or level trail, if the rider is off of the brakes, or perhaps if the rider is “pumping” an obstacle — then this rearward rotation of the cranks probably won’t apply.]

I really love this video. It shows pretty much all of the things that I coach being used at the highest level of the sport. It also disproves a lot of the bad technique that is being spread around as quality riding by all kinds of culprits. The “Glass of Water” is just one angle I plan on covering while using this vid as solid proof of solid technique.

Stay tuned, we’ll get back to this vid soon. I plan on getting a lot of milage out this puppy! Haha!

Check out the camp schedule here. Sign up! Bring a friend!


* Contrary to what you may hear in videos, from riding buddies, even from many pro riders — we can CAN NOT control the bike well if our weight is on our arms. I debunk this “weight the front wheel for control” myth immediately in camps.

** Unfortunately, many MTB coaches teach students to use the front foot as a “bracing foot” during braking. This results in the weight ending up on the front foot, in front of the bb, and, thus, the front of the bike (arms, bars, front wheel). This is not only terrible technique in terms of maintaining speed and momentum, but also quite dangerous.





Coming Back From a Big Crash

I’d say probably 20% of my biz is from people that have a “crash hangover.” In other words, they had a big crash and are having a tough time getting their head back in the game. Their confidence is rattled and all they can seem to focus on when they get on the bike is what could go wrong.

Coming back from a big crash isn’t easy. Like most things difficult, curing that crash hangover takes some time and effort. Yet, it seems that everybody feels that they should just be able to snap their fingers and make it go away. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

But I do have some good news: there is a cure!


First, let’s take into consideration that the fear is there for a reason. Your primal-emotional brain is telling you, hey, last time we did this bike-thing we got WORKED! So maybe we shouldn’t be doing this.

That’s just common sense and good ol’ self preservation at work.

But, your smart human-brain knows that you still want to ride bikes and that you definitely can still do it at a decent level. So you ague with yourself. But, at first, that primal brain is gonna win. And, it’s real tough to just over-ride that fear.

So, you have to re-boot the system.

First thing you have to do is just get some seat time, get back on the bike. But do this on trails that offer you absolutely no challenge or threat. Put in rides on trails that are easy and boring. If there is anything that freaks you out — even a little — get off and walk. This seems obvious, but many riders think they’re just going to jump back on the bike, hit the gnarly stuff again, and everything is just going to be A-OK. It usually doesn’t happen that way. (There are times, for certain riders, like high level racers, where you do need to “get back on that horse.” Such as if you had a big get-off in practice, at a race, and you still need to race. This article applies more if you had extended time off the bike due to injury).

What you’ll be doing is convincing yourself that you’re not going to die every time you throw a leg over the bike. Immediately, post-crash, you’re your primal brain isn’t so sure of this. Even though you know this to be true, you gotta feel it a few times to authentically trust it.

Probably the worst thing you could do, immediately after a big wipe-out, would be to go out and try to ride nasty stuff, but since you’re scared, you’ll probably ride timid, tight (shitty)… and then you’ll goon it again and have another bad crash. Then you’ll really have your work cut out for you.

Eventually, on the easy rides, you’ll start to feel comfortable and want to push it again. Congrats! You’re coming back. But, again, it may take some time.

Another thing you need to do is take a look at things logically. Why did you crash and can it be remedied? What went wrong and can you fix it? (Hint, hint: get some professional MTB coaching! wink, wink…). So many riders have big crashes because they don’t know the difference between good and bad technique, they’re out there just rolling the dice, gambling that things will go well: “I made something like this last week, so I’m just gonna go for it!” will catch up with you sooner or later. Many riders have no idea what the did wrong when they crashed. Worse, many riders have no idea what they’re doing correctly when they make tough sections. This gives them false confidence in their ability and then BAM! Consistently riding well is about having a high “Riding IQ.” Knowing what you should be doing in any situation and focusing on solutions (good, solid, proven technique) and not the obstacles, problems, what could go wrong; and definitely not just winging it and hoping for the best!

This part applies especially to higher level riders that are a bit shook post crash: you know that you still can ride at the level you were at previous to the crash. That’s a fact. Can’t argue with the facts. And, riding — even with the occasional gnarly crash — is way better for you than not riding. So get out there and do it. Take it easy for a bit, and it’ll come back. Make some adjustments, chill for a bit, pick your battles, but take the time to do things correctly and you’l be back to riding well and having a blast on your bike again.

If you’re a high level gravity racer, you’re going to ride real hard and push it. If you’re not taking some chances, then you’re not really racing. This means that every now and again you’re just going to crash hard. No way around this. But in any other situation, and with almost all other levels of riding, if you know what good technique is, work on it a bit, focus on it as you ride, break down sections knowing the CORRECT methods… can all but eliminate those big nasty crashes.

Finally, we don’t multi-task. “Multi-task” may be the catch phrase of the day/year/millenium, but our conscious brains actually are unable to focus on more than one thing at a time (unconscious is different). So, AGAIN, you need to focus on solutions and not obstacles. If you’re focusing on the solutions (Proper riding: body position, weight placement, vision, proper braking, breathing, etc), then you CAN NOT be focused on what may happen if things go wrong. If you’re focused on what could go wrong, then you CAN NOT be focused on proper riding…

The last one also goes for times when you’re doing something super hairy and right on the edge of your skill level. It takes full commitment in these situations and being fully focused on the solution is the only way to have full commitment.


So if you’re having issues getting your head back in the game, get out and get that seat time in on the easy stuff. Get a few of those under your belt. Work your way up with baby steps to tougher trails. When you do start pushing a bit, practice focusing on the solutions; give your mind something useful to do and it won’t wander to the fear. Get some coaching and raise that riding IQ.

MTB Chairlift Access Riding

Why should you clock some time with chairlift accessed MTB riding this summer?

Lot’s of reasons…

First, let me say that I’m just as guilty as anyone for not getting my butt up to the resorts these past couple years and getting some time in with good ol’ chairlift accessed downhill mountain bike riding.

Committing to making a living coaching MTB has, at best, severely limited my time at the races. This, combined with a borderline unhealthy addiction to motocross as my speed fix, has diminished my drive to get up to the hills and get on the lifts.

My excuses? Hey, I’m probably not going to get to race anyway, so who cares? And, I ride a ton of motocross these days, so my comfort level at speed, ability to process things at speed, and riding/control-fitness should be pretty dialed in when i need it on the MTB. Also, I ride trails a ton on my MTB; and, that, combined with the motocross should keep me sharp as a tack.

Right? Nope! Wrong…

Two awesome things that I RE-discoverred about lift access the other day:

It’s All About the Bike…

1) There’s no better way to dial in your ride for descending and/or control oriented technical riding than busting out huge amounts of vertical feet that only lift assisted riding can offer. Downhill bike, Trail-bike, XC bike…doesn’t matter…

After a whole day of riding and who-knows how many vertical feet of descending, I felt that finally — at the final run of the day — my new Yeti SB5.5 was about where I wanted it. I thought it was dialed coming into the day…


Everything changed once I was able to get the bike up to speed and consistently ride there. No hikers. No riders coming up the trail in the other direction. Just endless terrain and gobs of time to play with settings. One after the other; tire pressures, sag adjustments, compression, rebound, bar height — and playing those off of one another — got tweaked and messed with until at the end of a long day, I was finally really close to where I wanted to be.

It would have taken weeks, if not months, if not ever, to get that amount of time, with that terrain, and with that consistency, to dial things in the way I was able to in one day.

It’s All About the Loose Nut Behind the Wheel…

Again, coming into my first Lift Day in quite sometime, I thought I felt pretty good on the bike. But I quickly discovered that though I had been riding a ton of MTB on normal trails, and riding lots of motocross, there’s no substitute for really riding mountain bikes fast if your goal is to ride mountain bikes fast.

First couple runs, I was waaaay off. I was sloppy. I was riding tight… At the end of the day?


I knew I was riding the best I have in probably in couple of years (since the last time I spent some decent time hitting the lifts).

And, again, there is no way I could have gotten that type of repetition, consistent speeds — while also on consistent and predictable terrain — from normal trail riding.

My comfort at higher speeds, ability to process, body position on bike, line choices… you name it, all jumped up a few notches by the end of the day. Huge gains in technical ability that just wouldn’t have happened without the stinkin’ chairlift…

Even ME? ChairLifts?… Yes, YOU!

Even if  you’re not into downhill, kinda freaked out about hairy terrain, whatever… I still can’t encourage you enough to give a day of lift access a shot.

Almost all resorts have very easy trails in addition to nastier ones. You can usually rent protective gear (I highly recommend a full-face helmet and knee protection at minimum — even if you are “taking in easy”). And, if you desire, you can usually rent bikes. Although any modern trail bike will be adequate for all but the real gnarly trails at resorts these days.

Obviously if you’re a gravity rider, lifts area no-brainer. But, even if you’re into XC, endurance… maybe just into having fun and being more competent and safe on the bike, there’s no better way to get the time and repetition to dial in your descending skills and techniques than lift access.

Get up there!


MTB Tire Pressure

“What tire pressure should I run?”

I get that question all the time.

It really comes down to a few simple things. It’s the way that these things mix together, work against each other, cancel each other out, and so-on-and-so-forth that makes it all very interesting, and thus, a real tough question to answer.

What I’ll try to do here, is explain the main factors (I can’t, of course, hit EVERY factor in the space of this article) that become relevant in the search for proper tire pressure and send you on you’re way to figuring out what is best for you.

One question a lot of students ask is, what is the best method for measuring tire pressure? “Should I measure my tire pressure with a gauge or by feel?”

The answer to this question is … YES!

Use both. Why? Because most small and inexpensive tire gauges, like the kind you will most likely carry with you in your Camelback or tool box, are not very accurate when measured against one another (one may read 25 psi and another 22 psi on the same tire, and that’s a big difference). However, they are usually pretty consistent with themselves (until the batteries start to go dead). As long as you use the same gauge, you should have a pretty consistent reading. So why use your hand with a squeeze of the tire? Because you’re never going to accidentlly leave your hand on the tailgate of your friend’s truck or back at the hotel room. And, when the batteries in the gauge do start to go dead, you’ll know that even though the gauge is reading 38 psi, the tire is really right around 20. Also, when you use a new tire (same or different brand) your hand – gauging by feel – gives you a better idea of how hard you will actually need to hit an obstacle before that obstacle bottoms out on the rim of the wheel (flatting your tire, damaging your rim, or both) than a number on a tire gauge. Then use the gauge to see what pressure your “feel” relates to and you can get consistent on where you want be with your new tire. Like anything else, this takes a little time and experience, but two gauges are better then one… especially if you can never lose one of them.

Gauges on most tire pumps are usually all over the place. I’m not a big fan of tire pump gauges. A good hand held gauge is the way to go.


The right tool for the job

Next, pretty much all tires are different brand to brand, size to size, different materials, construction, new to old… There are a lot of variables in tire construction. There are also a lot of different uses and intentions. For instance, some of my students are endurance racers. Most endurance races are held on courses that are not very technically challenging and have a fairly smooth surface. A fast rolling, low profile, super light tire with a pretty high pressure (for minimal rolling resistance) would be a great choice for the intention of being fast and efficient for long periods of time on this type of terrain. If the same rider goes out to Bootleg Canyon (all jagged rock) for a fun weekend with their buddies, I would suggest a tire on the opposite end of the tire-spectrum: a large volume tire with big lugs and with great durability. This tire, when run at low pressure, would give the rider more traction (in this terrain, traction is more important then the low rolling resistance for an endurance race) and give the rider a smoother and faster ride because of its ability to absorb bumps (more on this is a bit). With the first tire, the rider may run something like 45 psi, the second … 25? Big difference… Another example: while 30 psi may be way to much pressure for a 135 lb downhill racer on a 2-ply Downhill tire, 30 psi may be way too little for  a 220 lb “not so smooth” dude on a super light cross country tire and rim.



Advantages of low pressures are traction and bump compliance. Generally speaking, the lowest tire pressure that you can run without getting a flat will give you the most traction, the most bump compliance, and, thus, the most control. With low tire pressures, tires spread out on the terrain under load and create a larger contact patch – more traction. Also, the tire will absorb bumps – acting like suspension – and help the rider maintain a smoother momentum path over inconsistencies in the trail while maintaining contact with the ground.

Some disadvantages of low tire pressures are that on smooth sections of trail (where searching for traction or bump compliance won’t be priorities) the tires will have a lot of rolling resistance, and, of course, you stand a greater chance of getting flats by either “rolling” your tire off of the rim, or by bottoming the tire out on the rim. Unfortunately, even tubeless tires aren’t a cure-all for this dilemma. In fact, I see just as many flats these days as I did in the days before tubeless because riders still push the limits of what they can run pressure-wise, as they should. Except these days, because bottoming the tire via the impact of an obstacle to the rim is more frequent with tubeless tires, riders often damage their rim in the process. I do like tubeless tire set-ups, but they do have their limits.

The advantages of high tire pressures are low less rolling resistance on smooth surfaces and very little chance of getting flats. The disadvantages: less traction because the tire doesn’t spread out on the surface of the trail (smaller contact patch) or absorb obstacles like it will with lower pressures – it will now deflect off of the obstacles, bouncing, sliding, and deflecting and offering a very a rough and unpredictable ride.

So what tire pressure should you run?

I have two “go to” tire set-ups, and I change them depending on my location and trail conditions. I sometimes change my tire pressure during the ride (I will drop pressure, I almost never add tire pressure, but there are some great hand pumps out there that do allow you to do this practically and quickly – most hand pumps don’t – and without wasting a CO2). I run enough pressure so that I can attack the trail with out getting flats. Also, the weak spot in my riding isn’t my technical ability; it’s my legs and my lungs. So, I’ll give up a little bit of control and traction (and make up for it with technique and by finding the smooth spots on the trail) and benefit from higher pressures and less rolling resistance. If you’re a rider whose fitness is your strength and technical ability is your weakness, you may want to go in the other direction.

Most beginner riders run too much tire pressure and could benefit by dropping it substantially.

How do you find out what works for you? Hopefully this info helps out, but go ride a section of trail with 20 psi in your tires. Now go back and ride the same section of trail with 50 psi in your tires. Now ride with the pressure right in the middle. How did each different run feel? Take notes on all of this, especially as you’re learning. Evaluate what type of rider you are and what terrain you plan on riding.

I also always run a couple/few more psi in the rear than the front. The rear naturally will have a little more weight on it than the front. Also, its easier to lift and maneuver the front wheel, thus, minimize impacts with the front while the rear will probably have to take more of these impacts.

Armed with the above knowledge, hopefully, you’re pointed in the right direction. Oh, and learn how to fix flats before you go too crazy with this…

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…