Mountain Bike Lessons Denver Dirt Smart MTB

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…





11 replies
  1. Daniel Dunn
    Daniel Dunn says:

    Just read this, based on Krista Rust recommending on FB. Are there NO other good coaches out there, or just organizations?

    • admin
      admin says:

      There are good coaches out there. I’m not stoked at all with the organizations.

      Unfortunately, the organizations are giving people credentials and the ability to do business, and often, these new coaches are bad for business because of their lack of knowledge and experience and also because the techniques that they we taught to coach are faulty. This is pretty easy to point out. MTB coaching is all over the map. I’m not sure what some coaches are basing their techniques on, but it sure isn’t science and the way the body and bike work together, and you won’t see these techniques used at the top of the game. Any coach should be able to explain why a technique works and also show definitive proof of this technique in riding (and this usually means riding at the highest levels–even here riding is simple and basic. With rare exception, the same simple and basic movements, position, weight placement, etc., that World Cup downhill racers should be using to shave milli-seconds off of race times are the same techniques beginner riders will need to get over a log or down a ledge, etc.

  2. Kent Wood
    Kent Wood says:

    I face, as a professional tennis coach, much of what Andy is talking about. The credentials and qualifications to be a coach are so skewed and misunderstood in the world of sport. An athletes success level in a sport not only has nothing to do with their ability to teach/coach their sport, but the better an athlete performed you can pretty much guarantee they have no clue how to coach it. I’ve worked with Andy several times…his camps are worth 10 times what he charges. I don’t see the skills he coaches even remotely being employed by the best enduro racers in the south, yet not one of them thinks they need coaching from Andy.

    I challenge the day that someone can find a better MTB coach than Andy.

    • admin
      admin says:

      Thanks, bud.

      Its weird how people don’t get it, yet the best in the world at any sport (MTB, Tennis…all sports) have objective parties (coaches) working with them. MTB coaching is changing. And with that, focus and niche have to change. I think (and I’m seeing) if people are serious about riding well, they’ll seek out good coaching. If not, they won’t… I’m ready to help the one’s who want high level coaching.

  3. Jason Ranoa
    Jason Ranoa says:

    Very good article! Mostly all true, but I feel a key point was missed. I have been coaching and training for a long time. The one thing I know for a fact about a good coach is that he/she didn’t start out that way. Most beginner coaches aren’t very good. They don’t have the practical application or experience to translate techniques and form. But you gotta start somewhere. I see new trainers and coaches starting out in the cycling all the time. They get certifications, read books, and watch you tube. Which is all great, you have to start the knowledge process somewhere. Usually I recommend apprenticing with an experienced coach. Spending time with someone whose been there and done that. If you want to be a World Cup coach, learn!
    As far as picking a good coach, it’s pretty much a common sense process. Experience will usually shine through. If you have the money, time, and passion to move to the next level do your fuel diligence and find the right person. It can make all the difference! But on another note, not all good coaches are the right coaches. Often times coaches will train you the way they trained or learned. The best coaches will adapt to you and train you the way you need to be trained!

  4. Robert S.
    Robert S. says:

    I coach people for free, with over 20 years of riding and racing behind me. In my true real life job I am a school teacher. I think that helps me as I am able to adjust my teaching technique to the type of leaner I have. I can break things down and make them understandable to those who have no idea what is going on. To coach properly, you must teach. To teach you must communicate. I like how you put things above and you and Jason above made some very good points. I love riding with folks who have taken certain classes with groups and love watching them put their new found techniques to use, when it is not required. But when you recommend, that that position is not needed at this point of the trail, they say no this is what I have to do because my coach said so. So sad. Great read. Thanks for it.

  5. Jason Land
    Jason Land says:

    I went through a “free local 2 hour clinic” the weekend before I did your in-depth 3 day clinic. The credentials of the other instructor were “taught hundreds of people over the course of 20 years”. Looking back, I can tell you that there are now hundreds of people that have learned incorrect techniques that were just passed on from other people who learned incorrect techniques, and those people are probably now teaching hundreds more people incorrect techniques!

    Your clinic, on the other hand, was extremely in-depth starting with very basic positioning and the “why” behind each step. Those explanations and steps kept building on each other over the course of 3 days to help turn people, like myself, who had learned incorrect techniques into mountain biker machines. I took your course 3 years ago and I STILL continuously learning from it. Hands down, the best money I ever spend on mountain biking.


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