Take Your Moun­tain Bike Skills to the Next Level

Lessons by top coaches that will have you rid­ing faster and smoother

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Peter Glass­ford

Lessons by top coaches that will have you rid­ing faster and smoother

The end of the school year might be ap­proach­ing for the kids, but for you, class is in. Are you com­fort­able out on the trails, but want to add more speed and flow? Well, a few of the coun­try’s top coaches and I have some lessons and home­work that will get you rid­ing bet­ter. First, you should as­sess the tech­nique you have. You need to make sure your foun­da­tional skills are di­alled and al­ways be work­ing to progress them and build con­sis­tency and vari­a­tion. If these skills are up to snuff, you can then take on the pump track, jumps and wheel­ies.

As­sess­ing Your Moun­tain Bik­ing Foun­da­tion

READY PO­SI­TION The ready po­si­tion is sim­ply stand­ing up on your ped­als in a bal­anced fash­ion. I like to as­sess stand­ing while ped­alling and while coast­ing in ready po­si­tion (ped­als at 3 and 9 o’clock). If you can stand, pedal and coast around a field – per­haps with a few small log-overs – for five min­utes with­out sit­ting down with burn­ing thighs or crash­ing, you are ready to progress. If you can add track stands into the mix, that’s also a good sign you have fig­ured out bal­ance in a stand­ing po­si­tion.

COR­NER­ING While you’re in the field as­sess­ing your stand­ing, you can check your cor­ner­ing abil­ity. Set up two py­lons (or jack­ets, wa­ter bot­tles, etc.) about four to five bike lengths apart, and then ride in a fig­ure eight. If you can do this drill in a bal­anced and smooth man­ner, with min­i­mal pedal strokes, then your cor­ner­ing skill is ready to progress. If you find it hard to stay with other rid­ers in twisty trails or hit your shoul­der on trees, of­ten the fig­ure-eight drill, or sim­ple slalom drills, will help you touch up this skill.

WHEEL LIFT The fi­nal skill you need to gain en­try to the mas­ter class is a wheel lift. You want to be able to stand in your ready po­si­tion and shift your hips back with firm arms and cause the front wheel to come off the ground, usu­ally to clear a log or un­weight over an ob­sta­cle.

Top-level Skill Pro­gres­sions

PUMP TRACK Rid­ers of all lev­els ben­e­fit f rom time on the pump track. If you aren’t able to work with the ter­rain to pro­duce speed, in­de­pen­dent of your ped­alling and fit­ness, then you are miss­ing out on free speed. Watch an ex­pe­ri­enced bmx ath­lete ride a pump track and you will be amazed at how fast the rider will go with­out ped­alling. I like to think of the pump track as a place to hone many skills with­out the rider even know­ing. It forces you to de­velop or im­prove flow, wheel lifts, jump­ing and cor­ner­ing.

“Pump­ing is weight­ing and un­weight­ing the bike be­fore and af­ter ob­sta­cles,” says Bren­dan Arnold, our bmx coach. He’s from Aus­tralia, where bmx is very pop­u­lar, and now helps young On­tario rid­ers achieve medals at high-level com­pe­ti­tions. His ad­vice will help you, too. “To be ef­fec­tive, the move­ment is very dy­namic and re­quires a tight core and co-or­di­na­tion of the en­tire body. Although it some­times sounds straight­for­ward, it is a dif­fi­cult skill if a rider doesn’t have good spa­tial aware­ness and co-or­di­na­tion. The key to pump­ing is to find rhythm us­ing the en­tire body. When the ter­rain goes up, you get light. When it goes down, you get heavy.”

Don’t have a pump track handy? Arnold says you still have op­tions. “Any­where there is ter­rain that goes up and down quickly, you can prac­tise shift­ing of weight,” he says. To prac­tise, play around with let­ting your­self pedal and also re­fus­ing to pedal. “I think try­ing it slower will help show weak­nesses and body po­si­tion. It’s al­ways eas­ier to do it with speed, so some­times it is key to go slow to get fast,” he says.

How will you know if you are do­ing it right? “Pump­ing is a weird thing,” Arnold says. “Like many other skills, there is a sweet spot and when you hit it you can feel it. Be­ing able to do a sec­tion of trail or a lap of a pump track with­out ped­alling is a good in­di­ca­tion you are get­ting it.”

“If you aren’t able to work with the ter­rain to pro­duce speed, in­de­pen­dent of your ped­alling and fit­ness, then you are miss­ing out on free speed.”

Top-level Skill Pro­gres­sions

JUMP­ING Once you can pump, the next step is to progress to jumps. Our jump­ing coach is Tr­ish Brom­ley, the first fe­male to com­pete in the Crankworx Dual Speed and Style event and per­haps the most up­beat and smi­ley per­son you will ever meet.

Brom­ley says once you can ride laps of the pump track as Bren­dan has in­structed, you can start your jump pro­gres­sion with a whoop (a bump like the ones in a pump track or on a trail) or on a table­top, a jump with no gap that you can land on top of. Your goal with the table­top is not to clear it, but to prac­tise push­ing (preload­ing) into the jump and feel­ing the weight­less­ness af­ter. We are go­ing to use this same heavy/light tim­ing to more ag­gres­sively pop off the lip, or peak, of the whoop or jump. I like to en­cour­age my clients to think of the jump like a tram­po­line and re­ally push into the jump to max­i­mize the air they get at the lip.

To max­i­mize your prac­tice time, Brom­ley rec­om­mends hav­ing a bike that fits you, “Too many new rid­ers are on bor­rowed bikes that make it hard to move the bike around,” she says. Drop­ping your seat to make sure you have lots of room to move will also boost your con­fi­dence. Your gear­ing is im­por­tant too. “You want a harder gear so you aren’t spin­ning wildly and so you can main­tain bal­ance,” she said. Your pump­ing should take care of much of your need for speed.

If you are ner­vous about get­ting air, go back to your prac­tice field and work on your log hops. The bunny hop is the foun­da­tional skill for jump­ing, so make sure you can get air over some sticks. Re­mem­ber, the front wheel lifts first and lands first. Once you can get some air over sticks, you can go back to a whoop in the pump track and try jump­ing sticks or a line in the dirt at the very top of a whoop.

Brom­ley says that when she has worked with peo­ple in the bike park, they of­ten try to pull the bike up too much. “It is less work than you think,” she says. “The work is in the ap­proach, the setup and at the lip. Then you just need to feel how the bike comes up un­derneath you.” More than any­thing, Brom­ley says don’t go too big too soon. Spend time get­ting smooth and adding style on the smaller jumps be­fore you con­sider send­ing the pro line. For most moun­tain bik­ers, a lit­tle bit of air will let you be smooth and add some line op­tions to your ev­ery­day rides. But, do wait a few years be­fore shoot­ing that rad video for the web.

“It is less work than you think. The work is in the ap­proach, the setup and at the lip. Then you just need to feel how the bike comes up un­derneath you.”

WHEEL­IES Who bet­ter to teach wheel­ies than the man who pop­u­lar­ized tri­als and street rid­ing in Canada? You have seen him at bike shows, in videos and even teach­ing yoga classes. He has an on­line com­mu­nity ded­i­cated to learn­ing new bike skills and bal­anc­ing the in­ten­sity of our sport with yoga prac­tice. Ryan Leech is very big on process. His wheelie pro­gram has 30 steps that you work through in a month. I am fond of his ap­proach to not fo­cus on the fi­nal re­sult of the end­less wheelie, but rather to look at small steps to­ward un­der­stand­ing the move­ment and get­ting fre­quent wins through fre­quent prac­tice and pro­gres­sion. A wheelie is a tricky and of­ten risky ma­noeu­vre to mas­ter.

Leech sug­gests set­ting your­self up with a func­tion­ing rear brake, flat ped­als and a sad­dle height that is 3 to 7 cm lower than your nor­mal XC rid­ing height. Once you’re set up, your first task is to fo­cus on us­ing your driv­e­train to lift your front wheel. It’s not a yank with your arms or back that does the work. You should pedal smoothly,

Class Dis­missed…for More Prac­tice

Now you are equipped to de­velop your skills. Pick one skill and set aside some time to go to a lo­cal field, pump track or flow trail and work on just a small el­e­ment of one of these skills. Set small goals. Heed the cau­tions, set­ups and pro­gres­sions sug­gested in this mas­ter class and you will see suc­cess fre­quently. Con­sis­tent prac­tice and suc­cess are the se­cret to build­ing your bike skills; there are no in­stant fixes. Now that you know what you need do, it is all about reps. En­joy the prac­tice. in a mod­er­ate gear, and “kick” the front wheel up while you lean your weight back and main­tain ten­sion on the bars. “Once you can use your driv­e­train to lift the front wheel off the ground for just one pedal stroke, prac­tise ap­ply­ing your rear brake to throw your front wheel back down to the ground,” Leech says. “The most danger­ous mis­step while learn­ing the wheelie is flip­ping back­ward and land­ing on your tail­bone. It’s not fun. If you know how to use your rear brake dur­ing a wheelie, it will pre­vent that flip back from hap­pen­ing.”

Once you’ve de­vel­oped trust with your rear brak­ing, the next step is to set goals around the num­ber of pedal strokes. Aim to hit the de­sired num­ber, and then set your wheel down. Count­ing helps you fo­cus. Don’t aim too high. Mas­ter reach­ing you set num­ber con­sis­tently and stop­ping your wheelie. Count three pedal strokes, and then grab the rear brake. Next, hit five pedal strokes. Then go back to three. This type of grad­ual and in­ten­tional prac­tice will help you un­der­stand the wheelie. There’s no need to rush it.

ready po­si­tion

cor­ner­ing log jump/ bunny hop

pump­ing

jump­ing

wheelie

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