HOW TO KEEP IMPROVING YOUR MOUNTAIN BIKE ABILITY
Tips from Gene Hamilton of Better Ride
Gene Hamilton of Better Ride
Former pro mountain bike racer Gene Hamilton has been coaching mountain bike riders in America and South Africa for years. His clients have included some of the top riders in the sport, including downhill and enduro stars Mitch Ropelato and Cody Kelly.
One of the riders who has assisted Gene in leading Hamilton’s “Better Ride” skills-training camps is four-time downhill world champion Greg Minnaar.
What follows are some of Gene’s latest tips on improving your skills:
When you are riding you are rarely paying attention to your skills and this is a good thing! If you were to constantly analyze your riding while riding your mind will be in the past, not focused on what needs to be done NOW!
The best time to analyze your ride is AFTER the ride and it doesn’t take much time. Keeping a journal will help you answer these questions:
Are you paying attention?
Are you getting stronger, faster, more skilled, more confident on the trail?
Why? Or why not?
What went well on the trail today?
What didn’t go well? Why?
What did you learn today that will help you improve?
What is your plan of action?
It is amazing to me how much time and money we invest in mountain biking and how little attention we pay to our performance and what may have positive and what may have negative effects on our performance.
Since I stopped racing professionally 12 years ago, I spend much less time analyzing my riding and the things that affect my riding. With no real plan or goal, I also don’t do my drills nearly as much as I used to, and it shows in my less-than-stellar riding these days.
Ever wonder: “Why do I feel so strong today? I’m climbing like a gazelle!” Conversely: “Wow, I feel so sluggish—what is going on?”
There are few sports with as many ups and downs as mountain biking, and it can seem like an emotional rollercoaster. One day you are on top of the world. The next day you are stuck at the bottom of a seemingly massive mountain.
There are so many free and nearly free tools available to help us pay attention, analyze and plan. Maybe we should start taking advantage of them! It only takes a few minutes after each ride to analyze the ride and analyze what affected the level of your performance.
That simple, inexpensive and important MTB tool is a riding journal. In less than five minutes a day, you can learn a lot about yourself and your riding.
For those that enjoy automation, Strava is tough to beat! Strava does a lot of your journaling for you. It tracks your mileage, vertical feet climbed, ride time and average speed. Furthermore, it asks you for your perceived effort and compares today’s ride with previous rides on the same trails.
Strava data alone is a good start. Add in how you slept (number of hours and quality on a scale of 1-5), how you felt upon waking (rested, refreshed, tired, fatigued, etc) and what and when you ate between this ride and your previous ride, and you will have a lot of information to go on.
If you are into stats (which I think most of us are—it is nice to see progress), Strava is an amazing tool! You can also link it to your heart rate monitor and/or your power meter for real scientific training. In addition, it is really motivating as we all want to best our last effort!
Strava isn’t foolproof, though. Last year it had me riding through walls, shopping centers, and homes instead of on the trails I actually rode, but it does allow you to manually update your ride in cases like this.
I have since purchased a Garmin (530 edge model, which seems fine for my purposes) and it seems much more accurate than my phone and doesn’t have me doing impossible feats like riding through walls!
Gene leads his Better Ride workshops all over the United States. Check the Better Ride website to find the one that works best for you. Be aware that his workshops tend to fill up quickly, so if you want to attend one of his trainings, don’t put it off too long.
What you are looking for is patterns that you can learn from and make changes to your riding/training. Such as: “The last three times I rode after two days of no exercise I felt sluggish. I’m going to experiment with active recovery instead of just resting.”
You are looking for negative and positive readings such as: “Wow, my normal resting heart rate when I wake up is 40 bpm, today it’s 46! With such an elevated resting heart rate I should probably take it easy today and make sure I eat well and get a good night’s sleep tonight.”
Include skills tracking too, such as, “Cool, my cornering is getting so much better! I’m finishing my braking to cut speed in a straight line before the corner and picking lines that are giving more exit speed, but I am sliding more than I would like. Next ride I will do some cornering body-position drills before the ride so I start producing more traction.”
In conclusion, using a ride/training journal is a great tool for MTB progress!
Have you used a different app or tool? Have you tried keeping a riding journal and found it beneficial?
Having so much of this done by Strava is really helpful compared to writing it all down manually. However, if you would like to do this without apps and smartphones, here is a list of things you may want to track. You certainly don’t have to track everything listed below. Take the pieces you feel will help you reach your riding goals.
1. Morning resting heart rate.
a. Sleep, hours slept
b. Quality of sleep (1 to 5, 1 terrible sleep, 5 fantastic sleep)
3. Morning mood. (1 to 5, 1 terrible mood, 5 fantastic mood)
4. Morning stress level. (1 to 5, 1really stressed, 5 what? me worry?)
5. Perceived energy level (1 to 5, 1 wiped out, 5 I can take on the world!)
6. What you eat and when.
7. Ride stats.
b. Ride duration
c. Vertical feet
d. Trail conditions (30 miles on a rough trail in Moab is harder than 60 miles on a smooth trail in Fruita!)
e. How you felt on the ride
f. Heart rate
g. Power output
8. Workout stats
a. Squat: weight, reps, sets
b. Core workout
There is so much more to train and track regarding skills!
Please share this article with anyone you think may benefit and feel free to call or e-mail with any questions.
“Gene is an absolute master of a coach. I have done multiple camps with him and it definitely helped improve my fundamentals as a rider. Highly recommend!” – Luca Cometti, 2-Time Dual Slalom National Champ
THE STORY OF HOW GENE CAME TO START HIS “BETTER RIDE” MOUNTAIN BIKE SKILLS COACHING BUSINESS
“It was 1997, my third season of racing downhill in the pro class,” Gene recalls, “and I spent hours and hours training harder but I wasn’t improving much at all. I was skipping social events and limiting time with loved ones just to make sure I got enough recovery. I changed my diet several times, changed my workout program and read all the info I could but was barely getting faster year after year.
“It was this frustration that led me to start looking for people to teach me better riding skills in the late 1990′s. Unfortunately for me, there were no skills coaches at the time. Well, there were a few cross-country pros teaching camps, but I saw these racers walking sections that I could ride. They didn’t have good technique. They were just really fit.
“As a snowboard coach and a former snowboard racer, this further frustrated me. Not only did I not have the skills I needed to go faster, but there was no one to teach me the skills I needed. I knew in snowboarding there were specific skills and techniques that were correct. They had been studied and perfected just like a martial art.
“Where could I find these techniques for mountain biking? I was sick of just “hanging” on in the corners, hoping I made them, and sick of racers who I knew weren’t training as hard as me beating me. Have you felt this way? By the beginning of 1998, I had three years of pro downhill racing under my belt, but other than getting a little faster due to improving equipment I was still mid-pack at the big races.
“I remember “Pistol” Pete flying by me in a corner in practice and later asking him how he did it, and he replied with something like, “You know, just attack the course,” or something to that effect. Everybody was happy to give advice, but the best racers couldn’t explain what they were doing, and they were definitely doing something I wasn’t doing.
“Since I couldn’t find a qualified skills coach I decided to take the matter into my own hands. I already had seven years of experience from coaching snowboarding and really enjoyed helping people improve, so mountain bike coaching seemed like a perfect fit for me. Thanks to three years spent as the head coach of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and USA Skiing and Snowboarding I had quite an education on how to coach effectively.
“I retired from snowboard coaching and put my energy into learning how to ride mountain bikes correctly and how to teach others to ride with confidence. I read books by top motocross coaches, took my motorcycle skills camps, studied videos of the best mountain bikers in the world and then asked them pointed questions (thank you, Nathan Rennie) and worked with racers like Marla Streb and Greg Minnaar to really figure things out.
“I have spent the last 22 years perfecting the techniques I have learned and improving my ability to teach these skills. Unfortunately, many mountain biking skills are not intuitive. You could ride for years and not learn these skills. I was racing professionally for over ten years before I learned many of the skills I teach.
“In the process, I have been fortunate enough to coach some of the best racers in the sport (Chris Van Dine, Lynda Wallenfells, Mitch Ropelato, Sue Haywood, Ross Schnell, Cody Kelley, Shawn Neer, Sarah Kaufman….) as well as over 3,000 great people who just like riding bikes. With the help of these riders, racers and coaches I have developed a fun and structured way to teach “The Core Skills of Mountain Biking.” I really enjoy helping others and would love to share these techniques and the drills for practicing, getting good at, and eventually mastering these techniques with you.” —Gene Hamilton, Founder, Better Ride
To learn more about Gene Hamilton and his courses, check out the Better Ride website:
For additional information, call or e-mail Better Ride
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