Speed Secrets – Top riders share their tips for going fast

Speed Secrets

Top riders share their tips for going fast

Do you want to be able to ride faster? Who doesn’t? We would probably all love to be able to ride as fast or faster than our friends when we’re riding with them. How do you do it without crashing, though? We called on some of the best riders we know and got them to share some of their secrets with us. Be careful, though. The faster you go, the worse you can get hurt if you do crash.


Plan your moves in advance

Jerome Clementz: “When you enter a turn you should already try to see what’s coming after it.”

“While riding, most of us just focus on what is in front of our wheel. But to ride smarter and faster, you need to look ahead and plan in advance. You’re not supposed to see your front wheel in your vision when you ride. Try to look further and see what is coming up. Your bike will go where you have put your eyes. Your whole body position will head towards the place you look at.

“When you enter a turn, you should already try to see what’s coming after it. For example, if you look to the hole or the tree at the end of the corner, you have a 70-percent chance of going into the hole or hitting the tree. On the other hand, if you look at the trail and the next turn ahead, your shoulder will drive your body and bike to stay on the trail and prepare for the next thing coming up.

“When you ride, try to think of this and exaggerate the movement at the beginning so it becomes natural after a few months of practicing.” (Jerome Clementz was the 2013 Enduro World Series champion.)


Start racing

Chloe Woodruff: “Sign up for a local race. Even if you don’t think racing is for you, you might just be surprised.”

“Sign up for a local race and get in some consistent riding beforehand. Even if you don’t think racing is for you, you might just be surprised. There’s a collective atmosphere at races that’s really motivating, and it stems from people putting forth their best efforts on the bike and realizing they can probably do a little bit more than they thought. Discovering that positive energy at races will help you go faster and, hopefully, get you hooked on racing! (Chloe won USA Cycling’s Elite Women’s National Championship titles in both cross-country and short track for 2015.)


Check your bike

“One tip that I have is to always do a bolt check before riding. Going over your bike with even a multi-tool could save you from something catastrophic. After you have established a routine, it’s a nice reward when you actually do find something loose, like a pedal or chainring bolt. Last week I was warming up for a race, leaning against a tree, spinning my pedals backwards and doing my check, only to find my pedal unthreaded. The bolt check saved my race.” (Jill Kintner was an Olympic bronze medalist in BMX and is a three-time world champion in mountain biking.)


Learn from your mistakes

“If you want to go faster and be safer while riding and racing, I think a few tips would be finding yourself mentally and knowing a balance. You want to push your- self and reach your limits by progression, but not go so far that you go past your limits and end up crashing. Learn from your mistakes and grow from them!” (KHS pro Logan Binggeli is a former American downhill national champion).


Two tips for carrying more speed

“Two things critical to carrying a bit more speed are: 1) Trust in your equipment. 2) Look where you want to go. Suspension and tire pressure are not things to ‘set and forget.’ Each will change with the type of terrain you’re on, the course conditions and your riding style. Spend some time playing with each during training. Maybe you can go a little lower with your tire pressure than you thought possible. And, check the sag on your suspension; see what more or less sag does to the feel of the bike. And then, when you’re out there, focus on where you want to go, not the obstacles that you’re hoping to avoid. Look through corners and technical features instead of at their edges. Don’t focus on what intimidates you. With adjusted tire pressure and sag, you’ll be amazed at how much more confident you’ll feel at speed when things get spicy!” (Stephen Ettinger was the 2013 USA cross-country national champion and 2014 USA short-track national champion)


Three tips for going faster

“There is one sure-fire way to go fast down an open fire-road descent: get as aerodynamic as possible. You’ve probably seen the riders in the Tour de France sitting on their top tubes as they’re nuking down mountain passes. You can do the same thing on a mountain bike as long as the fire road isn’t too rough. I like to put my hands in as close to the stem as possible and make myself as narrow and low as possible. It can be pretty sketchy if it gets loose or rough, but you can sure go fast by doing it.

“If I’m on a very twisty descent where the corners don’t have a lot of ‘flow’ or there is undulating terrain, I always accelerate hard out of corners, when the trail kicks up or straightens out. The great thing about a descent is, you can sprint when you have the chance, because you’ll be coasting most of the time anyway. That means you are normally fairly recovered. So, when you get the chance to pedal, do it as hard as you can, because you’ll be coasting soon anyway.

“This seems simple, but unlock your suspension if you have the option. When I’m racing or just trying to beat my buddy, my brain doesn’t always work like it should. If I’ve just sprinted up a hill, sometimes I forget to unlock my suspension for the descent. I’ll get part way down and wonder why it feels so rough, only to realize I for- got to unlock the suspension. Sometimes it’s tough to do in the middle of a rough descent, so if you know the trail well, it’s always good to unlock it a second or two before it starts to get rowdy.”


Pump up your speed

“I feel riders associate going faster with pedaling more. For me, coming from my BMX background, every root, rock and dirt pile can be used as a roller. Going faster can be about adding a few pedal strokes in here or there, but also about finding places to pump and generate speed naturally. It’s important to balance putting the power down with being efficient and using the terrain for speed.” (Dakotah Norton is a rising star on the dual-slalom and pump-track circuits, with one major win at Crankworx last year.)


Mix things up

Photo by Matthew DeLorme

“Variety is very important for me, and I believe it has given me the competitive edge that I needed at many times during my career. I like to compete and train on different bikes and at different events. Just this last week, I have raced cross-country mountain bike, a mountain bike hill-climb, a crit and I’m going to do an epic ride this weekend (a 50-mile off-road event). I also add cyclocross in the fall/winter. I like to ride at least two different bikes each week, but three is even better. Mixing things up with equipment and events is a good way to work on skills that may all come together when it matters the most. On top of always gaining new skill sets, I like to change things up because it keeps my mind fresh.” (Katerina Nash is a four-time Olympian and one of the top stars of Team Luna. She’ll have been in five Olympics if she competes this summer; she has previously competed two times each in the summer and winter Olympic Games.)


Ride safely

“There are many ways to go faster safely, but riding within your limits, knowing the trail and what is ahead, and having your helmet and pads on are all at the top of the list. Once you start riding over your speed limit, you don’t have time to react, which can obviously lead to an unexpected crash. This goes hand in hand with knowing the trail you are riding. You can be flying down a trail while totally in control and within your limits, but if you don’t know there’s a rock garden or drop around the next corner, it could be game over before you know it. And last, having that safety equipment on when you do crash will hopefully save you from a hospital trip and allow you to learn from the mistake and get back on the bike to keep riding, learning and having fun.” (Brian Lopes is a six-time World Cup champion and four-time world champion.)


Fuel your efforts

“I think the most controllable variable in racing or training is nutrition. In the days leading up to an important race, I focus on eating a complete, wholesome diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Two to three hours before the race, I’ll have some easily digestible carb, like white rice, possibly with eggs or avocado if it’s a long marathon-distance event. For XC races under two hours, I generally just have a sports drink in my bottles, something with sugars and electrolytes, and possibly Coke or something with caffeine in the last third of the race. Anything over two hours I’ll start to supplement with energy bars or chews. Post-race, I try to have some kind of whey protein mix within an hour, and then I just focus on replenishing all the calories burned, especially if I have another race or hard training the next day.” (Howard Grotts was the 2015 USA Cycling national champion in the Pro Men’s Cross-Country ranks.)


Head up, speed up

“Head up, speed up! If there is one tip I cannot emphasize enough, it is keeping your head up, eyes scanning, and to focus as far down the trail as possible. Even late in my career, I was forced to make huge improvements in this area while racing some blind enduro events like Trans-Provence in southern France. If I didn’t keep my head up to read the trail at full speed, I was going to run into some serious consequences. At events where you know the trail, you can often fall into bad habits, such as looking barely ahead of your front wheel, hesitating, slowing down, and getting sucked into and hung up on obstacles you are trying to avoid. Keeping your head up and reading the trail gives your brain more time to make good line decisions and helps your body to relax and release a little tension. The further you look ahead, the sooner you can see the apex, braking point and exit of a corner, which allows you to relax, release your brakes and carry more momentum down the trail. On obstacles or technical sections, keeping your head up allows you to see the run-out or safe exit to aim for, which can give you the confidence to relax and let the wheels roll.” (Canadian Geoff Kabush is a multi-time national champion, multi-time Olympian and World Cup winner.)


Master the fundamentals

“Riding faster is not a matter of just letting go of the brakes, though that does help! The fastest riders are not the most reckless; they are the most skilled. Going faster safely involves a multitude of skills that can be learned and practiced. I would suggest getting familiar with the fundamentals of mountain biking: body position, braking and cornering. This is probably best done through a hands-on clinic and then practiced continuously. Just riding is great and will bring improvement to a certain extent, but if you really want to improve, you need to focus and have a purpose. For example, the top pro golfers and baseball players never stop working on their swings. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect; perfect practice does.” (Alex Grant is one of Cannondale’s top cross-country pros in America.)


MBA test rider, downhill racer and freeride star

“There are several rituals I do when hauling butt is the goal! First, I clear my mind of everything else going on in my life and simply hone in on the bike and the trail. Visualizing the best lines on the trail allows me to get down much faster and safer! Laser-focusing in on the smoothest, fastest routes I want to take, I completely avoid looking or thinking about the dangers of the trail or line I’m taking. One of the most important ways to go faster safely is to know and be one with your bike. Knowing that it is completely tuned to you is really important. I take my bike to Foust Tuning Works monthly to ensure I’m confident my rig is safe and up to my standards!

“Above all else, when it comes to safely pushing your limits, the most important factor is you! Make sure you’re well rested and eating great nutrition to keep your body running optimally. Stretching and doing yoga helps to give you better awareness of your body positioning while riding. These rituals work for me and, if practiced regularly, will work for you too! Hope to see you on the trails!” (Longtime MBA test rider Patrick Reynoso races urban downhill events in the pro ranks.)


Keep your head and push it to the limit

Tip #1: HEADS UP!

“One of the biggest things for me when trying to improve, especially while racing or riding more technical trails, is to keep my head up and eyes down the trail. Sometimes when you are breathing hard and trying to hit a section as fast as you can, it is easy to look down just in front of the front tire, especially on slower, more challenging terrain. Sometimes I have to remember to tell myself to get my chin up and eyes looking further down the trail.

In doing so, you can see what is coming earlier than normal, process the terrain and know what to avoid without following the obstacle to the tire. After all, you tend to go where you look. Keep your eyes a couple of bike lengths (four to five) ahead when you can, and don’t look where you don’t want to go. This will boost confidence and allow you to rip the trail faster, all while being a bit safer.”


“The only way to improve in my mind is to push the boundaries. Everything that you as a rider learn and how you go about riding is developed by making situations that scare you come within your comfort zone. Scaring yourself a little by hitting a rock garden a little faster or waiting to hit the brakes just a little longer before entering a corner will, over time, turn into a second-nature reflex, and you will be a faster and safer rider with better bike-handling skills.” (Spencer Rathkamp is an MBA test rider, a national enduro champion and a rising star in the pro cross-country ranks.)

Sean McCoy

Who’s got your back? Get a coach

Seek wisdom: Training smart is more than just spinning the pedals around. Eating, sleeping, stretching and the list goes on and on. It’s well worth the investment.

Everyone needs a Jedi master in their life. Getting a coach can help take the guesswork out of your training and a coach will keep you in-line with your goals. Training can be a lonely process and it takes extreme discipline day in and day out just to get through your training week. Having someone to keep you accountable and to bounce ideas-off of, is huge. Also, coaches can see things in your training and racing that may not be so visible to you and a few tweaks here and there can make all the difference in your success.

Don’t go at it alone, have you ever seen a boxer get into a ring without his coach there to help them get through the battle? (Sean McCoy Managing Editor and test rider for over 25 years with MBA. Owner and coach of Sierra Cycling Training & Coaching, NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) Coach.)


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