I recently had the chance to spend three days at a BetterRide mountain bike skills camp. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in school and the amount of information was overwhelming – in a good way! I learned a ton of ways to improve my mountain bike riding and handling skills. With new skills to master, now I approach mountain biking with the same excitement as when I was starting out over 14 years ago. This post won’t cover nearly as much as I learned while at camp so if you want to know more, head over to BetterRide’s website and find a camp near you.
BetterRide Coach Andy Winohradsky leads a women’s MTB skills camp
In my pre-camp post I mentioned how Gene Hamilton stresses the importance of using visualization for mountain bike racing and riding, and during Gene’s BetterRide mountain bike skills camp at Georgia International Horse Park I realized this actually means two different things. There is the positive-imagery type of visualization that can be used on and off the trail which I find most effective at boosting my riding confidence. If I use visualization to psyche myself up for a race, or even when thinking about a technical section of trail that I always freeze up on, my actions become almost instinctual to mimic those visions when faced with the real situation.
But positive visualization can only get you so far. Most of time we are physically and mentally capable of riding a mountain bike trail, and to ride it better and more efficiently requires a whole different kind of vision. At BetterRide mountain bike skills camp, Coach Andy taught us about having vision on the trail. The kind of vision to see the best line that will allow you to keep your momentum and get you where you want to go. The best line isn’t always the most worn-in, main path on the trail and it certainly can have its share of obstacles. It sounds easy in theory; of course, we want to take the path of least resistance, but when you’re riding 15 mph down a trail you may not have time to even realize you need to make a decision. That’s why at camp we slowed things down and practiced training our vision in the parking lot first.
On the first day we did some vision drills to practice scanning and trusting our peripheral vision. The most important outcome from those drills was remembering to always keep our heads up and focused two steps ahead of where we wanted to go. Looking down, especially when coming up on an obstacle, can lead to falls and at a minimum it kills your momentum. When you combine vision with proper body position (photo left), also taught during the camp, you have the basics for riding efficiently and being in control.
Over the next two days of camp, Coach Andy showed us more drills for cornering, braking and wheelies, switchbacks and balance. Putting it all together on the trails was tough, especially because I’ve been riding for more than a decade and have become comfortable in the way I ride. In particular, downhill cornering is one area I know can use a lot of practice and it turns out this is probably the most common place mountain bikers throw away momentum when not executed correctly.
The first few times I executed a good bike lean in a corner on the trails it felt weird – the acceleration through the corner felt fast, almost too fast, and it definitely surprised me! I realized I have a habit of slowing down before going into a turn which is clearly the wrong approach. It always felt natural for me to squeeze the brakes at the last second in the crook of a corner but it turns out that’s way too late to maintain good control of the bike. The photo below shows one of the cornering drills we did during the camp.
One of my initial goals for the camp was to learn how to control my heart rate during a ride. I had gotten to a point in my riding where I thought just pedaling faster and harder would make me better, but it has actually just been making me more tired. Now, having been to camp, I’m convinced I can control my heart rate better by fine tuning my skills to ride more efficiently. Throughout our time at camp, Coach Andy would say, “sometimes you gotta go slow to go fast.” I know I have some slow rides–on and off the trail–ahead of me, slow enough to train my vision while doing things right. I left camp with enough drills to practice in the convenience of my own neighborhood, so I can practice skills like cornering and wheelies on days I can’t make it to the trails.
BetterRide camp was a great experience and I learned a lot, but actually becoming a “better rider” takes a lot of disciple. Andy was an awesome coach, teaching me what to do and what not to do on my bike, so now if I do my homework I should be able to accomplish my goals. In fact I’ve even come up with my own measurable goal to check my progress: by the end of the summer, I hope I can shave a few minutes off the time it took me to ride the Blankets Creek trail in the Dirty Duathlon just a few weeks ago. I’ll report back in a couple months with the results, or watch the MTB event calendar and come ride my time trial with me!