BetterRide Core Skills 1 Camp: Why Everyone Should Take MTBing Lessons

As many of you know, I came to mountain biking with a background rich in downhill skiing. When I downhill skied as a kid I took beginner lessons, and then in middle school I started taking intermediate lessons, attending weekly skills clinics, and progressively learning more and more advanced techniques.

Much of my advancement in skill and technique came at the hands of skilled coaches and instructors. The same can generally be said for all sports that require serious technical ability or adeptness at a particular skill: that skill is almost always learned through a coach or an instructor of some sort, and that instructor is almost always paid.

Why should mountain biking be any different?

For some reason, many people seem to think that mountain biking is little more than riding a bike through the woods. As Chris Skolnick, our instructor at the recent BetterRide mountain bike skills camp I attended, put it, “some people ask, ‘why are you going to learn to ride a bike? I learned to ride a bike when I was a kid’!”

As most of us know: mountain biking is not just riding a bike through the woods. It is so much more complicated than that.

Photo upper right: Chris Skolnick demonstrating proper cornering technique.

Why a Professional Coach Instead of a Friend

So why can’t you just learn from friends that are really good at mountain biking already? Of course, you can learn from them up to a certain point… but that tends to only go so far.

During high school, I helped pay for my skiing habit by teaching beginner/intermediate skiing and snowboarding lessons. In order to be a ski instructor, I had to take classes designed to teach me how to teach, not simply to teach me the skills. Doing the sport is one skill, and teaching someone else how to do the sport is another skill entirely.

Just because someone is a very talented mountain biker does not mean that they will be a very talented teacher of mountain biking. Oftentimes really great riders will have a hard time articulating exactly what they are doing, much less explaining a way to incrementally work up to difficult maneuvers

Photo above right: practicing cornering in the parking lot, where the variables of the trail don’t distract. Foreground: Joe Allen.

BetterRide Coaches

Chris explaining cornering theory and technique.

The BetterRide instructors are the mountain bike equivalent of professional ski instructors. They know exactly how to teach the skills you need to know.

BetterRide’s professional instructors will:

  • Break each complicated skill down into its most basic parts so you can understand it.
  • Demonstrate each movement so you can see it.
  • Set up drills so you can practice it.
  • Give you feedback on how you complete those drills: what you did well, and what you can do better.
  • Put all the basic parts together and show you the completed complex maneuver.
  • Help you start putting the complicated skills together yourself.
  • Give you even more drills to practice.
  • Wow you with advanced maneuvers you can aspire to one day do yourself.

The BetterRide curriculum, which is 13 years in the making and is constantly being improved, has a distinct progression of skills to walk through during the course of the camp, designed to move riders from the basics to the more complicated skills–and it works.

Simply put, these instructors have been taught how to teach–and they do it really dang well!

My teacher this past weekend was Chris Skolnick of Asheville, North Carolina. In addition to being a very talented rider, Chris really had a caring teacher’s spirit–and it showed. He was very patient and encouraging toward all his students, and was always willing to answer questions and get back on his bike to show us how to do it one more time.

If you ever get a chance to learn from Chris, I highly recommend him!

Cost

Some people balk at the $618 cost. But if you consider the fact that you and a maximum of 7 other students have the attention of a professionally trained coach for about 6 hours a day for 3 days in a row, you are taught numerous drills to practice on your own, you get a thick packet of notes to take home with you, and you get follow up emails with additional support and homework, you should realize that the price you’re paying is on par or less than comparable professional training/coaching in many other sports.

Not Just for Beginners

Eric railing a berm.

Those of us who have been mountain biking for a longer period of time might scoff at the idea of an introductory mountain bike skills course. I’ve been riding mountain bikes seriously for seven years, and I personally thought I should have most of the basics down (although I didn’t try to claim I knew everything).

What really astonished me over the course of the three days was yes, I was doing some stuff correctly… but there was way more stuff that I was doing almost right.

At times I was close, but close is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades. On a mountain bike, close just doesn’t cut it. I came away from this weekend with so much new information about how to perform old skills that I had been doing incorrectly for many years, and some brand-new skills that I didn’t have before.

I had some great tutelage as a young rider, but I really wish I had had the opportunity to take a course like this during my first year or two of mountain biking.

So whether you are a new rider or even an experienced rider, I highly recommend this class!

Things I Learned

I won’t just leave you with an abstract claim about how much I learned. Instead, here are just a few concrete examples of the many things I learned at the camp this weekend and need to start practicing more on and off the trail:

  • Vision: I learned that I tend to get fixated on things, especially when climbing or going off a jump. Instead, I need to be finding reference points two steps ahead of wherever I’m at.
  • Body Position: I need to fight my tendency to pull my elbows in and down and instead work on pushing them out and lowering my chest into a good ready position.
  • Cornering: My body position and complete approach to cornering before the camp was close, but not quite right. I need to focus on separating myself from the bike by pushing on the bar in the inside of the turn and leaning the bike while keeping my body perpendicular to the ground, pushing my outside elbow out, and pivoting my hips to the outside of the turn (while also looking well through the turn using reference points). The hip pivot was news to me but it is already making a huge difference in my cornering!
  • Coaster Wheelie: I learned how to manual/coaster wheelie… I didn’t know that this was even a viable trail technique before. I was already pretty good at a pedal wheelie, but the coaster wheelie is a completely different technique for completely different situations.
  • Rear Tire Lift: I learned how to rear tire lift–or at least, the theory behind it and how to practice it. Combined with the coaster wheelie, I should now theoretically know how to J-hop if I can get my timing down.
  • Bike Setup: I need a dropper seatpost. I need one. I can’t ride a bike without one. Or at least I can’t ride a bike as well as possible without one. In addition, you also need fat tires, wide bars, and a short stem (I’ve already been an adherent to all of those). Chris made so many references to his seatpost that it became a standing joke, “and this is why you need a Gravity Dropper.” We even asked if they had an endorsement from Gravity Dropper and Chris laughed and said no, but after seeing how much easier it was to practice good cornering position and almost all of these other skills with the seat lowered, I can definitely say that I am in the market!

Chris explaining to Eric and Jeff how they can improve their cornering after they both clipped the same tree.

These are just a few of the skills that were highlighted over the three day period, and even the ones I mentioned here I’ve just barely touched on. During the camp you will dive into each one in intricate detail. Heck, we spent almost a whole day discussing cornering alone! To learn more about the skills taught in each camp, the different types of camps available, and where and when they will be held, be sure to check out BetterRide.net.

Now I’m ready to sign up for Core Skills 2!

Many thanks to BetterRide for allowing me to review their Core Skills 1 course!

This entry was posted in MTB Training and tagged , , , , , , , by Greg Heil. Bookmark the permalink.

About Greg Heil

My name is Greg Heil, and I am the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com. I've been mountain biking seriously since 2005, and I love to travel and ride new trails. My travels have taken me across the United States multiple times. To date (November 2013), I have ridden hundreds of different trails in 18 different states, and am adding more singletrack to my trail resume every year! I enjoy all types of mountain biking, from ultra endurance cross country all the way up to chair lift-accessed downhill runs.

31 thoughts on “BetterRide Core Skills 1 Camp: Why Everyone Should Take MTBing Lessons

  1. I guess it’s like trying to teach your wife or daughter to drive a manual transmission. They listen better to someone else and the instructor is less pushy and easier to relate to. Later,

  2. I was skeptical when I read the other post mainly due to the cost, but after reading this, it makes me feel like that would be a lot of fun and money well spent. This write-up made me jealous! haha

  3. I think most recreational mountain bikers are at the point of not knowing what they don’t know. That is, a lot of us think we know everything because we don’t yet know what else there is to know! Classes like this can be a real eye opener and in my experience are definitely worth the time and money.

    For me it’s difficult to hear I’m doing something wrong but in the end I’m usually thankful for the feedback. Sorta like boot camp for your MTB skills.

  4. A couple of other people commented on Facebook, claiming that the cost of the class was much too high. Here was my response:

    “While maybe I agree with you to some extent, perhaps you’re looking at it the wrong way. Ask yourself, “what is it worth to me to become a better rider?” If you only ride once in a while and you’re not very serious about bettering yourself, or if you don’t have the money to spare, then maybe it’s NOT worth the money for you. But if you refer to yourself as a mountain biker and are constantly trying to better yourself, then I would say it is DEFINITELY worth the money!

    Also, consider how much some riders spend on their bikes: one guy at the class was riding a tricked-out full-carbon Specialized Epic with a SRAM XX groupo. That bike retails for $10,500. But if he doesn’t know how to ride it, is he really getting his money’s worth out of that bike? Heck no! Spending $700 learning how to ride his $10,500 purchase may be the best $700 he’s ever invested.”

  5. Totally agree Greg. I started to write about the value this camp offers for the $$ but I realized it would take me all afternoon. Seriously, compare it to other instruction (like a gym membership or personal trainer, ski instruction w/ lift ticket, etc.) or do the math ($600 for 18 hours of instruction is about $30 an hour). It costs what it costs – whether it’s worth it or not depends on the individual and his/her goals.

  6. This camp is worth every penny. The SO and I attended the camp a couple of years back in Conyers (with Gene), and although I have been mtb’ing for over 20 years, I learned a ton. To this day, there’s hardly ever a ride where we are not actively practicing a BR-taught technique.

    We have discussed attending another camp in the future to further hone our skills. It’s probably going to happen.

  7. Great review. And +1 for adjustable seatpost – this is the first and best upgrade for your bike and will improve everyone’s skills.
    It’ll be nice to squeeze BR in my schedule

  8. Would love to get in a skills clinic to improve on my cornering skills for sure. $700 is expensive and well worth it IMO. Maybe one day I will spend the money. I spend a lot of time at Blankets Creek. Did the 6 hour race there last year and signed up again for it this year. Mountain Goat Adventures handles the race there and they are starting day clinics as well. Checked on their site and it looks like it is around $100 per person.

  9. “and pivoting my hips to the outside of the turn”

    You mean turning your hips through the turn, right? I think they’re the same thing, just two different ways to say it. I read that if you have a flashlight on your bellybutton, you’re trying shine the light through the corner.

    And excellent point about the bike cost. IMO, it’s easy to justify the cost of the class when consider the cost of the bike, helmet, gear, gadgets, etc, etc.

  10. @stumpyfsr, I should have a dropper post coming for review soon!

    Watch for a review on the blog.

    @topjimmy, if you take the class be sure to report back and tell us what you thought! How many hours is that “one-day” class?

    @Jared13, “read that if you have a flashlight on your bellybutton, you’re trying shine the light through the corner.” Yes, exactly. And to do that, you have to pivot your butt/hips off the bike to the outside of the turn so that your belly button, the core of your mass and momentum, is pointing through the turn. Just kind of different ways to explain the same thing. This all happens while you’re doing other things like leaning the bike independently, pushing on the inside grip, shoving your outside elbow out, and dropping your outside foot. I’m still working on putting all the parts together, but our coach made a really good point: in addition to doing drills off the trail, when you’re on the trail approach each ride with a purpose. When you’re riding, focus on doing one thing, like sticking your elbow out. Next ride, focus on something else, like pivoting the hips.

  11. Sounds identical to the camp I took 5 years ago in Fruita. The curiculum is proven.
    +1 on the short stem–made a huge difference in my confidence on sketchy downhills
    +1 on the adjustable seatpost–great for keeping the flow on rapidly changing terrain
    +1 on the motions for effective cornering. To add on, another important component of cornering that I learned was the importance of braking before the turn and maintaining maximum speed coming out of the turn. Exit speed was the mantra. This makes a huge difference in maintaining momentum and fatigue over long/intense rides.
    +1 on vision (the way BetterRide teaches it). I never understood the importance of reference points–this alone was worth the price of admission.

    Like Greg, I also came to mountain biking with a strong background in downhill skiing (should be no surprise given my moniker). It’s amazing how the same principles of learning apply to such different activities. If you try to learn mogul skiing by combining all the motions at once (absorbtion, extension, edging, pivoting, pole plant, etc) you will fail miserably and learn nothing but frustration. If you work on one motion until it becomes second nature and then incorporate the next and so on, you have a chance. And so it is with mountain biking.

    Probably the greatest thing the camp taught me was economy of motion. I was a classic bull-in-a-china-shop; all power and now finesse. So when I failed, I failed spectacularly, usually with an accompanying trip to the ER. I also became fatigued quickly by expending all that energy unnecessarily. After the camp, I could ride longer with far less energy expenditure.

    What’s really interesting is you’re not really sure just how valuable it was as you leave the camp. Then, when you get out on your old trails and face your old nemesis (whatever obstacle(s) stymied you), then you know just how worth it it was. There were about a half dozen obstacles that I thought I should be able to clean, but never could–that’s what drove me to attend the camp in the first place. Upon my return, I cleaned every one on the first attemt and did so easily. The best part was I then cleaned some obstacles I had previously thought out of my reach forever. Big smiles!

  12. 2 Q’s…

    1. What skill cross-overs with DH skiing? New to MTB, but used to race downhill on
    the HS team.

    2. Would you suggest a basic fitness level before embarking on the 3-day course? Intimidated at being out of shape…

  13. Hey Claporte,

    1. Check out the first-ever article I wrote for Singletracks.com: http://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-training/transitioning-ski-board-skills-to-the-mtb-trail/

    2. No this is strictly a skills camp. The fitness required is very minimal. Most of the day we would listen to theory and do drills in the parking lot, and towards the end of the day we’d do a trail ride and put our skills into practice. We only did about 3-4 miles of trail time each day, but because of all the stops along the way and just practicing on specific sections each ride took 1-2 hours.

    So basically, no, you don’t need to be very fit to do this camp. It’s great for beginners in that way!

  14. Good article, and comments that follow – top shelf work!

    Q: The shorter stem ….are you referring to a ‘lower’ stem in vertical height ? or Shorter ‘reach’ to the Reigns ? (Horizontal length) ?

    Cheers again!

    Paul

  15. Ahaaa – I have just taken del of my new weapon …XTC Composite 29er and am very much in love …want to drop the bars on the stem to put a bit of a lower stoop on my natural position ….feels much better with climbs and for handling etc …the reach to the bars ‘seems’ fine as is with the stock ‘giant’ stem …for now :)

  16. Looks like it’s been pretty well covered, so I’ll just and my 2 cents in agreement, A dropper post adds a whole new dimension in bike handling, and there is nothing like carrying a ton of speed through the corner, and getting most of the way up the next hill on momentum alone. Like skibum I find it real interesting how much better I ride a certain trail after having been to the camp.
    One thing not mentioned is that in getting in a more proper position on the bike I find that I crash less often. It may not be pretty but I stay on the bike.
    The one thing that helped me the most, Vision, Vision, Vision . Yes I say that to myself all the time while riding.

  17. I just spent more then 2 grand on my first ds bike. Don’t know when but it seems like an excellent idea to get some training at less then a third the cost, when I know I don’t have any real skills. I definatily will not upgrade again until I’ve done a quality training camp. I just can’t imagine getting more out of any peace of equipment than I would from your coach.

  18. @Greg,
    Cool. That’s what I thought about the hips, I just wanted to make sure.
    Completely agreed on the working on one thing at a time. Last year I focused on not checking the brakes before every turn (a momentum killer!) and vision. This year I was taking both of those and adding more bike lean (inside arm straight, outside arm bent, chest low.) Unfortunately, I forgot to account for the wider bars and clipped a tree :lol:

    I can’t wait for July! (My tentative return to the bike.)

  19. Hi Everyone,

    A couple of quick comments from the founder of BetterRide.

    Greg, thanks for the great write up and tirelessly answering a lot of
    questions from your readers.

    Jared, I never liked the belly button advice as your belly button is
    above your hips. When you ride a mtb correctly you are hinged forward
    at the hips, which means if you focus on just having your belly button
    pointed where you are going it is easy for the entire upper half of
    your body to be turned into the turn too. This leaves your upper body
    leaned into the turn taking down force (weight) off your tires. Think
    of a headlight on each hip bone lighting your way around the turn and
    decouple your hips from your upper body so you keep weight over the
    tires (you belly button will still point through the turn but your
    chest and head will stay above the bike).

    Great to see an intelligent discussion on mtb skills!

    Thanks,

    Gene Hamilton

  20. Thanks, Greg! Will keep an eye on blog for your review. What post is that gonna be? Personally myself can’t complain about my KindShock – never fail.
    And that hip pivoting is something new to me – definatelly will start practice on it

  21. Greg, nice write up!

    Loved every moment of the camp and it was worth every penny.

    Bought my flat pedals and a drop post (found a deal at $200 of Specialized Command Post). Very different expericne now! Now I go in the middle of the week to practice on the trail. Riding is for weekend.

  22. @Gene Hamilton, No problem! Thanks again for the great experience!
    @rytrom, Thanks dude! That sounds like a good plan… I can’t wait for my next trail ride to do some more practice! Also, I think now occasionally when my wife goes to the park to run, I’ll bring my bike along so I can do drills in the parking lot.

    Fun times!

  23. Thanks, Gene!
    That makes perfect sense also. I was trying to visual was Greg was saying about the hips. I’m sure it’d be much easier to explain it in one of your classes.

  24. @mtbgreg, you are welcome. My goal is to help all riders reach their riding potential and goals and your exposure helps us reach more people.

    @Jared13 You are welcome too. Everything is easier to explain with a coach in person but not everyone can make it to our camps, glad to help.

  25. Greg,

    Eric checking in from the class. Thanks for pointing out i clipped a tree. :-) Great article! You really articulated the value of Gene’s curriculum and well trained coaching staff. Coach Chris Skolnick was awesome. For anyone on the fence…you should sign up now. Save the airfare/gas money and pedal to the clinic.

    One quick note to potential students…you won’t come out of a 3 day clinic ripping the trails. BetterRide will arm you with the knowledge and tools, but my feeling is that it will take lots of work to master the skills. So really when you consider the clinic actually lasts far longer than the 3 days you are there in person, the tutition is a bargain.

  26. Greg,

    Sorry for an offtopic here but don’t have your email so posting here. I was wrong about Fort Yargo park. They do charge 2 bucks ON TOP of 5 for general entry. Screw them… Unfair and pointless. I was wrong. Found the truth this weekend.

  27. @Eric, haha sorry for calling you out! Totally agree with you about the practice–the more I try to put these skills into action the more I realize how much training and retraining it is going to require! It’s definitely not easy–I def feel like I’m Only going to get out of that class whatever I put in in practice time.

    @Roman, sorry man… Thanks for clearing that up though. Yeah dgaddis wrote a pretty lengthy blog post about the whole debacle: http://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-trails/advocacy-alert-three-ga-state-parks-to-target-mountain-bikers-with-a-trail-fee/

    Also, if you guys ever want to get ahold of me or are ever passing through Dahlonega, feel free to shoot me a line at greg AT singletracks DOT com

  28. I got into a class this spring. I got tins out of it. Just amazing what I’m doing now that I couldn’t. I’ve made the most gains in climbing. And low speed things. Progress is slower at things where there could be consequences, but I’m making real progress where b4 my mental game was a basket case ever since a bad fall a year ago, so having been taught good technic I’m able to move on slowly and hitting turns a little faster every time. On the other hand good body position alone, and pedal and coaster wheelies have me doing hills I didn’t think possible. Thanks coach Andy.

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