If You Want to Be Faster, Invest in Coaching, Not New Parts

There is an obvious space to put time and energy into for progression and it's not your bike.
Photo: Ladies AllRide

“Hey, would you ever take a mountain bike lesson?” My boyfriend asked his friend. 

“Nah,” answered his buddy. “I don’t want to know what I’m bad at.”

Time after time cutthroat race parents, those in a midlife crisis, and your occasional enduro bro will come into a bike shop and ask what parts and upgrades will make the bike faster. Perhaps these folks should be asking: what will make me faster? Or more efficient? Or more likely to have fun on the bike? 

Mountain bike coaching has become more common as the sport has grown, but for various reasons, many everyday riders don’t consider it unless they are training for a race or coming back from an injury. I certainly didn’t until I started ski instructing, and witnessed firsthand how much of an impact coaching can have for skiers of all skill levels. I started receiving instruction and feedback and soon rediscovered my love for the sport. What had fizzled into an excuse to be outside with friends, was now challenging, adrenaline-pumping, and slightly addicting. I could see myself progressing.

Earn more confidence

A few years after I started mountain biking, I enrolled in my first mountain bike clinic. I was initially surprised to realize that I wasn’t alone in wanting to improve my skills without the trial-and-error approach of continually crashing. The environment was extremely supportive and on top of that, a whole lotta fun.

I would highly recommend clinics to anyone who wants to improve their confidence, improve their skill set, and meet other like-minded riders. I found the coaching style to allow for plenty of individual feedback in a low-pressure environment, where it was easy to relax and apply my new skills without overthinking. 

My biggest takeaway from this experience was newfound confidence. Following the clinic, I immediately held the confidence to hit a drop that had psyched me out for over a year. The landing wasn’t pretty, but I did it. Another subliminal barrier broke down.

Find your weaknesses

As fall turned to winter, I soon forgot about mountain biking as Utah became buried in snow. We set out on a long road trip on a snowy day in April and woke up just a few short days later to blooming flowers and birds chirping in the great state of Arkansas. It wasn’t until we reached Bentonville (the first stop on our road trip), that my boyfriend informed me that we were signed up for a lesson.

 “It’ll make riding here more fun!” he declared. I can now attest to that. Bentonville is a mecca for man-made berms and jumps/drop progression, so being able to hone in on these skills even for just a couple of hours was a game changer. I was riding trails and features confidently, that I never would have imagined myself even attempting just a year earlier. 

The coaching style here was tailored almost immediately to my riding strengths and weaknesses. The lesson began with a few laps around the park and some quick body position adjustments, then moved into the drops and jumps that I had requested to focus on. The first hour focused on drops, before heading to the jump line. 

After just one lap, I was surprised to discover that my biggest weakness on the jump line happened to be the corners leading into the first jump. Oh yeah, I guess I’ve never been coached on how to ride a berm, I thought. I loved being able to pivot the focus of the lesson and work on cornering. 

Learn you bike and body mechanics

Months later, we found ourselves near Lake Placid, New York, and had a connection who highly recommended her race coach in that area. I agreed to a 6-hour lesson, though initially I secretly dreaded the thought. I was spent after just two hours at my last lesson. How could I ride for six?!

We arrived on a dreary morning, the mist covering up a backdrop of towering mountains. I kept an open mind and found myself completely engaged, having a good time, and learning a plethora of new tips and skills despite having been coached just two months prior.

The coaching style of the lesson was structured and detailed. The morning covered in-depth bike and body mechanics as well as braking and cornering, before moving on to pumping, drops, jumps, and climbing in the afternoon, followed by a trail ride.

I’ll admit I was starting to bonk come hour 6.5 on the trail ride and was riding pretty poorly. 

Do I drop my foot in that corner, or pedal forward? Am I looking far ahead enough? Am I chicken-winging my arms down this trail? My brain was toasted. 

The immediate results of this clinic weren’t noticeable to me, but I visited Killington Bike Park a few days later and the gears started clicking. The corners felt fast and smooth once I started focusing on just one or two new tricks. The more trails I rode over the next few weeks, the faster and more fluent I felt through just about every trail feature. 

This lesson was eye-opening to me in the sense that my brain finally connected the dots in understanding how to move the body to work with the bike rather than against it. By diving deep into bike and body mechanics and then applying them to just about every aspect of my riding, I felt that every moment of that full-day lesson was worthwhile.

The full-day lesson allowed for the most in-depth learning, while the 2-hour lesson was less structured and proved adaptable to my strengths and weaknesses. Comparing clinics to lessons is a bit like comparing apples to oranges in my opinion, but at the end of the day, both are fruits. The clinic was confidence-inducing and provided a low-pressure and fun environment, conducive to practicing new skills. All three styles of coaching were effective and left me a better rider.

Am I a strong believer that just getting out and riding makes you better? If your intentions are there, then yes. Absolutely. Even more so if you’re out there riding with friends. Do lessons and clinics require time commitment and money? Of course. But, so does spending hours researching and buying those nifty new carbon wheels. 

Shoutout to Women in the Mountains, Crank it Up, and SpeedScience for top-notch mountain bike coaching.